Fit and fine by Kamal Singh CSCS: Do you even squat, bro?

Anybody who trains in a gym would say what is the big deal about a squat? Such a simple exercise – sit down and stand up and if you can, then add external loading in the form of a barbell, dumbbell or a kettlebell. No matter what you do, it still entails sitting down and standing up. But I wish it was that simple because I am going to show you how to do different types of squats. To be very clear, these are variations of the back squat. I am not talking of front squats, goblet squats, hack squats etc.

Different types of back squats

There are two main types of back squats, henceforth referred to as squats: the high bar or Olympic squat and the low bar or the powerlifting squat. In the high bar squat, as name suggests, the bar is placed high on the trapezius muscle across the top of the shoulders. This style of squat has an upright torso and the knees move forward while sitting down.

The reason it is also called an Olympic Squat is because it is used by Olympic weightlifters as part of their sport. The high bar squat is a knee dominant movement and largely develops the quadriceps or the front of the thigh muscles.

The low bar or the powerlifting squat, the bar is placed lower on the upper back, almost on posterior deltoid or shoulder. In this type of squat, the knees do not move forward, the hip moves back, like trying to sit in a chair. Thus it is a hip dominant movement, where most of the strength development happens around the hip. In some ways, it is pretty similar to a deadlift, except that the bar is on the shoulders.

And the similarity?

The common feature of all squats, it does not matter which variation you choose, the bar has to remain directly over the mid foot. You should be able to draw a straight line from the bar to the mid foot. If the bar moves away from the mid foot, you could lose balance and having to reset or dump the bar. This vertical movement of the bar seems to be forgotten by all the discussion I hear about how to squat. The vertical bar path makes sure that the form is efficient and you can apply force correctly, avoiding any chance of injury.

Who should do which squat?

•If you have had back issues, then it is better if you stick to the high bar squat, as this style puts less pressure/shear on the lumbar back.

•If you have cranky knees, the low bar squat is the one to choose, as it is a hip dominant squat and the shins remain vertical. This puts less pressure/shear on the knees.

•If you have long legs in comparison to your torso, then doing a low bar squat would be easier for you.

•If you have shorter legs in comparison to your torso, then the high bar squat would be best for you.

To summarise

There are two main types of squats – which depend on where the bar is placed on the back. Both types have advantages and disadvantages. Depending on your injury history, body type and training goals, you can choose one type of squat. The two types can be further customised for the trainee as we need to squat! Now go out and find which one works for you…

Kamal Singh is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who has been coaching for 15 years

From HT Brunch, October 18, 2020

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