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3 Ways You Can Instantly Improve Your Squat Experience

I was doing my own workout last night at Striation 6 when I noticed one of our clients at having a very awkward barbell squat experience. Squats are a very popular exercise, and with good reason! As a personal trainer in a big city like Toronto, I have had the pleasure of working with numerous clients whose spinal and leg strength, muscularity and aesthetic qualities have improved thanks to the effective use of barbell squats. Bear in mind though, that "standard" form on squats may be sub-optimal for you - or even terrible for you, as it was for this gentleman last night! - based on your experience, range of available joint positions (that's Geek for "flexibility") and limb proportions.

If you are struggling or have struggled in the past with barbell squats, here are 3 ways that you can potentially alter that experience instantaneously:

  1. Open your stance. The standard order of "feet shoulder-width apart" is sub-optimal for many people and can cause a lot of lower back and knee discomfort - not what we want in exercise! Try opening your stance and/or turning your toes slightly out. This will give you a wider base of support, help to accommodate your particular mechanics, and let you actually feel the squeeze in your glutes and quads.
  2. Slow down. Are you in a rush??? Why are you falling into your squat? Take your time and control your way into the bottom of your squat range. An uncontrolled fall into your squat is a great way to ruin what might otherwise be a great exercise! Try taking a full 3 - 4 seconds into your descent and imagine yourself pulling your butt and the bar towards the floor. This is probably the most effective intention that I have implemented in my professional personal training career to improve clients' squat experiences. You may have use less weight than you normally would use, but the muscular sensation that you attain will have you back up and beyond your normal loads sooner than later.
  3. Grip the barbell. Assuming you have the available shoulder range of motion to barbell squat, actively grip the barbell throughout the exercise. This will not only have you using more muscle in an intentionally active way (great for pretty much any exercise objective!), it will also give you a much greater sense of stability in the exercise. Your grip will help cue you to be mindful of your spine and your shoulders, making your squat a far more effective total-body exercise.

Give these 3 pointers a try - my experience last night at Striation 6 had a young and enthusiastic client go from a potentially injurious situation with his squats to one where he was able to squat deeper, with greater joint comfort and a much stronger feeling of "squeeze" coming out of his quads and glutes. I hope they help you, too!

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