vertical jump training

HOW TO SQUAT DEEP PART 2

In my previous article about how to squat deeper I talked about longer term solutions such as regular stretching and mobility work (which you should be doing anyway), reducing the training loads, gradual reduction of box heights for box squats, and 'greasing the groove' of the movement through a high volume of daily bodyweight squats.

how to jump higher

In this article I am going to provide a more immediate solution that you can implement TODAY. That solution is to simply change the way in which you are squatting. You see most people when they think of squatting think of the traditional barbell back squat.

Unfortunately this is also the version of the squat that relies most heavily on good mobility and flexibility, particularly in the upper back and shoulder region (see picture below). Now that might not be a problem except for the widespread postural issues that sitting so much has caused, meaning lots of folks these days don't have the necessary range of motion in those (and other) areas to perform a deep back squat freely.

BAD LOOKING Deep Barbell Back Squat: There is a reason I don't back squat deep.

Also worth noting too is that with the exception of powerlifters who have to back squat as part of their sport, other types of athletes don't have any reason to be so limited in the ways in which they can overload the muscles of the legs.

So with that in mind I am going to show you a number of variations that will allow you to squat deeper almost immediately. I will also discuss the various pro's and cons of each in terms of vertical jump training and athletic development.

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BARBELL FRONT SQUATS

The first and most obvious squat variation that you can use as an alternative is the front squat. The biggest advantage of this alternative is that the front squat requires a lot less flexibility in the upper body. With your arms holding the weight in front of you it is generally much easier to go deep.

barbell front squat

Deep Front Squat: That is a bit more like it!

With a bit of practice to overcome the initial learning curve, or by using a few of the pointers from the front squat video below, you can also use a reasonably heavy amount of weight so there isn't much lost in terms of overload. The downside to front squatting is that it can be uncomfortable and still does require some flexibility, especially in the wrists.

SAFETY BAR SQUATS

Another squat option that I really like is the safety bar squat. The safety bar is an excellent way to squat deep because like the front squat your hands are positioned in front of you. The safety squat bar has a distinct advantage over the front squat in that the handles out in front mean that it is MUCH easier to squat with it. There is no wrist flexibility or getting used to the bar on the shoulders issues to overcome and as such there is a much shorter learning curve.

safety bar squat

Deep Safety Bar Squat: Easy to learn, can still go heavy. Win Win!

With the exception of front squatting with a front squat harness, the safety bar squat is without doubt my favourite way to barbell squat as it is clearly the easiest to learn, easiest to go deep, and easiest to still use heavy weights. However much like the front squat harness, the safety bar is not a commonly used piece of equipment so if you train in a commercial gym you are unlikely to have access to one.

KETTLEBELL SQUATS

The last squat alternative I am want to talk about is the kettlebell squat. There are two kinds of kettlebell squat. The easiest one to do is the goblet squat (which can also be performed very effectively using regular dumbbells).

I have to say I lovethe kettlebell goblet squat. Invented by well known strength coach Dan John, the goblet squat is the ideal way for most people to learn how to start squatting deep. For starters nearly anybody can perform a deep goblet squat correctly within minutes.

goblet squatdeep goblet squat

Deep Goblet Squats: The best way to learn to squat PERIOD!

Without over complicating it there are generally only 4 things to focus on when performing goblet squats:

    Goblet Squat Tips
  1. Hold your head up and the weight close to your chest throughout the lift
  2. Keep the weight on your heels by sitting back (the KB will act as a counter balance and stop you from toppling over)
  3. Push the inside of your knees out with your elbows at the bottom
  4. Drive straight up using your hips

The real genius of the goblet squat is that it not only can just about anybody do it, but it also teaches correct squatting form almost instantly, and is an awesome exercise to do for increasing hip, knee and ankle mobility.

Below is a picture of my 8 year old who has been performing a deep KB goblet squats with me this summer. If a child with no training expereince can learn to do this in less than 5 minutes, you can probably do it too.

youth training

Goblet Squat: So easy even a child can do it.

The other form of kettlebell squat I have been experimenting with lately is the double kettlebell front squat. This version allows you to go a lot heavier than regular KB goblet squats, but it does require a bit more technique to perform.

For starters you need to be able to clean the two kettlebell's off the floor and into the rack position for the start of the set. This is skill unto itself and when using heavy kettlebells or when just starting out, is often easier said than done.

Once you are standing up with the kettlebells in the rack position you then need to lower yourself into the squat. As you go deeper into the squat itself, the weight of the KB's tends to drag you forward which challenges you to really grip hard to maintain an upright body position for the duration of your reps.

double kettlebell front squatdouble kettlebell front squat

Kettlebell Front Squat: A bit harder to perform, but heavier loads can be used.

The weight pulling you forward is something that you need to overcome in all front squat variations, but due to the independent nature of having a KB in each hand, it is noticeably harder in the double KB front squat than it is with the barbell.

Another benefit of performing goblet squat and kettlebell front squat variations for increasing your vertical jump is that these two exercises are fantastic for building core and upper back strength. Both of these areas are important for jumping high as they allow more efficient transfer of force into the ground and therefore better jump height. Training them in the upright position of the goblet and front squat has a good carry over to jumping and other athletic movements and really makes these options a terrific bang for your buck exercise choice.

The only real downside to either the goblet squat and the double kettlebell front squat is that the weights used are significantly less than you would be able to perform with a loaded barbell so in terms of overloading the legs you should eventually graduate to either a barbell front squat or back squat for maximal strength development.

CONCLUSION

So there you have a few different squat variations you can try in order to help start squatting deeper almost immediately. As discussed in part 1, deep squatting has some important benefits in terms of improved jump performance, but also just as importantly in long term knee health, so it is something that is definitely worth working towards.

If you have the funds I would definitely consider investing in a few kettlebells and get started goblet squatting of double kettlebell front squatting. The increases in core and upper back strength gains, along with the extra mobility in your lower body joints alone will make this worth doing. Once you have the required mobility to squat deeply withease then you can start to work in barbell squat variations for greater strength development while using the kettlebell versions to maintain mobility.



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