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By Dr. Greg Shepard
Published: Spring 1997

Part 4 in a continuing series of
the entire BFS Total Program Book


Many coaches have remarked after our BFS Clinics that it's amazing how we get young athletes to squat perfectly in just a minute or two even with no previous squatting experience. The trick is to get each athlete into a perfect low power position as illustrated in figure 6.  We recommend that even experienced athletes feel this position before each set.  I still do even though I've been squatting for over 25 years.

If an athlete cannot assume a perfect low-power position, he is most certainly doomed to failure.  A coach must be able to recognize any an all errors.  He must also be able to correct these errors before his athlete can be successful.  Let's analyze the previous photos and find the major errors.  (All photos will be added at a later date).

In Figure 2, there are five major problems.  First, the heels are not firmly planted on the floor.  Sometimes athletes are told to put a board underneath the heels to help on balance.  This is wrong.  Get your athletes in a perfect low power position.  The second problem is the knees.  They are way forward in relation to the toes.  Not only is this poor squatting technique, it places unnecessary pressure on the knee joints.  To help correct the first two problems, simply have the athlete get his feet closer to the Squatting Stand, which is the third problem in the photo.  The next two problems are the lower back not being locked-in tight and the upper body leaning forward.  To correct the lower back, tell your athlete to spread his chest.  To correct the upper body lean, say "sit tall".  The coach may physically push in on the lower back and place the palm of his hand on the athlete's chest and gently pull back.  The coach can also physically pull the knees back in helping his athlete get into a perfect low power position.  Figure 3 reveals the same problems except now the athlete's feet are flat and the heels are firmly planted on the floor.  The knees are better but this athlete doesn't need to squat quite that low.  In figure 4, we find the feet are close to the squatting stand and the knees are back which is good but this athlete has three major problems: First, squatting too low, second the lower back is not locked-in; and third, the upper body has too much forward lean.

Figure 6 shows the perfect low power position.  The athlete has his feet close to the Squatting Stand. His feet and heels are firmly planted on the floor.  His knees are back and not extended past the toes.  The athlete is at a perfect parallel position.  His eyes are focused on a point which helps the lower back and upper body position.  If you said one of the major problems in figure 2 and 3 was the head position, I wouldn't argue.  Notice the difference in the chin position of figure 2 and figure 6.  The athlete pictured is my son, Matt, while he was in the 8th grade.  At this time, he weighed 125 and Parallel Squatted 225 pounds.


A. Grip: There are two technique guidelines to consider when establishing a proper grip on the squat.  First is thumb position.  Should you have your thumb around the bar or in back of the bar as illustrated in figure 7?  About 60% of power lifters have the thumb in back while 40% of power-lifters prefer their thumbs around the bar.  Both styles are acceptable, but I prefer to coach my athletes with their thumbs in back of the bar.  I feel this style is superior as it tends to prevent slippage of the bar.  Sometimes athletes will have a problem in keeping the bar on the shoulders.  Sometimes the bar will actually slip off the shoulders and slip down the back.  The bar seems to be more secure with the thumbs in back; but if an athlete, after trying both styles, really prefers to have his thumbs around, I don't object.

The second grip guideline to consider is the width of the athlete's grip.  This is another one of those secrets which can give you an edge.  At clinics, I ask everyone to pretend they have a bar on their shoulders and to get a "very narrow grip".  Then, I ask everyone to sit tall, spread their chest and lock-in their lower back.  Next, they are asked to take a wide grip and lock-in their lower backs.  Now I ask, "Which grip makes it easier to lock-in the lower back?"  It's unanimous!  It's the wide grip.  Make sure you use the lines which are grooved into most Olympic bars about four inches from the inside collars.  Use these lines as reference points.  An athlete might put his first finger on each line with his thumb behind the bar.  Now, he is properly balanced with a wide grip and has some assurance that the bar will remain secure on his shoulders.  He is now ready to place the bar on the shoulders. 

B. Bar Position:  A very common mistake for athletes who squat is placing the bar too high on the shoulders.  In fact, many athletes place the bar right on the neck.  This hurts, so they'll use a barbell pad.  For most athletes, this also affects proper balance for heavy squatting.  The vast majority of athletes will squat more and squat more effectively with more comfort when the bar is placed lower on the shoulders as shown in figure 9.  Only a very, very small percentage of athletes will be able to squat  more effectively with a high bar placement and this is because of structural differences in bone length and tendon-muscle attachments.

Some power lifters will place the bar extremely low on the shoulders.  Sometimes the bar may be as much as four inches from the top of the shoulders, which is against the rules.  For some lifters, this may give a slight anatomical advantage or the advantage may be experienced because of a heavy, tight lifting suit or even lack of flexibility.  Whatever the reason, extreme low bar placement squatting will detract from overall leg development which is obviously bad for an athlete.

Most athletes will be able to find a natural groove on the shoulders when they come under the bar in a proper position.  "Don't put the bar on your neck; put it on your shoulders.  Find a groove."  In almost every case, if you say these technique cues, athletes will be able to have excellent bar placement during their squat.

C. Taking the Bar off the Rack:  I've seen high school athletes get all psyched to squat and get their shoulders 2-3 inches under the bar.  Then, with an explosive movement, jam their shoulders against the bar.  Well, jamming your shoulders against a steel bar from this 2-3 inch space will cause the athlete to bruise his neck or shoulders.  Besides hurting, it is unlikely the athlete will have the bar placed on his shoulders correctly.

On the other end of the spectrum, I've seen athletes wimp a bar off the rack.  Many times this athlete will not be in a good solid squatting position as he backs up to a ready stance.

A far superior way is to come under the bar in a great solid proper power position, making sure everything is correct.  Get the bar in the groove on your shoulders.  Look straight ahead.  Spread the chest. Get in your athletic stance. Now, this next technique point is most critical.  Get your athletic stance directly under the bar.  Many athletes will stand a foot back and lean forward.  This is asking for tro

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