3 Things Everyone Can Do To Improve Their Squat
I was recently thinking about my training practice, about my progression from failing my first RKC certification, to now being fairly competent with the pistol (current best is 44kg), and I was trying to figure out what had changed.
For a long time, my journey with the squat was a bit of a hate relationship. I didn't want to do it, but I knew that I had to in order to maintain health in my system, and I didn't want to neglect my health just because I didn't like something, but I didn't squat well, and I didn't squat often. I could just hit the RKC standard with two bells, and I was nowhere near that depth without it.Then, things fundamentally changed...
Three years ago, I headed across to the States for my SFG II and after having read Original Strength, I read the Well Balanced Child. In reading what Sally Goddard-Blythe had written in her book, I got ridiculously excited about what Tim and Geoff had written in theirs.
If stimulating these reflexes works in kids, and it works in teens...
I got in touch with Tim and asked if he would mind if I bombed in for a visit. He graciously accepted.
The purpose of my visit was twofold:
1. Does the system work in practice?
2. Are these people that I want to be associated with?
I'm passionate about training, but I also want to associate with people who's values are in line with mine. So I learn from people regardless, but I only endorse people I think are trustworthy. Both the system and the organisation stood up to the scrutiny.
I had already seen Tim do some crazy things, like casually doing a Turkish Get Up with a 60kg bell, so I was becoming aware of the profound impact that a steady diet of OS could have on the body. It takes people's training, regardless of the discipline, and acts like a jet booster or amplifier. An amplifier takes an input and gives it the capacity to express itself at a greater amplitude or at a higher level.
I ended up using the OS principles in preparation for the cert that I was going to, and in spite of my very poor health at the time, managed to pass everything required - including the snatch test which I don't particularly enjoy. It wasn't all about the OS (reading The Mighty Atom in the lead-up was great for my mentality) but I'm not convinced that I would've been able to pass with the minimal preparation my body could tolerate without OS alongside it. In other words, the value of my effort was amplified by the resets.
As I'd mentioned earlier, my squat was always a weakness that I'd avoided: it was an extremely restricted movement, and although I had plenty of strength in it, my range really wasn't there. I'd tried other systems, and my squat had gone up and down (see what I did there...) but I had never reached a point that I could be satisfied with.
At this point, I was back in Australia, and I had started to work on a program that I've been given by Tim. Lots of crawling, some farm work, more crawling, and some single leg deadlifts mixed with presses. I did a bunch of resets, but I did very little in the way of squatting.
Lo, and behold, within a month, I could goblet squat to a reasonable depth, without a huge amount of warm up. I still didn't have a squat that would blow your socks off, but it was ok. It was passable, but more importantly, it was more and more accessible.
As I added more loaded crawling into the mix forward and backwards and started to do resets on an almost daily basis, I started to notice that I actually didn't mind squatting. In fact, I started to downright enjoy front squatting... This is a big deal.
So what had changed? What was it that had occurred to take me from squat-hater to squat-enjoyer (I was going to say lover, but let's not go overboard!).
I would put the transformation down to three things:
1. I'd developed greater strength in my anterior chain, meaning that I was able to access both sides of my body during the movement. Basically, my neck to my pelvis was starting to function as a unit and was being well supported by my breathing and much better reflexive strength.
2. Greater ankle motion. Growing up with orthotics and very flat feet, a big part of my squatting issue was related to the fact that I was having to fight my feet as I went down, instead of being able to focus on the squat.
3. Practice! I spent a lot of time over these months doing different variations of the squat and getting comfortable with the movement. This was important, but it wasn't the silver bullet on its own because I'd done this plenty in the past. It needs to be emphasised that the vast majority of the time if you practise a skill, especially with good coaching, you're going to get better at it.
So with all that said, here's a simple plan to improve your squat using some of the lessons that I learned along the way.
1. Train every day.
Dan John often refers to the great quote from Dan Gable which is:
"If it's important, do it every day. If it's not important, don't do it at all."
So if you want to improve your squat then make a point of spending some time squatting every single day. It doesn't matter how bad your squat is if you make a point of putting yourself into a comfortable squatting position for a period of time every day, even if it's only a few minutes, then you will start to get better at the movement.
I would suggest, and I haven't done any in-depth research on this, that countries where people regularly squat to use the toilet tend to have a smaller number of people with lower back pain.
A little bit will go a long way here and you can start where you're at. If you struggle to do a deep squat then you could try elevating your heels. Still struggling? Why not try doing a squat while you hold onto something? Feeling pain or significant discomfort? Back off a little and try and do something that doesn't hurt you (or see a clinician who might be able to help).
2. Practice the Original Strength resets
So the resets that I found most useful, or that I think were most useful, were heavy leopard crawling with chains, dead bugs with a nice tight chin tuck, and breathing holding my knees towards my chest. I really liked single leg rocking and lego rocking but when I reflect on it I think that the big money for me was in the other three movements.
Part of the reason that I can't be sure what was most helpful for me is that I practice all the resets on a regular basis because they make me feel so good. This means that I don't have a perfectly blank slate in relation to this and can only really indicate that I was doing a lot of the three resets that I mentioned above when I began to dramatically improve my squat.[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zigyQL9bCSA[/embed]
3. Learn to 'pull' yourself into your squat
One drill that is taught at every StrongFirst event is designed to teach people how to perform this movement. The way the activity is performed involves one person holding another person's feet while the other person lies on their back. The person lying on their back begins to pull their knees towards their chest while the other person offers them light resistance (significant enough to make them work but light enough to ensure that the person on the ground doesn't have to burst a blood vessel to make it work).
If everything goes to plan, I'll add a video or two to this post tomorrow so that you have a couple of visual aids to help you out.
When it comes down to it, squatting is not really that different to any other skill (except that the vast, vast majority of us were once very, very good at it). If you practice it regularly and take the time to learn from someone with a pretty good coaches eye, you'll become proficient, and with enough deliberate, consistent practice you may end up becoming great.
(Note: I've deliberately avoided discussing loaded squatting in this article too much because I don't think that a super, massive squat is the be all and end all of movement. If you don't have a nice, deep, healthy bodyweight squat though then that could definitely come back to bite you.)