10 Common Squat Mistakes and How to Fix Them. Part 1.
1. Failing to activate and use your glutes. The glutes are not only one of the largest and strongest muscle groups in the body, but also one of the most ignored. Most people lack a good mind-muscle connection with their glutes, and thus fail to use their glutes to their fullest potential while lifting. Imagine this: If you are not making use of one of the largest and strongest muscle groups in your body, how much of your true strength potential are you missing out on? In addition to helping you add pounds to your total, strong glutes can protect other body parts from injury. When the glutes are weak or inactive, nearby muscles, such as the erector spinae and hip flexors (especially the iliopsoas) will try to compensate by working overtime. Strengthening and properly activating your glutes during squats can save you from some common lifting injuries: Back Pain, Tight/Painful Hip Flexors, Hamstring Strains, Patellar Tendinitis and other knee pain. Activating your glutes during your warm up is one of the easiest ways to address this problem. Try this warm up on your next squat day!
2. Wasting too much energy on your walkout. Too often the value of a good set up is lost in a rush to get under the bar and perform the squat. A good set up will consist of a few short, simple steps:
Set the bar in the correct place on your back (for low bar: across the rear delts just below the spine of the scapula--and directly across the grip on your BarGrip shirt, of course!)
With feet hip width apart under the bar, take a deep belly breath to brace the core, and extend the hips to lift the bar out of the rack.
Take 2 or 3 steps back: 1 small, controlled step back (with each foot if necessary), and a 3rd step to set the trailing foot in squat position.
3. Neglecting your accessory work. In order to make continued progress on your squat, it is imperative that you include and perform accessory (or assistance) work in your lifting program. Accessories help correct imbalances, which carry over to stronger lifts. If you find that you have weak quads ( Do get stuck halfway up in your squat?), be sure to add quad-focused movements like front squats, leg press, and leg extensions into your program. If you tend to fail out of the hole, weak glutes may be the culprit. Barbell Hip Thrusts, Romanian (or Stiff Leg) Deadlifts, and Glute Ham Raises are great exercises to build posterior chain and glute strength.
4. Incorrect Hand and Elbow Positioning "The relationship of the body to the bar is determined first by hand position on the bar."--Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength Many lifters make the mistake of placing their hands too far away from their shoulders. This extra wide grip may seem like the best solution for those with limited shoulder mobility, but it will actually create two new problems: a reduced ability to maintain tightness in the upper back, and a smaller "shelf" for the bar to sit on--this can be especially true for females and lighter males. A more narrow hand position also ensures that the bar is sitting on muscle and not digging into your spine or other bony structures. In addition to grip width, it is absolutely essential to make sure you are centered under the bar to avoid spinal shearing and asymmetrical loading of the spine, hips, and knees. Your chest and elbows should both be lifted during the squat, creating good upper back tension and a stable shelf for the bar--you'll want to make sure that you are "tight" before removing the bar from the rack. This ensures that the bar will not slide down your back, as can happen when the elbows are directly under the bar. It also keeps your wrists and elbows safe and healthy. Your hands are there to keep the weight steady--you should not feel like you're holding the bar up! Not every lifter will be able to squat with their thumbs touching their shoulders, but it is still important to keep hands in the closest possible position. If you struggle with mobility in this area, add some of the following mobility drills into your warm up:
5. "Dive-Bombing" Dive-bombing, or dropping uncontrollably into the bottom of your squat position, is another common mistake. Dive-bombing involves allowing the prime movers of the squat to relax heading into the squat. This often causes the knees to travel forward excessively, increasing risk for knee injury. These muscles must be "retightened" to complete the squat--but it must be done from what are now dangerously inefficient skeletal positions. The combination of these factors often causes relaxation of the lower back, which places the spine at greater risk for injury. In addition increased injury risk, dive-bombing can eliminate utilization of the indispensable stretch reflex (more on this in part 2). To eliminate the dive-bomb, be sure to push the knees out on the descent, engaging the all-important glutes. Maintain a good brace, and descend at a speed that is swift but controlled. Focus on keeping the quads, glutes, and hamstrings active throughout the descent of your squat.