It’s a common misconception that powerlifters have to be fat. I mean, yeah, it’s a great way to justify those few extra pounds you’ve been carrying because Oreos and beer are just soo good (not together, though). But the old ‘fat powerlifter’ adage is over now.
In reality, powerlifting is a great way to burn fat, regardless of what myths you may have been led to believe. The muscle recruitment and heavy weights are enough to stimulate fat burn, often without even needing cardio.
I know you’re *oh so* intrigued now, so keep reading.
When I say “powerlifting”, I’m referring to squat, bench, and deadlift. But for right now, I just want to focus on squats and really dive into the form and setup of them before we move on.
Squats are awesome, and if you disagree, that’s okay, you’re entitled to your opinion but just know you’re wrong. (Sassy Coach Aly here, hi.)
This one movement, which most people think is just for your booty or legs, actually uses almost your whole body if you’re doing it correctly. We’ll get into all the muscles that squats recruit later, though. For now, we’re going to focus on the basics: great form, proper bracing, and an effective setup. We want to build on a solid foundation only.
1.BEFORE UNRACKING THE BAR:
Your bar position should always be set up prior to unracking the bar; and by this I mean where the bar lies on your back.
Bar position can either be high-bar and low-bar. Both have their benefits and some people may squat better with high-bar and others with low-bar due to anatomy or mobility or strength differences- whatever it may be- but it doesn’t mean you can’t train both.
When getting set up, first place your hands on the bar in front of you, with your thumbs over the bar. This grip is called a ‘pressure grip’, which forces the bar into your back more, creating more stability.
Then, pull yourself under the bar and pull the bar to the position that is ideal for you.
Low-bar means the bar will sit lower and closer to shoulder blades. To keep this position stable, engage your lats to pull the bar into your back. This is where that pressure grip really comes into play. It will keep the bar firmly in place so you can focus on the rest of your lift.
High-bar means the bar will sit atop your traps. So as you bring the bar to your back, you want to flex your traps into the bar before you actually load it; this keeps the bar from resting directly on your vertebrae.
Next, you want to maintain neutral wrist position with the thumbs over the bar. Avoid bending the wrists and supporting the entire weight of the bar on them. If you have really mobile shoulders, this won’t be a problem, but if you’re lacking on the mobility side, you may need to place your hands wider to achieve this.
Now that you have your hands and bar positioned correctly, walk both feet under the bar, stand it up, and walk it out of the rack.
2. BEFORE YOU SQUAT:
As you unrack the bar, take as few steps out of the rack as you need. This is a small way to conserve energy, but it’s still important.
Let’s go bottom up for this next part.
First, feet. This is rarely something people think of, but this is literally the foundation on which your squat stands. It’s very important. Think of your foot as a bird’s foot or a tripod. Press your big toe into the ground, then pinky toe, then heel bone. Visualize gripping the ground with these three points of contact. Then you’re going to twist your feet outward, essentially flexing your quads and engaging your glutes.
Next, I want every person who ever squats from here on out to never
“Insta-model squat” squat with their low back excessively arched, leading to an altered range of motion and distorted muscle recruitment. To avoid this, you are going to tuck your hips and squeeze your butt. This will keep your glutes engaged, back flat, and core engaged. A neutral spine is crucial for lifting any weights, especially heavy ones. The goal of powerlifting is to move heavier weights, so moving them with poor form will surely land you in a position in which you’re unable to lift any.
Moving onto bracing your core, now. Before you do any lift, you’re going to incorporate the Valsalva maneuver and brace your core. This brace helps to not only lift more, but it protects your back and keeps your movement safe.
To do this, take a BIG, deep belly breath. I want you to breathe using your diaphragm, not your upper chest. While you’re inhaling, your shoulders should not rise too much. This is how you can tell if you’re breathing into your belly enough or not enough. Ideally, you should see your belly expand with your deep breath and shoulders stay relatively the same. After you inhale, you’re going to hold it. Now you’re ready to lift.
Now that your hips are tucked, feet are planted firmly, and core is braced, you’ll descend hips first. Please, please, please DO NOT break at the knees first- this is going to load the entire movement into your knees, which will surely lead to injury.
Squatting purely with the knees is how
quarter squatters some lifters get hurt and then tell everyone for the rest of their lives “I used to squat 405, then I got hurt…” You don’t want to be one of those, let’s be real. You still want to be able to lift for years to come.
After you begin to descend hips first, maintain the braced core and flat back while sitting below parallel.
A little extra advice here, a common problem we see with lifters of all experience level is knee valgus (knees caving in) on the ascent, so to avoid that, drive your knees out on the way down. This is a cue I use to help lifters correct the problem before it occurs in their lift.
Keep that same knee drive and don’t let your knees cave in on the ascent. As you stand up, let your hips and chest rise at the same time. When the hips shoot up before the chest does, that results in what is called a “stripper squat”. Let’s please avoid that.
The easiest part. Just walk the bar back into the rack, set it down, and walk away. Extra points if you smile while you do, like myself.
This is our foundation for a good squat, this is what we build off of. Before we can really powerlift for any results- strength gain or fat loss- we need to make sure our form is strong enough to handle more weight.
Tag me in your squat videos on Instagram! I want to see your awesome lifts!