11 Apr #165 – Diagnosing Back Angles in the Squat
Get out your protractors, because it’s time to talk about angles. Back angles in the squat, of course! As you know from the previous episodes on squat technique, an individual’s back angle in a correct squat is determined by her anthropometry. However, there are some common mistakes related to back angle that lifters should be aware of. Matt and Scott discuss these errors and offer tips on how to fix them.
We don’t actually care what the angle of the back is, rather we care that the lifter establishes the back angle (i.e. leans over) during the first 1/3 of the descent (for people with really long legs, the first 1/2) and maintains that angle as he hits depth and drives up out of the hole. Indeed, if there is a second “master cue” for the squat, it might be “hold the back angle.” Critics of the Starting Strength squat model often point to lifters doing a “squat morning” or “stripper squat” — meaning they raise their hips out of the bottom while allowing the back to become more horizontal, reminiscent of the bottom position of the good morning exercise — as a major flaw in the model. However the model clearly states that, once set, the back angle should be held constant through the movement, including the rebound out of the bottom known as the hip drive.
This is one of the common back angle errors that lifters make: driving their hips up while allowing their chest to drop. This error is more prevalent with relatively horizontal squatters, those with long femurs and short torsos, because there is a large amount of moment force operating on the back at the bottom of the squat. In this case the lifter may have sufficient strength in the posterior chain to drive out of the bottom, but lacks the strength in the trunk to maintain his back angle. Or they may simply need a reminder to “hold their back angle,” or perhaps an over-cue to “lift the chest.” That said, in a properly executed squat, you’ll often observe the hips drive out the bottom slightly ahead of the back. This is a consequence of a strong hip drive and not a problem.
The other common error is the opposite: raising the chest early out of the bottom. This occurs most frequently in lifters with long torsos and short femurs, that is, lifters who have a more vertical back angle. Raising the chest is problematic because it opens the hip angle prematurely, transferring moment from the hip joint into the knees. As detailed in previous podcasts, the hip extensors comprise several large and powerful muscles while the knee extensors are just one muscle group (the quads), so keeping moment on the hips is desirable. Lifters raising their chest coming out of the hole benefit from a visual cue, such as an object on the floor close to their feet reminding them to look down. The chest tends to follow the eye gaze, so the visual cue can also work for lifters with the aforementioned chest drop; in their case, the object would be placed further away from them, several feet, to raise the gaze and reinforce the chest up position.
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Thanks to Kevin McLeod for the outro music during the outtakes:
Aces High by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
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