Quick, answer the following question: A powerful squat depends mostly on what muscles?

You answered "quadriceps", right?

If you did, you're wrong.

Strong quadriceps are secondarily important to the squat. Good squatting depends mostly on the hips, hamstrings, spinal erectors, glutes (the posterior chain) and the abs.

A good posterior chain

Utilizing the muscles of the posterior chain while squatting depends on an athlete having proper squat form.

Squat incorrectly, and an athlete's knees will buckle in, his stance will be shoulder width, and he won't get anywhere close to having his thighs parallel to the ground. In this position, an athlete will stress his lower back, overly depend on the quadriceps (the vmo, specifically), won't be able to use much weight, stress his knees, and won't appreciably utilize his powerful posterior chain muscles. Watch the following video, and focus specifically on the athlete's knee action as he begins to ascend:

Notice how the athlete's knees cave towards his midline as he pushes the weight up.

Squat correctly, and an athlete will push his knees out, have his feet wider than his shoulders, push his glutes back (as if searching for a chair far behind him), and push out with both his knees and his feet.

Squatting properly is especially important for multisport athletes. Because of the repetitive nature of cycling and running, proper muscle balance and firing patterns helps prevent overuse injuries. Squatting properly will balance the strength ratio between the quads and the hamstrings. Not only will squatting properly produce healthier athletes, but it will build more powerful athletes, too.

Of the components of proper squat form that I listed above, I have found that pushing the knees out is the most important. If an athlete learns how to squat while pushing his knees out, he will take a major step towards perfecting his squat form. And, importantly, he will engage the muscles of his hips, hamstrings, glutes, abs, and spinal erectors.

To train your body to squat by pushing the knees out, you should do a few things. First, take some of the weight off the bar, because when you are working on a lift's form, you shouldn't be using a lot of weight. You can first try to simply use the cue "push your knees out", and see if you properly engage your hips. You'll know if you do it correctly; you'll feel it in your hips and butt. If this doesn't work, and you still cave in at the knees (most likely because of weak muscles somewhere in the hips, butt structure), you can practice squatting with a miniband around your knees.

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Killer squat form. Notice that the athlete keeps her knees out. Notice also how she sits back, as if decending to the toilet when taking a crap. In my opinion, she should have her feet wider, but who am I to disagree with Mark Verstegen?

You can practice this lift unloaded, as in the above video, and progress to squatting with a barbell on your back. Remember that the miniband squat is a technique exercise. Once the athlete has mastered the cue of pushing the knees wide, the miniband should be removed and the athlete should squat normally. Bonus points if you look as hot when your squatting as that girl in the video does.

Finally, two bonus tips... 1) squat in flat shoes, such as Chuck Taylors and 2) Always keep your weight on your heels. #1 helps with #2.


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