The Bret Contreras Podcast Episode 1: Ideal Squat Mechanics

Click HERE to download an mp3, click HERE to listen in iTunes, click HERE to listen on Stitcher, or use the player below.

podcast

Today’s episode reviews Mark Rippetoe’s recent T-Nation article dealing with squat mechanics. In addition, I review another T-Nation article on bodybuilder steroid cycles as well as my last several blogposts. I hope you enjoy it! Here’s the break down:

Rippetoe Squat Mechanics Discussion: 1:12 – 20:56
Bodybuilder Steroid Cycle Discussion: 20:57 – 24:22
Glute Imbalances Discussion: 24:23 – 28:53
Offensive Pictures Discussion: 28:54 – 31:47
A Day in My Life Discussion: 31:48 – 34:06
Don’t Just Go By Scale Weight Discussion: 34:07 – 41:23
Why Use “Good Form” Discussion: 41:24 – 43:51

Squat Mechanics

Here are images of what Rippetoe would describe as ideal squat mechanics for the masses – for the most part I’m in agreement

 

Links

Squat Mechanics: A Deep Analysis

The Contreras Files: Volume II

The Truth About Bodybuilding Genetics

Steroids: What Pro Bodybuilders Are Really Using

The 2-1 Method for Fixing Glute Imbalances

A Day in the Life of The Glute Guy: All That Glitters is Not Gold

Don’t Be a Slave to the Scale

Why Should I Use “Good” Form if I’m Stronger With “Bad” Form?

32 Comments

  • Georgert says:

    I kind of had to laugh and commiserate about your comment on “offensive pictures.” I am a middle-aged man who coaches women’s gymnastics. In a typical week I work with about 50 fit young girls who all wear leotards. As I’ve been coaching for a number of years, and while I can fully appreciate the esthetics of a fit, firm female body, what I see in the gym is whether or not the athlete displays good relative strength values, long lines, toe point, straight legs, neutral head, contraction of the glutes, etc., i.e., I see them as athletes not girls. Either your critics spend too little time in the gym around athletes or they have issues confusing athleticism with sexuality.

  • Ron says:

    “Offensive Pictures Discussion: 28:54 – 31:47”

    Good for you. I used to workout at a place that had other classes for women and I have an important question to ask: Why don’t they change out of those crazy outfits BEFORE they go to Starbucks to get their coffee? They had changing rooms there. Personally I think they do it because they want the attention. I guess I can understand that. If you work hard, you want recognition for your efforts. My best guess as to the small minority that complain about the occasion butt shot is they’re jealous they don’t have that butt. When the day comes that you start holding a gun to peoples head and making them read your blog during the church procession, then they can complain.

  • Charlotte says:

    Is it possible to get a transcript of this, please? 🙂

  • Derrick Blanton says:

    Nice podcast, BC! Since I have entirely too much energy tonight, here are some lengthy and detailed random thoughts, discussion:

    1.) I like Rip’s SQ style a lot, particularly for pause squats, and as a ramping warmup, but for work sets, I prefer a high bar ATG SQ due to more complete overall leg development. If your hip capsules will allow it, I think ATG is definitely worth learning. A tool in the toolbox.

    This whole notion of hamstrings slacking if you SQ to the floor robbing you of an adaptation puzzles me. Do they not re-tension on the way back up through that ROM? I’ll trade you a little hamstring activation (debatable), in exchange for some more quad ROM under load. Not to mention there are numerous other exercises to effectively hit the hammies.

    ATG SQ strength (esp. if DLing too) seems to quickly translate to a Rip leverage advantage SQ, not sure the reverse is true. (You allude directly to this at 18:20.) It’s also easier on the shoulders.

    1a) For some reason the idea of squatting for quads has gotten a black eye, much like benching for chest. It’s bizarre.

    Rip SQ for posterior chain? Sure, it’s effective. (So is picking stuff off the floor.) If you want to purposefully SQ for posterior chain, wouldn’t you actually WANT to turn the SQ into an intentional SQ morning? Really train it that way. On purpose, shoot the hips up and grind out the hip extension.

    2.) How about train a high bar ATG SQ, and a torso to 90-degrees SLDL, and my bet is that you will have complete leg development, and your adaptations will translate to all SQ and DL forms in between, with the possible exception of sumo DL due to the wide abduction.

    (Why not the FSQ? Also a great move, but hard to really test the QUs with the volume and TUT they need, without the upper back giving out first. Big fan of quads here.)

    3.) At 10:40 – “Are we not going to have people DL, or SQ at all?” (due to shear and/or compression)

    I think you had a facetious tone to that question. Yet isn’t that basically where Mike Boyle ended up? Enter the “Rear Foot Elevated Split SQ”, and spare the spine. Low back and limiting transducers, and all that? Rip 1, Boyle 0?

    (Interesting tidbit: neither Rip’s SQ nor Boyle’s RFESS train the knee into terminal flexion. I digress.)

    4.) Let’s review a few opinions from some very bright fitness minds on “proper SQ technique”:

    Bill Starr: “I teach lifters to keep their upper bodies as upright as possible.”

    Rippetoe: “de-program the too vertical back angle..”

    Todd Bumgardner: “Every squat…should begin with the hips traveling back in a hinge. If they don’t, you’re once again doing it wrong..”

    Poliquin: Bend the knees first.

    Waterbury: Keep torso to 50-60-degrees

    Ian King: Set the pelvis into a posterior tilt, leave a wet spot on the ground. For athletics, wider than shoulder width is pointless.

    Tate: Wider is better. Box SQ.

    Greg Nuckols: High bar/low bar? It doesn’t really matter. SQs are not knee dominant or hip dominant.

    Is it any wonder people get bewildered?

    5.) More SQ morning vs. Good Morning deep thoughts:

    Is a SQ morning potentially more dangerous than a good morning? Generally, I say yes, for two primary reasons:

    1. More load used,
    2. Nervous system confusion when you throw in the effect of knee extension, which then effects hip position.

    The body fully understands what it is doing when you descend into a good morning. It will limit the degree of hip flexion (torso flexion), or at least attempt to cautiously control it as it senses danger. With a SQ morning, though, it may rather abruptly find itself in a position that it did not control getting into, with a load it did not count on.

    Counterpoint to that is if you consistently train the SQ in a Layne Norton “SQ morning fashion”, then you know exactly what’s up, you are prepared.

    6.) At 25:35, Glute shifting: I have seen this asymmetry go either way with form. Shift the load to strong glute side, but then also the opposite, where the glute stronger in extension powers the load over to the weak hip, which then basically dumps it down onto the weak hip side quad. This is the lifter with one large hip, and one opposite side large quad, who essentially squats in a perma-B stance.

    7.) At 28:32. Mirror feedback.

    I have a hunch instant mirror feedback hinders motor learning, like trying to talk on a phone with an immediate echo, it throws you off. Like learning a dive, or a dance step, we are trying to process movement feedback through a different part of the brain. Rather, shoot video of the set, and immediately watch post set. Then go fly blind again with the video fresh in mind. Obviously, just a theory.

    OK, random thoughts review of podcast complete. Holy shit, this got out of hand! 🙂

    • Bret says:

      Hi Derrick, here is my response:
      1. Remember, Rippetoe is only interested in building the strongest squat. Not emphasizing a particular muscle. Agree that hams will be re-tensioned on the way up and that more ROM is slightly better for quad growth. Totally agree that hb ATG squat is valuable and worth learning.
      1a. Or at least a box squat to parallel with vertical shins
      2. Again, Rip is solely concerned about squatting max poundages. Agree that a hb ATG squat paired with a SLDL will provide very comprehensive quad and hamstring strength.
      3. Well, I can see Mike’s point considering that MBSC relies a lot on interns to carry out the S&C of athletes; not worth the risk in his situation.
      4. This is why I freakin’ love you. Did Ian King really say that? Intriguing. Making PPT acceptable long before PRI.
      5. Agree on all points. And btw, I squat morning more than Layne does (not more weight of course but more lean)
      6. Interesting.
      7. I bet there’s some literature on this. BTW I do record video of all my clients’ big lifts and play it back for them after the set. Been doing this for 5 years now and will never go back. Works like a charm.

      Thanks for chiming in my friend, BC

  • Samantha says:

    Great post, as usual. I’ve used HB squats for years. When I started having a great deal of back pain a few years ago, I finally went to the doc and found that I have lumbar scoliosis along with decreasing disc spaces at L4-L5 and L5-S1. I was told not to squat or deadlift. After thinking and taking some time off from both lifts, I lightened my load and switched to LB squat. I believe moving the bar down and utilizing more forward lean decreases the axial load on my spine. I have had success and less back pain with this approach. I still incorporate front squats (light!) for quad development, but I also add Bulgarians and other quad-dominant exercises to my program to balance it all out. Of course, I AM reading “Starting Strength” 🙂

    • Bret says:

      Samantha, funny how sometimes the low bar is much better tolerated with people prone to experiencing back pain. I think it has to do with bending stress; some folks will round when high bar gets close to failure. Glad you didn’t give up, kudos to you!

  • Vadim says:

    Bret, thank you for the podcast, I am also very much enjoying the hit thruster at my home, wow its so heavy and sturdy i love it.

    what is the name of the podcast on itunes?

    • Bret says:

      I haven’t uploaded to iTunes yet, I’m trying to figure out how to do that right now. It’ll be called “The Bret Contreras Podcast.” Glad you like the Hip Thruster 🙂

  • Shannon says:

    About glute imbalance: I have it as well, and often wonder if it is because I do a lot of driving and my right glute is always activated on the gas pedal. I try to make sure to use the other glute as well to balance it out, but I will also being doing as you recommend. Thanks!

  • Jim says:

    Derrick Blanton #4 is gold! So true. When I was trying to improve my squat and reading up on technique and watching videos, for every coach that said “head up and vertical back” there was one that said the opposite. I would try one method then see another guy squat huge weights a different way and think I needed to change it again. I think I read every single article ever written on squat technique and I was spinning my wheels. Eventually I smartened up and took video of myself and started to see what was working and what felt the strongest and worked optimally for my body and my goals. Not having a coach, this is one of the best strategies a lifter can take to improve faster. The same for cues. I have tried every cue and some helped and some made no difference and some made things worse.

    • Bret says:

      That’s what it’s all about Jim!

    • Derrick Blanton says:

      Good Lord. Did I “sleepsurf” last night, and change my name to “Jim”, and post this comment, lol? Jim, I could have kept going uncontrollably on that one, but I still had so many points to get to!

      Anyway, we have almost an EXACT overlap with this experience, translating the wisdom of many to our own personal style, right down to the video correction. Video is a huge help! And guess where I found myself:

      Head neutral to slightly raised.
      Stance width between shoulders and hips.
      Feet flared to 20-degrees.
      Push UP on the bar as if to do a BNP. (NOT pull down with lats, got this tip from Wendler article)
      PPT to initiate. (SEE Ian King link above)
      PRI Brace (Mike Robertson spinal bracing posts)
      Crack the knees first, then load the lateral heels (glutes). (Poliquin, and my own discovery)
      Internally rotate hip down, abduct. (Opposite of Starrett. But my hips have never lined up with tibia due to genetic structure, varus, bowlegs. Effecting further XR on an already XR’ed hip just destroyed my knees. This solved it. Anatomy matters!)
      Ride it straight down ass to calves.
      Explode upwards.

      You’ll notice that many of these steps are the direct opposite of conventional wisdom, cookie cutter stuff..

      No back pain. NO knee pain. Quads (always a pathetic and sad weak link, esp. compared to my glutes, again likely due to structure) are exploding. SQ feels solid, effective, stable, powerful.

      So here you see an absolute Frankenstein of ideas, all pieced together now, and my SQ “looks purdy” to quote a “Deliverance version of Bret”. (You know the one with the beard, and the half grown out Mohawk, and holding a chainsaw…anyone? No? Mmmkay..)

      Now am I going to say that all humanity needs to do it this way?

      YES! OK, that was a joke…NO, of course not.

  • Jim says:

    I think Mark Rippetoe’s argument for a horizontal squat is flawed. He states that squatting with your hips requires a more horizontal back angle. The reason he has found this to be true is that the vast majority of humans in the western world are front dominant. This comes from years of sitting in chairs and sitting to defecate when the natural way is to squat. This is probably the reason people in third world countries can easily squat as if the were two years old, they have to do it each day to relieve themselves.

    Now here is the kicker… if you are front dominant you are posteriorly inhibited. Hence all of Bret’s hard work reactivating the two pieces of limp meat on people’s backsides which most people refer to as glutes. But to function properly in the squat and in life the hamstrings must work actively to stabilize the knee and allow for the expression of quad torque. People always forget that an antagonist is just another name for dynamic stablizer. Since you can’t shoot a cannon from a row boat quad activity is limited. Your brain knows your unstable and will not allow you to recruit a muscle at the expense of the joint… most of the time. So Mark has created a squatting form that compensates for this limitation so common in the training and athletic arena. Instead of fixing the compensation he simply changes the motion so that knee instability due to an inability to recruit the hamstrings is not as large an issue.

    The squat should powerfully recruit the posterior chain but not because you stick your butt way out increasing the external lever arm acting on the hip. Would you perform a vertical jump in that manner? Doesn’t the vertical jump require powerful recruitment of the posterior chain?

    Recruitment is neurological. Thinking that you need a wide stance and horizontal back lean to activate the posterior chain is ludicrous. If that were the case why does the average Olympic lifter look like an extra on the set of the “Baby Got Back” music video? Why do they have some of the highest vertical leaps and 10m sprint times of all athletes including high jumpers and sprinters? Don’t these require glute and hamstring recruitment? It’s not because they are squatting with a horizontal back angle.

    Basically the reason it “works” for Mark is because you are taking front dominant individuals putting them in a position to take stress off an unstable joint allowing them to compensate, not solving the problem, the underlying neurological deficit and then claiming success when they can move more weight. No bueno.

    • Chris says:

      “I think Mark Rippetoe’s argument for a horizontal squat is flawed. He states that squatting with your hips requires a more horizontal back angle. The reason he has found this to be true is that the vast majority of humans in the western world are front dominant. ”

      Jim, have you read Starting Strength? It might be worth checking out to understand his viewpoint more, regardless if you end up agreeing with him or not. He provides a thorough mechanical analysis very different from what appears to be your understanding here.

  • Hey Bret,

    I haven’t listened to your podcast, but I’ve read (I think it was on Danger and Play) that the best performing podcasts come in at 20-30 mins, after that peoples’ attention wanes.

    Just a thought for the future. Also, transcripts are ace, if practical – I don’t have time to listen to a full podcast all the time, but can definitely read through the pertinent areas if written.

    Good luck with it.

  • Sumeet says:

    Hey Bret, I’d love to share some of my glute transformation photos with you. What is the best way to send them to you? You are more than welcome to share them with your readers!

  • Meghan says:

    IS this going to be in ITUNES so we can subscribe?

  • Polly says:

    LOVE the podcast. I don’t have a lot of time to read all of your great articles and listening while doing chores is perfect!

    Good for you on letting people know that consumption of your material is voluntary! If they don’t like AMAZING GLUTE pictures, don’t read!

    The discussion of back position was helpful for me as well. I was trying to stay too upright and by allowing myself to be more natural, I can squat heavier. I videotape my heavy lifts to check my form too, especially since I work out by myself in my own gym.

  • Tobias says:

    Hi Bret,

    thanks for the podcast. It would be nice if you could do these casts more on a regular basis.

    Some questions concerning the squat topic:

    1) Rippetoe has stated in the past that people with long femurs and a short torso are not able to front squat properly. Any experience with this? I’ve seen way more people fuck up with back squats then with front squats. For me the front-squat has always been a way more self-regulating lift. Personally I would go as far that most people are way better off front squatting and doing hip dominant pulls instead of back squats but that might be too much of a topic here.

    2) Do people really need a very strong back squat ? Honestly if someone is mainly interested in hypertrophy and good fitness / athletic strength standards does he need to back squat 400 pounds ? I liked Dan Johns opinion on this shooting for a solid front squat for low reps and a 200 pound back squat for high rep work.

    3) I like Jims thoughts on the topic. Today most people have problems with a kyphotic posture from all the sitting over the day. Isn’t the idea of an upright squat way better suited to this problem then the lowbar squat that might be kind of enhancing this problem?

    4) I always liked the goblet squat as a squat progression and starter for people new to squatting. If I’m correct you also hold this exercise in high regard? In my experience it transfers perfectly to the front squat and also pretty good the highbar back squat. But doesn’t the horizontal torso angle that is emphasized by Rippetoe totally contradict the movement pattern of this exercise ?

    Best Regards,

    Tobias

  • Teresa says:

    When you’re teaching the high bar squat to individuals who are not comfortable low bar squatting, how important is upper back tightness? What are some of your cues for it? I teach a weight lifting class to novices at a university (how’s that for a PE credit?), and as you suggested in the podcast, many of them are not comfortable low bar squatting. Would you use the same cues regarding upper back for high bar as you would for low bar?
    Thanks! Really enjoyed the podcast!

  • Bret says:

    Hey Bret!

    Thanks for the great podcast.
    In general I don’t micro manage the squats beyond the basics, just look for warning signs for that person’s skill/strength level.

    Since I work with the gen pop, I teach an upright posture for the hip and shoulder flexibility that comes along with it. As people get stronger and still have a lean, I don’t worry about it if I know they have strong lower backs. But, I still keep it as a goal to keep in mind to be able to squat upright and use the Bulgarian as a means for increasing hip flexibility, just because I believe that having good ROM in the hips has anti-aging benefits and will serve their long term fitness efforts/active life. Especially since we also do a hip dominant movement within the same session, I’ve been biasing toward an upright squat. Do you agree with that approach? Or would you suggest not even using upright posture as a recommendation?

  • Aino says:

    Fantastic podcast! Really valuable and useful information – like all the stuff you produce. Keep it up!!

  • Cliff Graves says:

    Hi Bret,
    Great podcast. I am hoping you can answer a question please. Why does there have to be differing back angles in the back and front squat?

    Surely a squat is a squat isn’t it

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