8. Getting a Little Too Fancy with Your Footwork.
During the squat and its set up, your feet should do minimal moving. As referenced in Part 1, your walk-out should be short and controlled. The last step of your set up is screwing the feet into the ground—firmly planting the heels. Once your feet are set, they should not move again until you are walking the bar back into the rack. If you find your feet are moving during your set, take a look at your mechanics. If your feet are turning out during the movement, you may have a deficit in dorsiflexion or, more likely, weak or inactive glutes. Making a consistent effort to stretch the ankle plantar flexors and pursue active dorsiflexion will quickly lead to improvement if flexibility is your problem. However, most people have adequate dorsiflexion to perform a squat. Other factors--too much forward knee travel, for example--can often be mistaken for poor dorsiflexion. Test your dorsiflexion by kneeling on the floor near a wall. If you can push your knee forward until it touches the wall without your heel lifting, limited dorsiflexion is not your problem.
If this is the case, you are likely a quad dominant squatter, and could use some work in activating and loading the glutes during your squat. This can be done by using glute activation exercises like those listed in Tip #1, and by making small tweaks to your squat form. Pushing the hips back slightly in the squat will help load the glutes as well as reducing the amount of dorsiflexion needed to perform a full squat.
9. Checking Yourself Out In The Mirror.
With all the advances in biomechanical studies and increased involvement of movement specialists in the sport of powerlifting, it is amazing that so many squatters are still instructed to look up while squatting. An upward gaze puts your spine in a compromised position by overextending the cervical spine while loading the traps and thoracic spine immediately below it. Additionally, this extended neck position prevents the deep neck flexors from assisting your core in providing stability for the spine. A lack of stability can lead to injury, but it also decreases the amount of force you are able to direct into lifting the bar. An incorrect head position can also interfere with the bottom position of the squat, as well as hip drive and chest position. An upward gaze can pull the chest, knees, and hips forward just enough to produce slack in the posterior chain, reducing tightness and leading to decreased hip drive. Looking in the mirror while squatting will usually result in a head position that changes throughout the lift as you try to track your movements in the mirror. At the bottom of your squat, you will most likely end up looking up slightly, even if unintentionally. Since the goal is a neutral head with a slightly downward gaze throughout the lift, try facing away from the mirror (assuming the rack you are using safely allows for this) and using a camera to check your form instead. Focus on a spot on the floor or wall about 10 feet in front of you, and keep your gaze there throughout the lift.
10. Letting Your Ego Get In The Way.
This 3 part series has been dedicated to form tips to help you produce a stronger, safer squat. I close by encouraging you to consistently evaluate and improve your form as you progress towards your goals. Sometimes it may be necessary to work at a “less-than-desirable” load in order to correct bad habits and form sound lifting practices. Remember that perfect practice makes perfect. Improvements in your form at lighter weights, in conjunction with focusing on the cues discussed in this article, will provide you with the solid foundation needed to progress your lifting career. Your lifts will become more consistent, allowing your training to progress more steadily, with lower likelihood of being set back by injury.