The Art of the Low Bar Back Squat

The Art of the Low Bar Back Squatby Dustin HawkinsI’m not going to go into too much detail on how to actually perform the Low Bar Back Squat; finding out how to perform this lift with perfection is going to ultimately be up to you. I can give you the basic fundamentals, and a few pictures that might help you to capture the vision of what the lift entails, however, to master the lift in its entirety you must become a true studier, watching videos and practicing the lift without even having a bar on your back. At first you should practice the lift using a broom stick, or a pvc pipe, but not a barbell, especially if you are a novice-meaning you have never performed any type of squat with a barbell on your back in your entire life.So if you think about the squat then you will come to realize that we use it in all facets of our life. We use it to sit down and stand up; we also use it to pick stuff up, among many others. It’s safe to say that if you lose the ability to squat, then you also lose the ability to do life on a physical level, and are probably in a wheel chair. With that concept in mind, then shouldn’t we become more proficient in how we squat? Shouldn’t we keep our legs, core, and entire posterior chain as strong as we possibly can so that we can live a full life physically? Picture yourself sitting down to use the bathroom; not even on the toilet, but in the woods. How would you do it? My guess is that you would lead with your hips first (not your knees), forcing your knees out, and sitting back on your heals so that you wouldn’t get any shit on your shoes. In fact, why don’t you stop what you are doing and go ahead and give this a try. You don’t need to go out and use the bathroom outside obviously, but just pretend you are using the bathroom outside and go ahead and squat down in the way that you would do it. You should be sitting down with your knees being forced out by your arms, and on your heels, with your feet slightly being wider than shoulder width with having your toes slightly pointed out. This would be the most comfortable and efficient way to use the bathroom in the woods and is also the way that a proper squat unfolds.photo copy 58So there you have it; that is how you squat. Need I say more? Of course I need to say more, but the point being is that the squat really isn’t all that tough of a movement to do since we do it all of the time in our daily lives anyway. Bar Placement   So if you reach as far as you can for your opposite shoulder blade then you will come to feel the spine of your scapula. Directly below this spine is where the bar needs to be placed.photoNotice in the above picture where the Bar is placed, and more importantly how the elbows are up, creating a shelf for the bar to be rested. Another thing to notice is the hand placement on the bar, and how no pressure is being put on the wrists. At first, you may struggle with shoulder and wrist flexibility-and many are forced to wrap their thumb around, which is fine at first; however, as your flexibility increases then so must your technique increase as far as the hand and bar placement goes. The bar placement is crucial as it allows for the bar to remain over the mid-line of your foot as you go down into the squat, then creating the proper forward torso lean- and also a direct line from where the bar is placed on you back to the midline of your foot, then creating a safe plane for the bar to travel as you descend into the squat.Low-Bar-Squats-looking-up-vs-lookding-downNotice the line running down from the bar, through the knees, and then onto the midline of the foot. Also, look at the positioning of the head and torso, which the torso is at a slight forward lean due to placement of the bar; and the head is looking straight to slightly down, as apposed to cranking it up as so many do when they squat. Hip DriveAs we slowly descend into the squat, forcing our knees out as we get down below that  parallel depth (hip drop below knee), keeping ours elbow slightly elevated to insure no bar movement; we must now go into the direction of climbing out of the squat hole. So how do we do it? Most will want to drive up using their quads only, which is not the art of the Low Bar Back Squat. The Art of the Low Bar Back squat lies within the hip drive and forward lean. So the first thing we must do when coming out of the bottom is drive up with our hips first, then pulling with our hamstrings (back of legs), and through our foot. Your natural reaction is going to be to drive up with using your quads first; but with the hips coming up first activates the entire posterior chain (along with the quad) and the lift will not be so quad dominant, but will recruit far more muscles since the entire posterior chain will be utilized. Such a hip drive will create a small forward lean-as this is a natural occurrence due to the hips going first. However, its important to note that the hips and shoulders must rise at the same time, or the Low Bar Art is lost, and that straight line going from the bar to the midline of the foot will also be lost.See the picture below for a comparison. Picture came from Mark Rippetoes book “Starting Strength."Squat_Hip_Drive So there you have it. My effort to explain the Low Bar Back Squat in a simple way, and without overwhelming you. I’ve made reference to Mark Rippetoe and his book Starting Strength and I feel that it would be very beneficial for you to have this book on hand. We live in a time where information is granted to us immediately, and through the click of a single button; so do just that: utilize google and youtube to find videos on how to perform this lift properly. It’s important that you do learn how to do this lift properly or your progression will stall out. If you are cutting your squat short always, and aren’t using the hip drive in the proper way then you not only run the risk of injury, but also the risk of not experiencing the overall wellness that this lift can lead you to having. I’m a firm believer that this lift can keep us young both in mind and body, and my hope is that you will come to experience what I am talking about by coming to know and understand the true Art of the Low Bar Back Squat and how it pertains to escaping the dark, depressed, and addicted mind.