Rebuilding Phil’s Squat

You may remember Phil from one of the back training videos I posted a while back. I have trained with Phil before, but we have never squatted together. Phil came to the Shed looking to squat, and was telling me about how he could rep out 130kg in the back squat. I performed a quick movement assessment on Phil, and as we went through I knew damn well i wasn’t going to see a full range 130kg squat from him.

The first indicator was that Phil couldn’t brace his trunk to save his life. In the video below you will see him perform a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) style trunk stability push up. Phil has more than enough upper body strength to perform the movement, but cannot push himself up off the ground without excessive lower back extension due to poor ability to brace his midsection. This was a dead giveaway he wasn’t going to be able to full range squat the weights he told me. If you want to move big weights you need to be able to brace your midsection to transfer force from your legs to the bar.

So how did we address this?

First, we went over some exercises teaching Phil how to find and maintain a neutral spine position. See the inch worm exercise below.

We then reinforced this in an exercise called the RKC plank, which I learned from Andy Bolton’s book Deadlift Dynamite.To this day it is still one of my favourite books on strength training. The RKC plank is great for teaching how to brace the midsection, and strengthening the associated muscles. To do it setup in a plank position and then:

  •  Squeeze your fists as hard as you can
  • Squeeze your legs together as hard as you can
  • Contract our quadriceps as hard as you can (think “pull your kneecaps up”)
  • Push your toes up towards your elbows, and your elbows towards your toes as hard as you can

This is not an endurance exercise! 3 -5 sets of 10 seconds will do. In the video below you will see Phil initially has trouble finding proper spine alignment. After some cueing he can find a better spine position but loses it quickly and starts going into excessive extension. Some more time on lower level exercises such as the inch worm is needed before coming to this exercises in a couple of weeks.

The next step is teaching Phil how to brace his midsection during a squat. Chris Duffin has one of the best squat tutorial videos going around. Watch the first 10 minutes for  detailed instruction on how to brace your midsection during a squat.

When Phil got the hang of this bracing technique we could start building his squat. We started with traditional barbell back squats to get Phil practicing the bracing technique. This was followed by paused front squats and then paused back squats.

Paused squat variations are great for building trunk stability as they increase time under tension for the trunk stabilisers in the hardest position of the squat. The bar position for front squat also facilitates greater abdominal recruitment and is another good choice for strengthening the midsection.

As you will see in the video Phil struggled with 80kg x 3 reps to parallel. I guessed correctly, I wasn’t going to see a 130kg squat. Phil admitted his 130kg squats weren’t to full depth, as he couldn’t previously squat as low as he did after we cleaned up his movement.

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