Squat Technique: Maintaining “Tightness” and Why It’s Important

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Some of you may recall a video blog I filmed a few weeks ago where I discussed the importance of paying closer attention to the set up with regards to squatting.

It’s a component that I feel many people glaze over, and something that deserves a little more love. Unfortunately, many approach squatting – especially the set-up –  with a nonchalant attitude, and subsequently either 1) performance suffers or worse 2) someone gets injured.

What really surprised me was just how much attention the video garnered. It certainly wasn’t for my good looks.  I mean I’m pretty, but not that pretty.

What it told me was that it’s a topic that people are interested in and want to learn more about.

Or maybe part of the popularity was that it gave people an opportunity to debate.  I couldn’t believe how many people made a stink over something as nondescript as my preference to coach people to grab the bar with their thumbs (rather than set up with the thumbs over the bar).

Some made the case that it places more stress on the wrists.

Okay.  So what?  Correct me if I’m wrong here, but genrally speaking, squats suck.  Like, a lot.  We’re not picking daises and running underneath a rainbow here.  There’s going to be some level of discomfort going on.

And NEWSLASH: squats are going to place a stress on the body, wrists included.

If for some reason your wrists hurt while grabbing the bar, fine, do it your way.  I really could care less, and understand there is some degree of personal preference here.

The main point to hammer and what I felt was lost in translation was the notion that one PULLS DOWN on the bar to increase stability and tightness.

And it’s the latter point – the whole concept of “tightness” – which is the crux of today’s post.

What do we mean by “staying tight” when squatting?  And why is it beneficial?

In this short video I cover:

1.  Why getting your air, twice (which is something both Mike Robertson and Jim Smith have discussed in the past) is crucial.


2.  Why, when box squatting, I’m not a fan of allowing people to rock/relax on the box itself.

While I didn’t mention it in the video, I liken it to a melting candle.  Which is to say:  losing tightness at the bottom is not going to do your back any favors.

Give it a look, and let me know what you think!


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Comments for This Entry

  • Jake

    What have you done to improve your knees so much lately? I recall you writing back in a tnation training log that you were focusing mostly on deadlifts for both of your lower body days bceause squatting was out of the question. Then there's an article about you squatting 4x/week and you mentioned it again in your video. Just curious what made the difference.

    March 6, 2013 at 10:21 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Well, that was a while ago. I think a few factors came into play: 1. I addressed tissue quality. 2. Worked on my technique 3. Knee sleeves. Holy shit, knee sleeves help tremendously.

      March 7, 2013 at 7:16 am | Reply to this comment

  • FreakSammy

    Look at you, Tony, rockin' an XL and making it look like a smedium!

    March 6, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Josh

    What's the status of operation, Tony Deadlifts 600lbs?

    March 6, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Tom A

    Great job Tony! Having several surgerys over the last few years, I have been in the gym for 7 months now. Just did my first squats after your previous video. I wouldnt have been doing them correctlly w/o your info. Thanks.

    March 7, 2013 at 5:35 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kedric

    Did you just curl in the cage before squatting? Those guns looks pretty pumped up :) Once again,fantastic tips here. Most people forget to remain tight and this is a good reminder even to me :) A question tho,you position the bar slightly higher. Is it because yo are not a huge fan of low bar squats because you see people turning it into a squat morning? Keep Kicking ass, -kedric

    March 7, 2013 at 8:04 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      LOL. Naw, I literally arrived to BU and filmed that video as soon as I took my jacket off. As far as bar position: this is TOTALLY personal preference. A high bar placement feels more comfortable to me; but by contrast, I know some people prefer a low(er) bar placement. There are some slight advantages and disadvantages of each, but I feel they're negligible. Go with what feels better and allows you to lift more weight.....;o)

      March 8, 2013 at 7:00 am | Reply to this comment

      • kedric

        You need to make a video of how to curl in the squat rack. Please wear a wife beater when you film it. I get what you mean,every individual prefers different bar placement. For me I like it slightly lower but like you said, do what makes you more bad-ass with proper form ;) Thanks Tony!

        March 8, 2013 at 9:03 am | Reply to this comment

  • Guest

    Great advice here. It sucks to see guys box squatting, and they fail to remain tight on the box.

    March 7, 2013 at 8:33 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jake Johnson

    Great advice here. Remaining tight on the box is definitely key. I see it come up all the time in my university gym, sometimes even as far as someone sitting and relaxing on the box, then readjusting their feet before they come back up. Kind of defeats the purpose of the exercise, and puts them at an increased risk of injury. Again, great tips; I really like the video demonstrations! Jake

    March 7, 2013 at 8:36 am | Reply to this comment

  • Training Log: March 11th | Powerlifting in Heels

    [...] have a solid workout. In addition to trying to fix my foot misalignment, I tried to implement the Tony Gentilcore double-breath tightness technique on my squat and it worked wonders. I worked up to 260x8x3 on squat and everything felt solid and [...]

    March 11, 2013 at 8:41 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Viikon polttavat #27 | Supersets

    [...] Tony Gentilcore – Squat technique: Maintaining tightness and why it´s important. Jännityksen säilyttämisen merkitystä ei voi yliarvioida liiaksi kyykyn tapaisessa liikkeessä. Jos väärät kehon alueet (keskivartalo yms) rentoutuvat väärällä hetkellä, niin tulos ei ole kaunista katseltavaa. Herra Genticore sanailee aiheesta hyvin. [...]

    March 16, 2013 at 11:05 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Rob

    I agree wholeheartedly with everything you're saying in this post and video. Particularly the point on being mindful about how the set-up is performed. To be honest, it's sounds kinda funny to me to even say that I "agree" because it implies that your advice is just an opinion when, in fact, the advice is quite factually based. For example, "pulling down" on the barbell will most certainly activate the lats and increase trunk stability; aiding us in more efficiently transferring the resultant ground reaction forces up the spine, to the bar. I've heard this tip from one of Stuart McGill's former understudies (who is now my professor). Is Dr. McGill the source you heard it from too? ...When explaining this cue to my clients, I like to make it analogous to the lat tension you'd get from "doing a pullup," to emphasize to them how active of an intention this is. "You're not just passively letting the bar sink into you." In order to reinforce 'getting your air twice,' I like to tell my clients to "Squat it before you squat it." In other words, it's just like you explained in the video: 'pull down on the bar, get your abs braced, back tight, & fill your belly with air' before you squat it out of the rack. In my mind, that was your first squat of the set. Of course, then without letting your air out, you'll take two-three steps backwards to get your feet set. And you'll go through that entire mental, "set-up," checklist again before descending into the "second" squat of your set. I see too many commercial gym-goers taking it out of the rack all willy nilly, loose, and relaxed; only to then 'attempt' to find stability & tightness once they're already in the tunnel. I hope you found any of my rambling to be cogent, or at least coherent. haha Keep the solid work! Cheers!

    March 27, 2013 at 1:30 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kettlebell Kitchen - Paleo. Delivered.

    [...] Squat technique: Maintaining “tightness” and why it’s important Old-school Italian meat sauce Exercise as good as massage for sore muscles Floor living Precision Nutrition on food labeling: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 [...]

    April 18, 2013 at 11:20 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kieran

    Hey Tony. Great video. Just have a quick question about pulling down on the bar. I'm new to strength training and read about activating my lats in the squat. Tried it on my first squats and I felt a horrible sharp pulling on my anterior right shoulder and it was pretty messed up for a whole afterwards. Saw an ART guy who sorted it out but I've been worried to do it again since! I've been trying to keep up with shoulder mobility and stability drills and it feels a lot better but still kinda worried to try it. By the way the ART guy said I'd injured my supraspinatus and there were trigger point on my infraspinatus too. Could I have maybe 'wrenched' the bar down too hard? Should I try it again a little more gently? My deadlift numbers are going up nicely but I'm really struggling with my squats so trying to work on technique as much as possible. Cheers!

    June 17, 2013 at 3:30 am | Reply to this comment

  • Krunoslav

    I like pistol squat where you center your weight on one foot and extend the other leg out in front of you. Keeping your weight on your heel, squat until your bum is below the hips, then rise back up. It's heavy fitness and bodybuilding exercise

    June 18, 2013 at 6:38 am | Reply to this comment

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