Return to the Iron Dungeon
F is for Form
by Adrian Arellano
Of all the aspects there are to consider when putting a training program together, the most important one is form. It is also the aspect that is ignored the most. I don't care how intensely you train, how periodized your training is, or what odd objects you use. Using correct form targets the muscles better and stimulates them more than sloppy form. If you don't have your form down well, you will not get optimal results for your training. What's more, you can actually injure yourself. So, instead of getting better results from your training through proper form, some people get injured through using improper form. Before you can think about TUL, order of exercises, number of sets, number of rest days, and amount of cardio, you gotta get your form down. Sure, you can get away with small errors in form when the weight is light, but when you start adding plates to the bar, those small errors will turn into big injuries.
This is the movement that should be the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast.....er....uh...exercise routine. The squat is probably considered the king of all exercises by a majority of hardcore lifters. This movement has packed more muscle on skinny frames than any other in history. The bad thing is: IT’S HARD. Most people aren’t willing to work hard so that they can get bigger and stronger.
However, you aren’t like that. You’re willing to pay your dues on the big exercises ‘cause you know it’s gonna pay off in the long run. Now before you come up with an excuse of “but squats hurt my neck”, I hafta say: EVERYBODY CAN SQUAT. There are no excuses. Well....there are a few people who have very very bad knee or back injuries and can’t squat, but 90% of the population can and should. Don’t get me wrong, leg presses are a good substitution, but they aren’t gonna give you the whole body effect that squats will. Squats will give you a total body workout that leg presses are unable to give you. Squats also cause your body to realease more hormones than other exercises.
There are potential dangers when squatting as there are when doing anything else. Squatting is only as dangerous as you make it. If you do it half-assed and don’t concentrate, you’ll get hurt. Squatting IS NOT bad for the back. In fact, it strengthens the back by making you stabilize your trunk while squatting. Squatting is also good for strengthening tendons throughout the knee. I’ll elaborate on the dangers while covering other aspects of the lift.
All ya need is a bar, lots of weight, and some squat stands. A power rack would be almost a necessity, but if all you have is squat stands to rack the weight, you can get by with that. If you’re gonna do them with squat stands, I’d do them outdoors that way you can just drop the bar off your back if you’re not gonna get the rep. Also, I’d NEVER go to failure when doing them without any kind of spotting apparatus.
For those of you who get aches and pains in your shoulders because the bar places a lot of stress on that area and you don’t have that much padding there, you might wanna consider using a Manta Ray. I personally don’t like ‘em, and they actually make my shoulders hurt (I don’t have problems with my shoulders hurting while squatting). However, others swear by this piece of equipment, so it might be worth a shot.
I don’t advocate using a belt because all it helps you do is lift more weight. Also, it robs your obliques and lower back musculature of stimulation by stabilizing the trunk for you. Also, don’t wear any powerlifting gear. This will just help you lift more weight and won’t help you get stronger.
The shoes you wear aren’t too important. Don’t wear high heel shoes if you’re a drag queen, and you probably shouldn’t wear shoes that are too soft. Also, don’t wear shoes that let your foot slide around the sole in the inside.
You’ll also need to wear some clothes....unless you workout at home. But still, I wouldn’t wanna drop a plate on any part of my anatomy.
Stance, Bar PlacementI would first try this stuff with an empty bar and practice a few days or weeks, or however long it takes to get it down. Step inside the rack. Grip the bar the same way you would during a bench press (shoulder width apart). Make sure you don’t point your elbows back. This causes you to bend forward and is potentially harmfull to the back.Keep them pointing towards the ground.
Duck your head under the bar, and put some pressure on it with your traps. Make sure the bar is resting on your traps and not on that bone that sticks out of the back of your neck. The bar should be below that bone. Ok, now make sure you are in the middle of the bar. Pick the weight up, and stand at attention like a soldier. Try to stand with a bit of an arch in your back, and keep it that way all the way through your squats. Try to also stick your chest and ribcage out.
Your legs should be about shoulder width apart or a little wider. Keep your toes pointing straight ahead (however, if when you try squatting, your knees go out, you should point your feet in the direction your knees go). Don’t take a stance that’s too wide!
You shouldn’t be looking up, but you shouldn’t be looking down. Keep your eyes and head elevated and focused on something that would be just above your head.
Now you are ready to do the eccentric portion of the squat. Take a deep breath, and keep the same soldier posture (also, be sure to keep your abs tight) and drop your butt as if you were about to sit on a chair. It is not uncommon for your torso to bend forward a bit from the hips,but make sure you don’t round your back. Try to keep the bar in line with your ankles, and don't let your knees go beyond your feet. When you get to the bottom position, you shouldn’t sit on anything a la box squats or bounce out of the bottom. These are both very dangerous.Don’t hold your breath. You shouldn’t come up until you get to the point where the femur inserts into the hip is as low as the top of your knee. Don’t stop before this point. If you do, you are robbing yourself of the hardest and most productive part of the movement. I’ve seen tons of people do squats where they only go 1/4 of the way down. Those aren’t real squats and won’t get you as big and strong as these will.
The AscentOnce you get to the bottom, don’t bounce. Keep all the weight on the heels of your feet, and not on the balls. Your feet should remain flat on the floor and the heel shouldn’t come up. If you find your heel coming up, you need to stretch your calves and hamstrings more. Again, make sure you don’t round your back when coming back up. All you hafta do is push with your back and hips at the same time. Push back with your lower back muscles as if you were locking out a deadlift or doing a hyperextenstion. Push your hips up with the glutes by trying to bring your shins in toward the center of your body by trying to extend the knee. Exhale on the way up.
Well, that's about it. Using form such as I described will only make your workouts harder. Sorry, but it's better in the long run. I'll be happy knowing I made somebody throw up on leg day because they tightened up their form.