Men's Health Your Body is Your Barbell

7

Chapter

BODYWEIGHT 8: DEEP SQUAT

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#3 DEEP SQUAT

The Deep Squat is the foundation of lower-body moves and may be the most important exercise you can do simply because it is such a functional movement. You squat every day of your life, and not just when you sit on the toilet. The way you squat dictates the way you do just about everything—sit down, stand up, walk, step, lunge, run, and jump—so you’d better do it right!

In many parts of the world, a Deep Squat is actually a position of rest, but in our tech-driven, sedentary American society, that couldn’t be further from the truth. If you work at a desk, the deepest you’ll squat all day is most likely determined by the depth of your chair. That’s why most people have no idea what it means to perform a true Deep Squat. It doesn’t mean your thighs are parallel to the floor. That’s wrong. In a Deep Squat, you sit with your hamstrings resting on top of your calves and without overly rounding your lower back. To do it correctly requires a lot of core stability and mobility at your ankles, hips, and upper back. A Deep Squat requires full bending of your knees, something that many of us are unable to do without pain or discomfort. Years of not being in a Deep Squat will lead to an accumulation of soft-tissue restrictions all around your knees and even stiffness inside the joint capsule itself. It’s no wonder so many people have achy, arthritic knees. To get the most out of bodyweight squatting, slow it down and focus less on reps and more on improving your range of motion.

Our goal in this chapter is to gradually achieve an ass-to-the-grass squat that brings a smile to your face (and to the faces of gawking strangers) every time you drop it like it’s hot. Your knees and lower back will end up being so supple that you’ll be able to sit in a Deep Squat for 5 to 10 minutes at a time without breaking a sweat. If you don’t care about feeling and moving better, know this: Being a killer squatter is the quickest way to start looking hotter. Let’s get to work!

The DEEP SQUAT Progression

Level 1 Ground Zero: WALL SIT

Level 2 Beginner: BOX SQUAT

Level 3 Intermediate: DEEP SQUAT

Level 4 Advanced: DEEP OVERHEAD SQUAT

Level 5 Superhero: JUMP SQUAT

Level 1: Ground Zero

WALL SIT

The Wall Sit is an exercise that anybody can do, especially when modifying the range of motion by raising the hips above knee level as much as needed. It’s a real safe, stable, and low-skill way to set up in a Squat position with perfect posture and to build strength. The upright and vertical trunk position shifts a greater emphasis to your quads (front thighs), helping you build up all of the muscles surrounding your knee to ensure that your patella (kneecap) tracks properly. This is especially important for people with a history of knee pain. Isometric holds like this are also easier on your joints than dynamic full-range-of-motion repetitions. Though this move is categorized as an entry-level exercise, it can continue to be used by more advanced trainees for warmups, active recovery, or endurance work. Plus, if you sink low enough so that your hips are below knee level, this move will challenge even the most fit amongst us. If you can’t access a wall, simply use any flat and stable surface that’s perpendicular to the floor, like a door or a pole.

Your Goal

You should be able to hold a Wall Sit for several second sets with your hips below knee level. before moving to the next level.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Stand in front of a wall with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart.

 Establish tripod foot position for a natural foot arch.

 Raise your arms in front of you.

 Your toes should be pointing directly ahead, though a slight 10- to 20-degree toes-out position is acceptable, if needed.

• Try to hold position for 60 seconds.

• Push your knees out.

• Keep your head, back, and hips touching the wall.

Perfect Execution

 Sit into a Squat position with the tops of your front thighs parallel to the floor and your hips, upper back, and head in full contact with the wall.

 Sit as tall as possible and hold this position for time.

 If you fatigue before time is up, simply decrease the range of motion as much as needed midset to keep going.

• The lower your hips drop below your knees, the harder the exercise.

• Move your feet farther from the wall to keep your shins as vertical as possible.

• Keep your toes pointed straight ahead.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Only lower to the point where your knees are bent at a 60- to 75-degree angle.

EVEN EASIER: Only lower to the point where your knees are bent at a 30- to 45-degree angle.

EASIEST: Only lower to the point where your knees are bent at a 10- to 15-degree angle.

Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Increase the range of motion so that your hips are lower than knee level.

EVEN HARDER: Move your feet closer together until they are touching.

HARDEST: Cross your arms with your hands resting on your shoulders (or hold your hands at chest level in prayer position). From there, place your hands behind your head (prisoner position) or extend your arms overhead.

Level 2: Beginner

BOX SQUAT

The Box Squat is like training wheels for your bike. It allows you to build confidence and gradually prepare for the real thing without fear of falling. It’s also a move you need to nail every time you sit down and stand up from a seated position. Sitting on a box has a built-in autocorrect feature that instantly fixes your form by making you bend at your hips before you bend at your knees as you aim for the target with your butt. That’s the perfect form for doing a Squat. In doing so, it engrains the critical concept of keeping your shins as vertical as possible when squatting to save your knees. It also allows you to seamlessly scale the level of difficulty by increasing or decreasing the height of the box. For all of these reasons, the Box Squat should be a staple of your lower-body training, no matter how fit you are. It will also serve as a great tool to prepare you for Single-Leg Squats in Chapter 11.

Your Goal

You should be able to perform multiple sets of 10 reps before moving to the next level.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Assume tripod foot position with feet hip- to shoulder-width apart and heels placed in front of a sturdy box, step, bench, or ottoman. When seated, the tops of your thighs should be parallel to the floor.

 Your toes should point directly ahead, though a slight toes-out angle is acceptable.

 Assume a hollow-body position: Tense your thighs, glutes, and abs, and push your ribs and shoulders down.

• Raise your arms in front for counterbalance.

Perfect Execution

 Push your hips and hamstrings back as far as you can (as if closing a door with your butt).

 Once your hips are fully stretched and loaded, bend at the knees, and slowly sit on the step.

 Briefly pause in the seated position while maintaining tension throughout your body, then hinge forward at your hips and stand up, squeezing your glutes.

• Avoid rounding your shoulders.

• Begin by pushing your hips back.

• Don’t allow your knees to travel in front of your toes.

• Keep your weight over the front of your ankle.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Decrease the range of motion by raising the height of the box so that your hips are slightly higher than your knees when seated.

EVEN EASIER: Raise the box even more.

EASIEST: Perform Self-Assisted Box Squats by holding a TRX (or another suspension trainer) or a stable support like a pole, railing, or ledge. This will allow you to use as much upper-body assistance as necessary to perform the movement pain-free through a full range of motion.

Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Increase the range of motion by lowering the height of the box so that your hips are slightly lower than your knees when seated.

EVEN HARDER: Lower the box even more.

HARDEST: Perform a Deep Box Squat by lowering the height of the box so much that your hamstrings rest on your calves when seated. This is the exact range of motion you’ll need for Deep Squats without a box.

Tool Tip

Use an aerobics step with adjustable risers because it allows you to seamlessly adjust the height of the box a couple inches at a time. It’s particularly useful for the Deep Box Squat because it can be adjusted very low so you’re just above the floor while seated. If you don’t have an adjustable step, any stable box, chair, bench, or ottoman will work.

Level 3: Intermediate

DEEP SQUAT

The beauty of bodyweight training is that you can forget about adding weight plates and simply focus on increasing range of motion an inch at a time. Progressing gradually will unlock your full potential and protect your knees and back. Initially, limit your depth to the point where you start to round your lower back. Your first goal is to be able to squat low enough so that the tops of your front thighs are parallel to the floor with your hips and knees on the same level (a). The next step is to achieve a depth where your hips are lower than your knees. The final step is to be able to sink super low so that your hamstrings rest on your calves (b). Take your time and be patient, because achieving the Deep Squat position is one of the most important standards.

At a certain depth, your knees will inch forward as your ankles bend more. This ankle bend makes your calves and shins work harder. Just be aware of keeping your shins as vertical as possible to avoid injury.

Your Goal

You should be able to perform multiple sets of 10 reps before moving to e next level.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Assume tripod foot position with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart. Your toes should be pointing directly ahead, though a slight toes-out position is acceptable.

 Set your head in a neutral position with ears aligned with your shoulders, hips, and ankles, and keep your gaze ahead.

 Assume a hollow-body position: Tense your thighs, glutes, and abs, and push your ribs and shoulders down.

• Extend your arms with your thumbs pressed together.

Perfect Execution

 First, push your hips and hamstrings back as far as you can (as if closing a door with your butt).

 Once your hips are fully stretched and loaded, bend at the knees, and slowly squat. Go as low as you can without overly rounding your lower back.

 Pause in the bottom position while maintaining tension throughout your body, then stand, squeezing your glutes.

• Keep your back flat and chest up.

• Pull your shoulders down and back to create a “shelf” with your arms.

• Push your knees out.

• Keep your shins vertical.

• Push the floor apart with your feet.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Decrease the range of motion by only squatting down to the point where the tops of your front thighs are parallel to the floor (a).

EVEN EASIER: Squat to the point where you can maintain a neutral spine position without knee pain.

EASIEST: Perform Self-Assisted Deep Squats by holding on to a suspension trainer or a stable support like a pole, railing, or ledge. This will allow you to use as much upper-body assistance as necessary to perform the move through a full range of motion.

Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Increase the range of motion by squatting down low enough so that your hips are lower than your knees.

EVEN HARDER: Squat until your hamstrings rest on your calves in the rock-bottom squatting position (b).

HARDEST: Further increase the range of motion by performing Close-Stance Deep Squats where your feet are only hip-width apart or narrower. This variation prepares you for the high ankle and hip mobility demands of a Deep Single-Leg Squat (aka Pistol Squat) while still using both legs.

Level 4: Advanced

DEEP OVERHEAD SQUAT

By now, you’ve already gained the prerequisite mobility in your ankles, knees, and hips, but extending your arms overhead is a game-changer. Most people hyperextend their lower back and allow their ribs to rise when reaching overhead, putting their back and shoulders in compromised positions. You need to brace your core, get your ribs and shoulders down, and have a lot of mobility at your thoracic spine. Sink to a depth that allows you to maintain this safe neutral spine position.

Hunching over a computer all day leads to tight muscles in your chest, lats, and shoulders that make it very difficult to fully extend your arms overhead properly. So, try this trick: Hold on to a resistance band, towel, or rope. Don’t just hold it—actively try to pull it apart and break it (don’t worry, you won’t). This will make it easier to maintain the overhead-arms positioning because it stabilizes your shoulders and activates your upper-back muscles.

Your Goal

You should be able to perform multiple sets of 10 reps before moving to the next level.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Assume tripod foot position with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart. Your toes should be pointing directly ahead, though a slight toes-out position is acceptable.

 Assume a hollow-body position: Tense your thighs, glutes, and abs, and push your ribs and shoulders down.

 Extend your arms overhead without allowing your lower back to hyperextend.

• Fully extend elbows.

• Keep shoulders and ribs down.

• Squeeze your glutes.

• If it’s difficult to keep your arms straight, try palms facing in.

• Tense your abs.

• Tripod foot

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• To stabilize shoulders, hold a towel between hands and pull apart.

Perfect Execution

 First, push your hips and hamstrings back as far as you can (as if closing a door with your butt).

 Once your hips are fully stretched and loaded, bend at the knees, and squat. Go as low as you can without overly rounding your lower back.

 Pause in the bottom position while maintaining tension throughout your body, then stand, squeezing your glutes.

• Keep your head aligned with your spine.

• Don’t allow your arms to fall forward.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Sit on a low box so that your hamstrings rest on your calves.

EVEN EASIER: Perform a Deep Prisoner Squat by interlocking your hands behind your head while squeezing your shoulder blades together.

EASIEST: Perform a Deep Prayer Squat with your hands together at chest level as if praying.

Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Bring your hands closer together until ideally they are touching. It will be easier to stabilize your shoulders with your palms facing each other.

EVEN HARDER: Bring your feet closer together until they are touching.

HARDEST: Bring both your hands and feet closer together until they are touching.

Level 5: Superhero

JUMP SQUAT

Now that you’ve nailed flawless deep squatting, it’s time to add power to those legs. Add explosive movement by jumping out of the bottom of a Squat and going airborne. Anytime your feet leave the floor, it becomes much harder to reestablish tripod foot position, keep your shins vertical, and get your knees out when landing into the Squat position.

To master it, lower only to the point where the tops of your front thighs are parallel to the floor. Pause and hold this bottom position for 5 seconds. This will eliminate the stretch reflex, making your muscles work harder while taking pressure off your joints and connective tissues. Eventually, you can progress to performing continuous Jump Squats without a pause at the bottom. Partial Jump Squats aren’t just a regression. If you look at most explosive actions in sports, they take place with minimal bending at the knees and hips. So Partial Jump Squats, with your hips above knee level, are a viable exercise option to use in your training program.

Your Goal

You should be able to do multiple sets of 10 perfect with a lot of height on each jump and super-soft landings.

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How to Do It

Starting Position

 Assume tripod foot position with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart. Your toes should be pointing directly ahead or slightly outward.

 Set your head in a neutral position and extend your arms in front of you.

 Assume a hollow-body position: Tense your thighs, clench your glutes, brace your abs, and push your ribs and shoulders down.

• Maintain tension throughout your body.

• Pause here to eliminate the stretch reflex.

Perfect Execution

 First, push your hips and hamstrings back as far as you can (as if closing a door with your butt).

 Once your hips are fully stretched and loaded, bend at the knees, and then slowly squat into the bottom position with the tops of your thighs parallel to the floor.

 Pause for 5 seconds in the bottom position, and then jump as high as you can, landing softly into the bottom position.

• Brace your core.

• Jump as high as you can and land softly into the bottom position.

• Push away from the floor with your toes.

Regressions

MAKE IT EASIER: Perform Partial Jump Squats by squatting only to the point where you can maintain a neutral spine position without knee pain.

EVEN EASIER: Jump off a box or bench from a Squat position and then land softly into that same position. Not only does this move autocorrect your form, but it is lower impact and it also builds starting strength because you are exploding out of a dead-stop position.

EASIEST: Perform Self-Assisted Jump Squats by holding a suspension trainer or a pole, railing, or ledge. This will allow you to use as much assistance as necessary to perform the move pain-free through a full range of motion.

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Progressions

MAKE IT HARDER: Squat low enough so that your hips are beneath your knees. If you go all the way down into the bottom of the Deep Squat position with your hamstrings resting on your calves, be sure you don’t bounce, as that can put undue strain on your knees. Rather, pause and hold this deep position briefly before exploding back up.

EVEN HARDER: Jump from a staggered stance position with the toes of one leg aligned with the heel of your other leg. Perform all of your reps on the same side before switching or switch legs midair every rep.

HARDEST: Jump from a split stance or the bottom of a Lunge. The foot of your leading leg should be flat, and you should be on the toes of your trailing leg. Perform all of your reps on the same side before switching or switch legs midair every rep.

Variations

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1. TRX-Assisted Deep Squat

Attach a TRX strap or other suspension trainer to a sturdy object. Grasp the handles and walk backward until it’s taut. Hold the handles at chest height with your elbows bent 90 degrees. With feet about shoulder-width apart, perform a Deep Squat by sitting back at the hips and bending your legs. Allow your arms to straighten if needed. Pull on the straps for as much assistance as you need going down and pushing back up to perform the Deep Squat with flawless form.

• Attach a suspension trainer to an object at about head height or slightly higher.

• Start with your arms bent at right angles.

• Use the straps to help you sit back deeply into the Squat.

• Spend 5 to 10 minutes a day in the Deep Squat position for best results.

Variations

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2. Goblet Squat

Sometimes adding weight to an exercise actually makes it easier. In this case, holding on to a weight at chest level provides counterbalance that allows you to sit your hips back more without the fear of falling backward. It also allows you to keep your trunk more upright and sink into a deeper Squat. This move can be performed by holding a dumbbell, kettlebell, or even a medicine ball or sandbag. Either hold a vertically oriented dumbbell with your hands clasped underneath the top end or hold a kettlebell by the horns or squeeze a heavier bag or ball between your hands. Keep the weight at chest level, with your elbows up and tight to your sides.

• Initiate the move by pushing your hips back.

• Hold a 15- to 30-pound dumbbell at chest level.

• Your elbows should point down.

• Sit back. Keep your torso upright.

• Push your knees out.

• Keep your shins vertical.