There are nine basic movements that, when learned, unlock the rest of CrossFit's weightlifting movements. They are the: squat, front squat, overhead squat, shoulder press, push press, push jerk, deadlift, sumo deadlift high pull, and medicine ball clean. We addressed the presses in yesterday's post, and we addressed the deadlift several weeks ago. Today, we explore the squats.
The squat, in CrossFit, refers to the air squat - without weight. A weighted squat, or with a bar resting on the back, is referred to as a back squat. Here, Troy and Ann do Tabata Squats, a routine involving 20 seconds of squats followed by 10 seconds of rest repeated eight times. Troy's depth is such that he squats all the way to his ankles, while Ann, and many others, use a medicine ball as a target for proper depth.
There are three basic squats: the air squat, or squat, the overhead squat, and the front squat. The back squat, or weighted back squat, will be addressed at length in a separate blog due to its importance from a powerlifting perspective and for the fact that it is not one of the nine basic CrossFit moves.
The most fundamental squat of all is the air squat. The air squat, or just called squat by CrossFitters, is also the foundation for just about every other movement done in CrossFit from wall ball shots to box jumps and from back squats to thrusters. The beauty in the squat is the simplicity of it. True athleticism cannot be achieved until the squat is mastered.
The squat begins from a standing position with the feet set shoulder width, or slightly wider, apart. As the body descends, the hip and knee angles close while the head stays up with shoulders back. The knees travel over the feet as the heels remain firmly in place on the ground. At no time does the weight shift from the heels to the balls of the feet, or worse, the toes! The chest stays upright, or high, and the midsection must remain tight for solid midline stabilization. A proper lumber curve, or back arched, must be maintained throughout the range of motion. The arms should move from their position next to the body up towards the front and above head height as a counterbalance as the body goes to full depth. And what is full depth? That's where the crease of the hip goes below the level of the knee. It is important to note that new CrossFitters and those with limited flexibility will need to bend forward much more than more experienced squatters. This form is acceptable as long as the lumber curve is maintained and will become more upright as the squat matures. Squat maturity can take months, or years, to achieve. Only when the basic squat mechanics are solid can one add back squats to their training routine.
The next squat in the progression is the front squat. All of the mechanics for the squat are present in the front squat, except that now there's a bar resting on the chest and shoulders. The lifter must maintain a loose grip on the bar and raise the elbows in an effort to get the triceps as close to parallel as possible. The wrists will feel some strain from this racked position, especially throughout the squat range of motion. Lifters doing the front squat must work on wrist flexibility. Exercises such as handstands will improve both flexibility and strength in the wrists. Training for proper front squat form must begin with PVC pipe and progress up to weighted squats once the move is mastered.
Finally, the overhead squat. The mechanics of the overhead squat from the shoulder down are the same as the squat; however, the similarities end there. A proper grip on the bar is essential for proper depth of the squat. To find the proper grip, begin with a PVC pipe in front of the body resting on the quads with the arms extended down. Take a wide grip on the pipe. Then, slowly rotate the PVC pipe, with arms extended, up and over the head and behind the back. Continue to make these rotations while decreasing the width of the grip each time. When you find the point where you cannot rotate the arms without some kind of shoulder or arm contortion, you've reached the point of the proper grip width. Back off the grip about 1/2 inch on each side and hold the PVC pipe directly overhead. The PVC pipe should be somewhere around 8 inches above the head.
With the PVC pipe overhead, extend the shoulders up into the ears. This is referred to as an active shoulder. The active shoulder is paramount when lifting loads overhead as it translates the loads through the arms and shoulders directly to the body's core. Without an active shoulder on the overhead lifts, the ability to lift heavier loads will be severely limited.
Once the proper grip and active shoulder have been set, the lifter begins the overhead squat. As the body descends, the PVC pipe should move in a vertical path. To do this, the shoulders will have to rotate slightly to the rear during the descent and then slightly forward during the ascent. A tight core is required throughout this movement as well as maintaining a proper lumbar curve and keeping the weight in the heels just like the squat and front squat.
The overhead squat is the truth teller when it comes to squat form. Done correctly, it's a picture perfect squat; however, any deficiency in the squatter's form will be exposed with this movement. When found, it's best to go back to square one and begin again with the air squat mechanics.
Practice, practice, practice. It is not enough to practice the squats only during CrossFit workouts three or four times per week. To master these basic moves, practice for five minutes every day and add a little bit of the slight edge to your training.