This is an article given to me and some others by Mike Clark, the head strength and conditioning coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. 

We have all heard the phrase, “squatting is bad for your knees,” from coaches, players, parents, and doctors.  The data that has been collected, however, indicates that squatting (even deep squatting) is quite safe for the knees and may actually improve knee stability (Kreighbaum, 1996).  The other problem associated with squatting is lower back injury or disk herniation.  Research indicates that trunk flexion and rounding of the back influenced spinal compression the most (Fleck, 1986).  The greatest compression occurs during the transition from descending to ascending during the squat.  To correct or avoid this problem, a technique called “blocking” is used to help avoid rounding the back (or flexing the spine) (Huberti, 1984).

The three blocking techniques are as follows:

1)    Stick your chest out by taking a deep breath and filling your lungs with air like a balloon.  This will cause you to stiffen your rib cage and prevent your upper torso from bending forward.

2)    Contract all the abdominal muscles to increase intra-abdominal pressure so your shoulders are pulled back when you are in the top position of the squat.

3)    Finally, contract the lower back muscles in order to arch your lower back and extend the bottom of the spine.  Shrug into the bar, helps set spine and engage the whole back.

The bottom line is that if you attempt to do any exercise without a solid foundation or proper technique, you are setting yourself up for minor or permanent injury.

Other areas to take into consideration when training athletes:

1) Length of Femur            5) Hip Flexibility
2) Torso Length            6) Injury History
3) Torso Strength            7) Shoulder Flexibility
4) Ankle Flexion

Teaching Mechanics and Fundamentals

1. Approach, Back-Out, and Set-Up:

A)    Bar should be placed across the center of the shoulders.
B)    Make sure the entire body is under the bar.
C)    Both feet must be under the bar and parallel.
D)    Prior to lifting the bar out of the racks, inhale – expanding the lungs – and hold until you have set up.
E)    Stand erect with the chest filled with air.
F)    Take one or two steps backward to set up.

Common mistakes:
1)    Not placing the body in center of the bar
2)    Not placing the entire body under the bar
3)    Not filling the body with air and holding
4)    Taking more than two steps to set up.

2. Gripping the Bar (Hand Placement): Based on the Size or Height of the Athlete

A)    All athletes should use a pronated grip and grip the bar tightly.
B)    A closer grip helps bunch the muscles in the back
C)    Taller athletes’ grip will vary from medium to wide
D)    Shorter athletes’ grip will vary from close to medium

Common mistakes:
1)    Athletes gripping the plates and not the bar
2)    Athletes taking their hands off the bar during the ascending phase
3)    Athletes not gripping the bar with a firm grip

3. Bar Placement: No Significant Difference in Muscle Development Between High-Bar and
    Low-Bar Squatting:

A)    High Bar Squat- The bar sits on top of the trapezius muscle near the base of the neck.  Increases force at the knees.
B)    Low Bar Squat- The bar sits 1 to 2 inches below the deltoids.  Increases force at the hips.

Common mistakes:
1)    High-Bar: Leaning forward or rounding the back
2)    Low-Bar: Bar rolling down

4. Head and Eye Position:

A)    Head and eyes should be focused straight ahead.  This is a natural position; keeping the cervical spine in line with the body helps maintain body weight distribution throughout the squat.  Balance is one of the key elements of squatting.  When the neck is placed in an improper or unnatural position, the back is rounded, placing unwanted stress or strain on the neck.

Common mistakes:
1)    Titling the head forward (looking down), the weight can shift to the balls of the feet, placing excess stress on the body and causing the athlete to round his/her back.
2)    Tilting the head backward (looking upward), can cause the weight to shift to the heel of the foot, which can cause an improper curvature of the spine and place unwanted stress on the neck and back.

5. Breathing: Inhale Deeply to Maintain Intra-thoracic Pressure and Prevent Bending Forward, Arching the Back, and Passing Out

A)    Helps maintain tightness throughout the squat
B)    Inhale and hold prior to descending in the squat
C)    Exhale once you are near or at the top of the squat
D)    Inhale and exhale at the top of the squat between repetitions

Common mistakes:
1) Holding your breath during repetitions
2) Exhaling at the bottom of the squat

6. Torso-Trunk:

A) Stabilize your torso-trunk by isometrically contracting the abdominals and back.
B) The torso-trunk should be held between 35 and 45 degree angles
1) Less than 35 degrees, you are too straight upward
2) More than 45 degrees, you are too far forward
C) The torso should be kept flat and straight (the axis of flexion runs through the hip thigh

Common mistakes:
1) Allowing the torso-trunk to lean forward too much
2) Keeping the torso-trunk too upright
3) Not squatting with a rigid torso.

7. Descending:

A)    Push hips back
B)    Simultaneously flex at the knee and push the hips back and down.
C)    Maintain torso position.
D)    Distribute body weight from balls of the feet to the heels
E)    Maintain a slow and controlled manner during descent, not letting the knees extend past the balls of the feet.
F)    Keep the shins as vertical as possible.
G)    At the bottom, do not bounce, jerk, or stop the squat

Common mistakes:
1)    Going straight down in the squats.
2)    Allowing the knees to go past the balls of the feet.
3)    Shins not vertical
4)    Dropping down too quickly into the squat

Note:  To obtain optimal results in core flexibility, muscular development, and strength of the lower body, observe the following:
§    When performing the back squat, the proper depth has been achieved when the mid-thigh is parallel to the floor, while still maintaining the proper back squat form.
§    Squatting to additional depth – while still maintaining the proper back squat form – will result in greater core flexibility, muscular development, and strength of the lower body than the mid-thigh position.

8. Ascending:

A)    Drive the feet through the floor
B)    Simultaneously raise the hips and shoulders
C)    Push your shoulders slightly back into the bar so that your chest remains facing outward
D)    Rotate the hips under the bar
E)    Maintain proper head and eye position
F)    Stand erect and tall, back into the starting position.

Common mistakes:
1)    Attempting to bounce out of the bottom of the squat
2)    Allowing the hips to raise too quickly out of the bottom of the squat
3)    Allowing the weight to shift to the toes

9. Foot Position:

A)    Narrow stance – works the quadriceps, some gluteus
B)    Medium Stance – works the quadriceps, some adductor work
C)    Wide Stance – works the adductor, gluteus, and outer quadriceps
D)    Keep heels on the floor
E)    Toes should be pointed out slightly from neutral to 30 degrees.
F)    The angle of the foot position makes no difference as long as you are comfortable with the stance.

Common mistakes:
1)    Not finding what stance works for you
2)    Turning or pointing the toes inward.

10. Abdominals:

A)    Strong abdominal muscles help maintain torso stability and intra-thoracic pressure throughout the squat
B)    The obliques are an important muscle group when performing the squat as they help to maintain torso stability.
Common Mistakes:
1)    Not including abdominal work as part of the regular strength training routine
2)    Working only one section of the abdominal area (either upper or lower, or just the obliques)
3)    Not using a variety of abdominal/oblique exercises
4)    Too much hip flexion during abdominal exercises


Without question, the squat is the single most effective leg exercise.  This strength training exercise involves a large part of the muscular system.  As strength coaches, we must remember that athletes’ squats will vary based on differences in their body types, length of the legs, and flexibility of the ankles.  Technique will vary based on differences in foot stance widths, the use of heel pieces, and the positioning of the bar – high or low – on the back.

To utilize higher weight or to help an athlete achieve proper depth in the squat, lower the bar and widen the stance.  Coach and teach your athletes to stabilize their torso by isometrically contracting the abdominals and back.   Never flex the spine during a squat.

Overall, the key to performing the squat is to do it correctly and carefully.  Never let the weight control you.  You control the weight.   Squats are not “bad for your knees.” The fact is that if you have healthy knees, they are quite capable of handling even the heaviest weight that your body can tolerate.

If anyone’s looking for a quick, easy, at-home chest/tricep/shoulder workout, here’s what I did today to give my joints a break from weights:

3 sets of each of the following exercises:

1. Parellette handstand pushups (against wall)
2. Handstand pushups (against wall)
3. Parallette pushups with feet elevated
4. Elevated diamond pushups
5. Hindu pushups
6. Diamond hindu pushups