How Your Hand Position Can Maximize Your Squats

Squats. Sitting down with a weight on your back then standing back up. They sound simple, but unfortunately they arenโ€™t. Technique plays a significant role in your ability to move heavy loads. One of the biggest technique mistakes I see destroying what could be a great squat is where you place your hands.

Two Components of a Good Squat

Stability and tension are two key components to an efficient squat. The ability to brace your body from your little toe to your head is a must. When you lose tension in your upper body (your lats, traps, trunk, and lower back), you transition into an awful good-morning-type-squat, where the weight falls forward and your hips rise. You end up squatting just using your back muscles, or even stuck at the bottom of the squat.

A common cause of this loss of tension and subsequent dangerous position is your hand-width placement on the bar. I see an increasing number of people squatting with a super-wide hand position, their hands almost touching the weight plates. If you have shoulder issues, this may be the only way to squat. However, if you can get narrower in your grip, you should continue reading.
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A grip that is too wide (left) is one of the most common squatting mistakes I see.

Why Your Hands Matter

When you place your hands at the extremities of the bar, you lose the ability to significantly engage your lats, drive your elbows forward, and keep your chest standing proud. With this lack of back engagement, the sheer weight of the bar pushes your chest forward and away from your center of mass.

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A wide grip forces your chest forward and prevents lat activation.

Once you sink to the base of your squat, success becomes a question of how strong your lower back is, as it is obliged to bear the brunt of a heavy good morning. The bar has moved further away from your center of mass, so the hips rise to try and stop the weight from pulling you forward. You end up with back pain rather than leg and glute activation.

pic_4Instead of glute activation, you get what resembles a heavy good morning.

A Simple Solution

There is a simple fix for this poor squatting. Just bring the hands closer in to your body. Whether you can do this will be dependent on your shoulder mobility and flexibility. If you are unable to bring your hands closer together, you should be working on correcting your mobility anyway.

squathandscollageA narrower position allows you to drive your chest upwards, soyour lower back no longer bears the brunt of the lift.

A narrower hand position creates far more tension. This is because you can pull your elbows in towards your hips and push them further forward, which drives the chest upwards and maintains good form. This position will then allow your hips to come through at the right time, help drive your back upwards, and keep your chest nice and proud. Notice how the bar now sits over the center of mass and makes the weight feel lighter, too.

Congratulations, you are now squatting using your legs instead of just your lower back. Enjoy your increase in load and decrease in pain.

 

https://breakingmuscle.com/fitness/fix-your-hand-position-to-supercharge-your-squats

Do This Mobility Drill For a Better Squat

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Ankle immobility is a major reason some lifters have trouble reaching adequate depth, staying balanced, and remaining stable during a squat. Specifically, the inability to move the ankle into enough dorsiflexion causes these problems.

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Above, we see what happens if the ankle doesn’t dorsiflex enough during a squat. It causes the heel to peel off the ground. (Imagine tipping the letter “L” to the right.) In this case, the forefoot is the only part able to apply force into the ground. The weight shifts forward, the knees receive excess stress, and posterior musculature is under-stimulated.

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A squatter demonstrating good dorsiflexion resembles the above diagram. We see that the shin still moves forward, but now the feet stay flat on the ground. Dorsiflexion of the ankle is what allows this to take place, and now the lifter can apply force throughout the entire foot, making the squat safe and effective.

How to Mobilize Your Ankles

To exaggerate the dorsiflexion you need, put two weight plates on the ground (the same distance apart as your squat stance) in front of a power rack. The thickness of the plates will depend on your current ankle mobility. Five or 10-pound plates should provide enough thickness, and you can even experiment with a mat or thin board to get the same effect.

Step onto the plates so that the plates elevate your toes and keep your heels on the ground. Holding on to the rack, pull yourself into a deep squat.

From here, experiment with hitting different positions: Sit at the bottom. Lean front to back and side to side. Bounce around. Even squat up and down. Doing these movements while your ankle is in extreme dorsiflexion will help mobilize the ankle.

Stay on the plates for 15-30 seconds at a time. When you step off the plates and back onto the flat ground, your ankle dorsiflexion will be super-compensated to the point where you’ll be able to glide to the bottom of a squat with ease.

Key Points

Make sure to keep your heels in contact with the ground while you’re on the plates. If you let them come off the ground at all, you defeat the purpose.

Force the shins forward to exaggerate closing the ankle joint angle. If you sit too far back onto your heels and allow your shins to angle back (as will be most comfortable), you won’t be forcing dorsiflexion.

Start with a thin plate or object to stand on, and work to a thicker one as mobility improves.

This drill will be especially helpful to anyone who squats in weightlifting shoes. Weightlifting shoes elevate the heel, and therefore don’t require the ankle to move through as much range of motion as a flat-soled shoe does. This drill creates the opposite effect of wearing weightlifting shoes by pitching the forefoot up rather than the heel.

Use this drill on days you squat, in between your first few warm-up/work-up sets. Amplify the effects of this drill by also including things such as tip toe walking, ankle rolling, and static calf stretching.

ย  01/15/17

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