My Go To Squat Progression For Pretty Much Everyone

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Teaching a beginner how to squat well can be challenging. There’s no denying there are a lot of moving parts that can derail our best efforts to do so.

 

My intention of this quick-n-dirty post isn’t to break down the squat in its entirety. For that I’d encourage you to check out Greg Nuckols’ How to Squat: The Definitive Guide.

It’s basically the War and Peace of squat biomechanics and technique. Except, you know, not written by a Russian.

Instead, my goal today is to hammer home a few candid points when working with beginners on their squatting technique.

1. “Beginners” in this sense could mean a 13 year old who’s never touched a weight or a 57 year old who’s had a few decade hiatus. And everything in between. Male, female, athletes, non-athletes, centaurs, you name it.

2. The squat is a basic human movement pattern. Unfortunately, in today’s world, we don’t move as much as we used to, and subsequently many struggle with the movement. Oftentimes one’s only source of physical activity is if or when they get their butts to the gym.

And even if they do that, there’s no guarantee they exercise in a range of motion below a certain degree of hip flexion.

There’s truth to the common phrase “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”

This isn’t to insinuate that everyone has to squat to a certain level or that you’ll lose some street cred if you happen to not squat ass-to-grass. As I’ve repeatedly stated on this blog everyone is different (leverages, anthropometry) and it’s silly, nay, fucking moronic to think everyone has to squat deep.

So whenever I work with a beginner or someone coming off a significant injury it’s on me – the coach – to take the time to groove a solid squat pattern.

This rarely (if ever) involves placing a barbell on someone’s back on Day #1.

Why?

  • Because I said so….;o)
  • Many people lack the requisite t-spine (extension) and shoulder mobility (abduction/external rotation) to hold a barbell in that position without it feeling weird of wonky.
  • Many lack the kinesthetic awareness to sit back (and down) in a fashion that emulates a squat.
  • There’s no Golden Rule that we have to load people right away.
  • I’m more concerned with teaching proper position.

It’s that last point – teaching proper position – that’s a game changer in my eyes. You see, many people tend to “sit” in a state of perpetual (excessive) extension where their pelvis tilts forward, otherwise known as anterior pelvic tilt (APT)

To be clear: APT is not bad or wrong or needs to be fixed. It’s normal. However, when it’s excessive it not only places more strain on the spine (particularly the facet joints), but it also leads to poor alignment where the diaphragm and pelvic floor point in different directions.

Within PRI (Postural Restoration Institute) circles (<— total nerd fest) this is called the “Scissor Position.” What we’d like to strive for is what’s known as the “Canister Position,” where the diaphragm and pelvic floor are aligned or stacked on top of another.

Another way to think of it, is something I stole from Dr. Evan Osar.

“Think of your pelvis as one ring and your rib cage as a bunch of more rings. What you want is to stack those rings on top of one another.”

Mike Robertson is also a fan of this approach and even goes a step further and notes the importance of reaching, and how that can have a positive effect on one’s overall positioning. When we “reach” we nudge ourselves into a little more posterior pelvic tilt (back to “neutral”) and we then achieve proper diaphragm/pelvic floor alignment. Bada bing, bada boom.

If all of that comes across as me speaking Elvish, watch this video.

Plate Loaded Front Squat

 

The plate loaded front squat is now my “go to” squat progression when working with beginners. It’s something I’ve used for years for a few reasons:

1. The plate serves a counterbalance as one squats down towards the floor helping them to learn proper torso positioning and balance. It’s makes things infinitely easier with regards to sitting back & down into a squat.

2. Pressing the plate out front also helps to better engage the anterior core musculature. This is so crucial. I can’t tell you how many times people have come in for an assessment telling me stories of trainer upon trainer telling them how “tight” they are because they couldn’t squat past parallel. Prior to coming to me they had spent years, years stretching and working on any number of hip mobility drills.

Thing is: they weren’t tight. People rarely are. Or, at least it’s rarely ever that cut and dry (tight vs. not tight). In reality most are weak and unstable. For many, their nervous system is putting on the brakes because it perceives a lack stability. By having trainees press the plate out front it automatically forces the core to fire – thus providing more stability. And miraculously they’re able to squat deeper.

And I come across as the next Professor Dumbledore.

Moreover, it was Mike Robertson who pointed out to me the added benefit of the plate loaded front squat. The “reach” results in better diaphragm and pelvic floor alignment.

It teaches people context, and to own the “canister” position (preventing the ribs from flaring out). That way, when they progress to barbell variations, they’ll have a better understanding of what we’re after and what will (in all likelihood) allow them to perform at a higher level for longer periods of time reducing the risk of injury.

Want More Mike Robertson Nuggets of Programming Badassery?

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I owe much of my programming savvy to Mike Robertson. It’s little nuggets of wisdom (as demonstrated above) that helps to separate him from the masses. I’ve always enjoyed his approach and way of explaining things. There aren’t many coaches who have the innate ability to take complex topics and “dumb them down” for the masses (like myself).

His excellent resource, Physical Preparation 101 is currently on sale at $100 off the regular price from now through this Friday (2/10).

It’s basically his entire philosophy on program design. 12 DVDs of Mike Robertson knowledge bombs. I have zero doubts the money you invest in this will pay for itself tenfold in client retention.

Do yourself a favor, go HERE and thank me later.

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  • suzp

    Thank you for this. I’ve been working with goblet squats for my beginner clients, but still have to cue them to posterior pelvic tilt – generally, “tuck your butt under”, but then they end up rounding the back too much. I’ll try this and see if I get better results.

  • Mubashir Akhtar

    Great ideas, some stuff I’ll have to try!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Let me know what you think once you give it a whirl.

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