The Squat: Simple Coaching Cues For Any Level – Pt. 1

The Squat is by far one of the most basic human movements, done daily while at work, sitting on the couch, playing with kids, yet it is one of the most troublesome movements that can have damaging effects on the body and lead to chronic pain if not done properly. Most of the major cues for this movement are for the lower body and generated around the premises of increasing muscular tension and torque to move an external load. I want to discuss three very simple ones for the lower body that I use to give you some food for thought during your next squat session. More will be covered in future posts as this Coaching Cues series continues.

FEET: “Feet straight, Screw your toes outward and split the paper”
The base of this movement is highly variable and is taught differently from coach to coach. Screwing the toes into the ground helps generate torque at the joints and set the ankle and knee into proper alignment. Splitting the paper means to take your feet and literally think about ripping paper in half. This cue helps engage the muscles of external hip rotators (primarily your glute medius and piriformis), your hamstrings, groin muscles and quads. The reciprocal effect is a better creation of lower body tension and stretch reflex at the bottom or “hole” position.

KNEES: Driving the knees outward will help generate external rotation torque in the hip joint if you keep your feet pointed straight ahead. This is greatly demonstrated by Kelly Starrett in his book “Becoming a Supple Leopard”. The caveat to this is that you do need a good amount of hip mobility to be able to do this and reach full depth. With keeping the feet straight, this also helps ensure the knee does not dive into a valgus fault with your ankles collapsing and the knee dropping in.

Kelly Starrett demonstrating outward knee drive

This is a highly debatable area of the squat along with the feet position. Whether to keep the feet angled out slightly, keep them straight ahead, should the knee stay over the foot angle or should it press out as you lower. These debates mostly stem from people analyzing the elite level lifters and there techniques. Many of them are genetic freaks and even there styles differ from person to person. So it comes down to “who do you follow and what do they do” as to what is considered proper. I read a lot of articles and research and in the end it comes down to what do I think works for me and my athletes or clients. If something is not working for someone, I go back, analyze the movement pattern and adjust accordingly.

HIPS: “Sit back in your hips”
Very common cue here. Nothing fancy about it. You want to sit back like your sitting down in a chair almost. This cue has a lot of pitfalls as many people will drop there chest level and “reach” there hips back instead of allowing them to sit back in a natural and smooth lowering pattern.

A good way to learn this is to practice wall squats. Stand close a wall with your toes nearly touching it. Raise your hands above your head and keep them locked out without touching the wall, but as close to as possible. Perform a squat without having your knees or hands touch the wall. If done properly, this exercise will force you to sit back in your hips, keep your chest up and allow you to generate the proper movement pattern.

Proper Overhead Wall Squat

So again, as a disclaimer for this series, these are very basic cues that I utilize for my training programs and coaching. There are numerous ways of cueing individuals, from audible, visual, and tactile. Hopefully this will help some individuals who never have heard of these cues or why they are used and maybe spark some ideas or conversation for some of you seasoned vets. Either way, thanks for stopping by and look for more to come soon.

Coach T

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