There's something about seeing a barbell loaded with plates that creates such deep feelings of fear, intimidation, confidence and success. A bar waiting for you on the ground or on a rack, that you have not lifted can literally bring grown, confident men to their knees. It's scary to approach an unwavering mass of metal and solid rubber with the expectation that you are about to move that mass in a controlled, powerful, structured, violent way.
But then you visualize that movement. You see yourself execute it with Olympic perfection. You feel your muscles tense up, not with fear now, but with excitement. You are about to take complete control of this weight and do what you will with it, with every ounce of energy you can muster.
And when the chalk and dust has settled back around that weight, and you step back to look at that mass you just moved with power and grace, you feel completely in control.
A loaded bar lifted becomes sheer beauty. It is something you own, and you now know you can overcome. It's presence there represents your strength, your power, your control, your confidence.
Now add a little more weight to it and do it again.
I Love The Gym.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
The front squat is an exercise used very commonly in training weightlifters, but besides that is unfortunately not used all that much. I personally admit to not programming this incredibly effective tool as often as I would like for my general fitness members, but that is changing now.
I like the exercise because the front loaded nature of it demands a greater level of technical proficiency in the athlete. Because of that it allows for better movement and a more balanced athlete in the end. If you have an athlete who struggles with the back squat, a great deal of their issues will be mended rather quickly by incorporating more front squats in their program. Here's why I like it:
- forces the athlete into a more upright position
- force-recruits the muscles of the core
- allows for greater depth increasing lower-body joint function and strength
- demands greater mobility and control of the shoulders, arms and wrists
- does not overload the body allowing greater balance in strength gains
There are still plenty of things that can go wrong with this lift, just like any lift. So here are five cues I like to use with all my athletes to help them improve on their front squat.
1. Hold The Bar High
I coach that the front squat is an attempted back squat but the neck and head are in the way. This means that your goal is to get the bar as close to your back as you possible can. The higher on your shoulders the bar is, the easier it will be to establish the most efficient mechanics. You should feel the bar literally resting on your shoulders and physically pushing against your neck. The second the bar begins to slide away from your neck and down your shoulders you will tend to be pulled forward, making the squat WAY more difficult.
This can be uncomfortable, so be sure to practice this with an empty bar so that you can adapt to the feeling. It's never fun to rack off a crazy heavy weight and feel like you're being choked out.
2. Engage Your Arms
Something that is incredibly common for most squats is people forget to engage their upper body pre lift. Squatting trains your legs, sure; but you need your entire body involved if you expect to get the most out of it. This especially holds true for the front squat. If you soften up your upper body, you'll let the bar pull you forward and just like the first point, you won't be squatting with very efficient mechanics. Take a big breath, poof out your chest, tense up your shoulders, and drive your elbows UP. This tensions will fire up all the muscles in your upper body, and also right down your midline helping to keep your entire body engaged throughout the lift.
3. Balance Your Decent
It's common to cue driving your butt back on a squat. This makes sense to me in that it forces athletes to recruit their glutes as the main mover of a large leg exercise. You would obviously want your glutes and hamstrings to be very, very involved in any form of squat. The issue with this cue on a front squat is that the second you drive your butt back, you allow for a forward inclination of your torso, allowing the bar to pull you forward, and leading to the issues that the first two points generally have. The goal is to stay upright. To do so you simply drop straight down to perform this squat. Don't push the butt back like crazy, don't slide the knees forward. Simply break the the crease of the hip and knees simultaneously and think about dropping your butt directly down to the floor.
I use the seemingly contradicting cues of "butt back" and "chest up" together all the time. This actually allows for a more active body throughout the entire lift. If you stay completely upright and try to push your butt back as you squat, you will be very engaged throughout. But you must perform both, that is VERY important.
4. Use The Bottom
This is something you see with weightlifters all the time and something that is actually kind of challenging if you don't know how to do it. But, once you learn, this is an incredible tool to use to understand power into hip extension (something that EVERY athlete and human should truly understand if they expect to function well).
The idea is that you aggressively hit the very bottom of your squat (yes, I am assuming you actually reach the full bottom of the squat, you will not be able to use the bottom unless you actually hit it) and then drive up with the intensity of a max effort vertical jump. Many people call this "bouncing" out of of the bottom. I don't like using that word as it tends to imply, well, bouncing (all I can visualize right now is someone sitting on a stability ball and bouncing up and down). This always seems to lead to a disengagement of the body at the bottom and I see athletes lose tension like crazy as they attempt to drive out of the most challenging position of the squat. Stay on tension! If you can keep tension, then rebound out of that bottom position like you're superman about to leap over a tall building in a single bound!
Oh, and my favorite cue of coming out of the bottom is: drive your elbows up like your elbowing someone in the face with both elbows!
5. Finish Strong
Simple, do not come out of tension until you have completed the lift. For some reason people tend to relax their upper body a fraction of a second before they fully extend. Or worse yet, they begin lean to rack the bar as they come up from their last rep. Stop rushing and releasing tension! Stand up in control, stand there in tension for a second, then either take a breath and hit your next rep, or under control rack the bar back up. Train your body to be in control of every second of this awesome lift!
There are many forms of squatting, and I personally think the front squat is universally the most effective to promote better movement in the entire body. Find a way to incorporate it in your program, even if it's an accessory lift once a week. It may not be the most comfortable of lifts, but it sure as hell will help you out a ton!
Never Stop, GET FIT.
Well, seeing how it's been forever since I last wrote on this thing, I figured I'd start back up with a string of posts inspired by what I've been seeing in my gyms, as well as my "Love The Gym" posts. I'll start with an issue that my fellow coaches and I will probably have to deal with for the next couple thousand years or so: athletes "sticking" to their program.
You see it posted and written up everywhere, if you want true success in the gym, follow a program. This means actually having a program that is written out and has some form of progression to it. And it means actually following that thing for at least a few months to see it through. Speaking from my own gyms perspective, everyone has a program, so that's not really an issue here (but I know it's an issue for some, so, perhaps a post in the near future?). So let's move on to the whole following of said program.
I find three main things occur that really get to me with my athletes:
1) They Don't Come In Regularly.
This is about the most basic idea to being successful in anything, staying committed. If you decide to skip out on sessions, skip a week because you're kind of feeling tired, or it's a little more stressful at work or school; you won't have the gains of someone who comes in for all their sessions. Um, duh! I've heard almost every excuse imaginable, and I'll be honest, I've made some excuses myself for why I can't be committed. But that's just what they are, excuses. Everyone has the time if they actually want the gains. If you show up here and there, skip out on workouts regularly, and are generally uncommitted to sticking with the program, you can't expect to get better all that much.
2) Doing What's Written.
My response for pretty much anyone who asks what they should do when they get to the gym is "what's on the board". Sure, you might not be a fan of snatches, or you might find Turkish Get Ups to be really challenging, or maybe you don't like running and there are 100 meter sprints as part of the program. Suck it up, stop being so damn difficult and get your work in. There is not a thing in this world that comes without some sort of challenging aspect, and fitness sure as hell comes at a price. You MUST work on things you suck at, do things that are really tough, push yourself out of your comfort zone and learn to adapt to many different demands and stresses. If you choose to skip reps, or exercises, go though the motions on movements that you don't like rather than challenge yourself to get better at them, well, you can expect to continue having the same issues you've been having.
3) Doing Stuff On Your Own.
This one is a tough one because there's a fine line between getting in extra work and overdoing things. Also, I have a hard time getting upset at someone who is dedicated enough to fitness to want to do more outside of the gym (usually it's the two issues above). But with the amount of high school and college athletes I get in the gym, it's incredibly common that these guys get together with friends to workout, have workouts with their teams, get pushed my their parents to do more, or just feel like doing more means getting better. Let me set the record straight: more does not always equal better!
Let me share with you an example that has happened far too many times to count with athletes at my gym. We are smack in the middle of an intense adaptation phase of a program (meaning very specific weight and rep schemes to help build muscular and nervous system awareness to specific loads and movements) and a couple kids complain that their shoulders are really tired. "Well, why?", I ask (because I specifically programmed the last three sessions to under utilize the shoulders in prep for this workout). "Oh, we hadn't really done all that much upper body work in the past few sessions so I went and benched with my buddies yesterday".
"Ooook" I say. "What kind of benching did you do?"
"We three rep maxed. Probably did something like 10 sets with the warm up sets". This is usually followed by some defensive statement about how good they felt, how they could totally do the workout today, they just wanted to, well, maybe modify it?
This sort of thing will do nothing but completely piss off your coach. We spend hours and hours writing programs, assessing clients, motivating each and every person in the gym, and dedicating our lives to helping you achieve all your fitness, health, and sport goals (at least that's what coaches should be doing). When you decide to take it upon yourself to do your own thing without first consulting with the person you are paying and trusting to help you get better, well, you're not being very smart.
What I always tell people in this situation is that they came to me to get better. If they feel like they are not getting what they want from the program they have two options:
2) Talk to me about what can be done to assess their issues.
I would say about 99% of the time they then express their concerns, the program is explained, they understand that they should trust in the program, they begin to commit fully to the program, and they get incredible gains and achieve all their goals. Crazy, I know.
The moral of the story here is the more committed you are to following through on something, the greater your chances of success are. Nothing new her. Something I'm pretty sure every single person who can read this would agree on. But, it's hard to do, especially when it comes to the gym. But, if you truly want to get better, the concept is the easiest and simplest possible: Find a place that you like, and commit fully to their program. Stick to it. That is all.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
This "Love The Gym" is a new series on my blog that I thought of while standing at the door of my gym while a class was going on. I had this awesome mixture of adults and teens, guys and girls, 9 to 5ers and serious athletes. Music was playing, iron and rubber were slamming, sounds of exertion and motivation were flying though the air. To me, this is absolutely beautiful. A building filled with tools and toys that help make us better human beings. Groups of people coming in and pushing themselves daily beyond what they thought they'd ever be capable. They struggle, they fail, they hit a PR lift. They click with a concept of movement and that moment of realization when they all of a sudden pull themselves under the bar rather than pull the bar up to their shoulders, it's incredible to watch. Sweat and chalk on a loaded barbell, plates slamming down onto a sled and the grind of those sled skids across the floor as an athlete puts everything into it, awesome.
Sometimes it's as simple as rolling up the door in the morning before anyone gets to the gym to see the raising sunlight sweep across the platforms that gets me.
Sometimes it's flicking off the lights at night and seeing the stacks of plates looming in the shadows.
Other times it's sitting on a chair next to my platform or rack, a loaded bar calmly waiting for me to lift it or squat it. There's no music on, just my breathing, that sticky, slapping sound of me pulling up my knee sleeves, the creaking of the metal hook of my weight belt, and then I hear my own gruff, guttural sound of self motivation as I approach the bar. The way the bar feels the second my hands wrap around it, chalk poofing out from the sides of my hands. And then its just me and that weight. Tension. Lift.
I Love The Gym.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
Get Discounts Below!