This Whole Time I’ve Been Squatting All Wrong

Yesterday I mentioned in a blog post that I purchased the book Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. I’ve been reading that book a little at a time and have to say I’m really enjoying it. The author takes a very scientific approach to exercise and outlines the best way to perform a given movement. Not only is the movement outlined but it goes even further as we learn why a particular way of doing the work is optimal.

That isn’t to say the book doesn’t have some problems. I’m a pretty simple guy and I have a tendency to get lost when a string of medical words are thrown at me. Fortunately this only seems to be the case in some of the supporting illustrations. The body of text itself is detailed but I find myself able to keep up without too much trouble.

The first exercise that the book gets into is the squat. For the past eight weeks I have been placing the bar on my traps, wrapping my thumbs around the bar, and lowering myself into position. Back in my Planet Fitness days I was limited to a Smith Machine for squatting and getting too low lead to knee pain. As a result, I’ve developed a habit of not fully lowering myself all the way down before driving up.

This has lead to some minor back irritation and the bulk of the lift being performed on the balls of my feet. I’ve watched myself lift this way in the mirror and it looked like what I’ve seem in various YouTube Videos.

Starting Strength - Squat Low Position

Starting Strength takes a different approach and starts at the very beginning. First setting the legs in the proper position, then angling the feet, and finally lowering yourself into position. This, of course, is all done without a bar. Following the steps in the book I was able to get myself in the proper position and I was amazed and how much more natural it felt.

After a little stretching and some practice getting into position, I felt like I was ready for the next step. Head position and drive. In the gym I’ve been keeping my head up so that I could see my range of motion in the mirror. This is incorrect and with a small adjustment I was ready to drive back up.

It really is amazing how natural the correct position and range of motion feels. The next step will be repeating the process with an empty bar across my back. That will have to wait until tomorrows gym session as I do not have a bar at home.

The only concern I have at this point is how low Starting Strength has the bar positioned on the back. Instead of placing it on my traps, I’m supposed to hold it using the posterior muscles of the shoulders. Not only that, instead of wrapping my thumbs around the bar they should be over the bar. I think this is going to be the toughest part to get comfortable with.

Starting Strength - Squat Bar Placement

With my current program coming to an end, I’m excited to start something new. I won’t be knocking out nearly as many reps with Starting Strength but I’m looking forward to seeing an increase in strength due to the progression of the program.

Starting Strength is a three day per week program. Since I’m determined to be in the gym five days per week, I’m going to incorporate two days of cardio. I’m thinking that one day will be light to moderate cardio. Maybe I’ll go for a 60 minute run and focus on a smooth and steady pace. Just enough to get my heart rate up and burning calories.

The second day I’m leaning towards a mild form of High Intensity Interval Training (I know, putting mild in front of HIIT doesn’t seem right). I like the idea of running two minutes at a slow and steady pace (a heart rate of between 135 and 140 beats per minute) followed by a one minute burst of speed (aiming for around 160 beats per minute). 30 minutes of that should have me soaked by the time I’m done.

At the moment I’m not trying to send my weight loss into hyperdrive, I just enjoy being active again. If losing weight is a byproduct of that, then that would be amazing. If my weight were to hold steady for a while, I think I would be okay with that as well.

I’m a long way from where I want to be on the scale but I’m at the point where I’m okay with that. I feel better and my clothes are beginning to fit loose (wearing some of my old XXL shirts feels like I’m wearing a bed sheet these days) and I can see a difference when I look in the mirror. My chest, arms, and shoulders look more defined and I’m more interested in seeing that progress than I am in seeing the number on the scale dip.

If you were my personal trainer, how would you see me spending my two off-days per week? What type of cardio do you think would keep me active without interfering with Starting Strength?

4 comments On This Whole Time I’ve Been Squatting All Wrong

  • I High bar squat, I rarely ever low bar. Low bar tends to add a little more strain then I like on my lower back. And don’t worry Millions of People squat wrong at first. My advice work on the ankle mobility first… if that is bad it sets up for disaster down the line.

    • There are parts of Starting Strength (the book) that are driving me a little crazy. At this point it feels like I’m half way through a 1,000 page dissertation on the body mechanics of the squat. It is information overload but I’ve got the basic movement down. Now to put it to practice and see if I can replicate the movement with a bar.

  • I’m not familiar with the overall strength program so my advice would be to listen to your body on the 2 day non lifting gym days to determine potential cardio workout. Monitor am resting heartrate and if it’s elevated (say 7 beats over average) that’s a pretty good indicator you may be recovered or may even be getting sick and extra rest day may be needed. Otherwise 20-30 minutes in low intensity cardio fat burning zone 60-70% max heart rate should be sufficient.

    • Paul,
      To tell you the truth, I haven’t got the slightest idea what my resting heart rate is. On occasion I wear a heart rate monitor during cardio but I’ve only ever paid attention to my heart rate during exercise. I’ll have to check it and make a note of it.

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