How many different variations of squats do you know?
One of my favourite things is helping people to feel successful in the gym, to feel like it is actually possible to get stronger, fitter, change the composition of their body. Success breeds confidence. And confidence breeds success.
Often I meet people who have had a less-than-ideal introduction into the gym. They have had a friend, relative, random gym-bro, or even a personal trainer instruct them into doing a particular exercise in a very specific way. They have not been able to perform the exercise as instructed, and the attempt (and future attempts) are deemed as failures.
A perfect example of this is the squat.
The specifics that are coached to new trainees by people who don’t know any better are often inappropriate.
Does any of this sound familiar?
- Feet flat on the ground and shoulder width apart
- Toes facing forward
- Keep chest up and back straight while bending knees and ‘sitting’ back
- Take care that your knees never go past your toes
- Full squat is achieved when the thighs are parallel with the ground
With so many variations of a squat available to us, why is this particular variation the one that is most commonly taught to beginners?
Most new trainees do not have the stability or strength to safely or successfully perform this squat variation due to a number of reasons – tightness in the calves and excessive lumbar curvature will make keeping the feet flat in this position challenging and place unnecessary strain on the lower back. Those with weak hamstrings will struggle to keep their back straight and chest up using this variation. Those with weak glutes will struggle to control the lateral movement of their legs with their toes facing forward. And as for ‘full squat’ – wouldn’t that be dependant on each individual’s active range of motion?
And most new trainees have a number of weak and tight muscles.
They are unaccustomed to training, the movement pattern is new, and the variation of squat that they are being taught is the ‘right’ one is too advanced for them to perform successfully. It’s almost like they are being set up to fail….
Different does not mean wrong.
A better start point for a new trainee is to teach them a different variation of the squat – one that suits their current abilities. They may need to elevate their heels, take a wider – or narrower – foot position, turn their toes out, let their knees fold over their toes. Success breeds confidence. In this case it also brings the opportunity to incorporate a great movement pattern that will strengthen and mobilise the weaker, tighter muscles so that as training progresses further variations can be successfully incorporated into programming.
How many variations of squat do you do?