Squats. Sitting down with a weight on your back then standing back up. They sound simple, but unfortunately they aren’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.
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.
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.
Instead 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.
A 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.
If your New Year ambition is to get fit, but the cost of a gym membership is putting you off and you can’t really face getting out in the cold, then we may have just the solution.
Combining the ease of a workout DVD with absolutely zero cost (all you need is an internet connection!), video sharing site YouTube is bursting with expert exercise classes for you to try from the comfort of your own home.
Whether your goal is to burn fat or tone up, we’ve scoured the web to bring you five of the best free workouts on YouTube. What are you waiting for? Grab your laptop and get cracking.
Why do it? From de-stressing to improving your flexibility, the benefits of yoga are huge. If you’ve always wanted to give yoga a try but don’t fancy forking out for classes in case it’s not your thing, then Yoga with Adriene is for you.
Perfect for beginners, instructor Adriene has created an easy-to-follow ‘Revolution’ 31-day plan to get you hooked on the de-stressing activity in 2017. Ease yourself into it with the ‘Day 1’ video and, you may well be doing ‘Downward Dogs’ like a pro by the end of the month.
Sign up to the programme on Adrienne’s website and you’ll also receive a downloadable exercise planner and daily email for extra motivation.
Why do it? If you’re looking to firm things up in one go, then this full-body toning workout from popular personal training duo Tone It Up could be just the ticket.
While we’ll admit the intro/soundtrack is a little bit cheesy, don’t let that put you off as these two really do know what they’re talking about, and have garnered a loyal following for good reason: their workouts work.
Lasting 14 minutes, and including a warm-up to help prevent injury, the girls offer clear instructions and plenty of encouragement to boot.
Why do it? A flatter belly in just 5 minutes? Sign us up now! This targeted workout from specialist channel PopSugar Fitness can even be done with a heavy book, rather than dumbbells, so we defy anyone to find a decent excuse not to try it!
Forget endless crunches, this standing routine will help target your core like nothing else, helping to tone up your mid-section. The best bit? The trainer offers tips on how to take things down a notch if you’re a bit of a beginner.
’30 Day Fat Burn: Legs and Butt Shaper Workout’ by BeFit
Best for: Toning your legs and bum
Why do it? If you’d like to concentrate on your lower body, including your thighs and bum, then this 10-minute routine from popular fitness channel BeFit could work wonders.
As well as helping you tone those hard-to-tackle areas, the workout is designed to burn fat, incorporating a blend of cardio moves and strength training. Best of all, all you will need is a towel and a bottle of water, while the routine can be adapted to suit your level.
Why do it? Toning your arms can be tricky to say the least, which is we were thrilled to discover this 10-minute routine from popular exercise channel XHIT Daily.
You can use cans of food if you don’t have weights to hand, and the pace isn’t too intense, meaning this is an easy one to follow no matter your level. With clear instructions and a focus on correct technique, we’re not surprised it’s been viewed over 4 million times.
‘Get Fit 4 Free – The SB 30 Day Sweat Hiitgirl Workout’ by Sweaty Betty
Best for: High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
Why do it? HIIT has been big news in fitness circles for a while now – and for good reason, too. This type of workout allows you to burn fat in the most efficient way by alternating between intense periods of activity and rest.
While it’s probably not the best workout to try if you haven’t exercised in a while, this 30-minute routine from activewear label Sweaty Betty offers three different levels, to suit everyone from total newbies to experienced HIIT fans.
‘POP Pilates for Beginners – Total Body Workout’ by Blogilates
Best for: Pilates
Why do it?Pilates is usually associated with expensive equipment, but you can try the moves at home, even if you’re a complete beginner, thanks to this total body workout from Blogilates, fitness instructor Cassey Ho’s popular channel.
With a focus on breathing and proper posture, this half-hour workout is the perfect introduction to Pilates for beginners after a full-body workout.
Suzanne is a runner (though she says not a “real runner”). She started running three years ago to get back in shape after the birth of her second child. Over a few months, she progressed from a walk/run around the block to running 2-4 days per week, covering 3-5 miles each run and up to 10 miles in her long runs.
Like most of us, Suzanne soon realized that running was so much more than just a way to get in shape. She treasures her morning runs with her training partners, talking through life’s ups and downs as the miles roll by.
She has run a few 5K and 10Ks and even two half-marathons but was intimidated by the local running group and their workouts. However, she wanted to get fitter and would like to actually push herself to a faster time in her races. In her words, she’s not “training for the Olympics” but knows she needs to do some “real runner” workouts to boost her fitness.
Here’s what I had her do and if she sounds a lot like you, this will help you also become a fitter, faster and more confident runner.
WORKOUT #1: SURGES
Once per week for eight weeks, she inserted a few “surges” within one of her mid-week runs. She’d run easy for 10-15 minutes then pick up the pace for 15 seconds. Then, she’d return to her easy pace for one minute before surging again. She started with 5 surges in Week #1 and added 2-3 each week. By Week #4, she was doing 10-15 surges and could even carry these surges to 45-60 seconds.
I instructed that these were not sprints and she should not get out of breath while doing them. The surges were simply a slight rise in effort and increase in pace so we could prepare the neuromuscular system for faster running.
As I’ve witnessed with dozens of other athletes who used surges as their first workout, she loved it. “It was exhilarating to get out of my normal stride and pick up the pace! It also made the run go by quicker. Since the surges started at just 15 seconds, I wasn’t scared of them and after a few weeks, I could definitely tell my surges were getting faster,” she says.
Like Suzanne, many newer runners run the same pace for all their runs. But to boost fitness, there must be variety in training and thus new challenges to the body and mind to keep it adapting. Surges provide a safe way to do this while keeping the injury risk very low.
And, so many other great things happened to Suzanne. First, her running form improved. When you run fast, form flaws are accentuated. So, she was aware of form issues and cleaned them up. Second, she learn her “redline.” She knew if she went too fast, she’d get out of breath quickly and her surge would slow, a big no-no for this workout. This began her education on different effort levels and how they relate to fatigue. Lastly, she noticed that the average pace on her other runs got faster. Her stride felt more relaxed and flowing and she started to notice that she had to hold herself back from running faster and faster.
WORKOUT #2: PROGRESSION RUNS
After 3-4 weeks, Suzanne started to feel good on the surge workouts and in her other runs. So, I had her start progression runs, the second workout that I prescribe as a transition from what I call “same pace” training to varied pace training. On her weekly long run (6-10 miles for her), I told her to finish the last 5 minutes a little faster. Again, not an all out sprint but to the point where she felt her breathing increase to where it was fast but under control. I told her she should feel exhilarated after the strong finish but not overly tired.
Each week, she was allowed to extend the faster portion by an additional 5 minutes if she felt like it. By Week #8, she was finishing her long runs with a fast 10-20 minutes depending on how she felt. Our mantra was “finish strong.”
As with the surge workouts, progression runs aren’t anything fancy or intimidating for new runners like Suzanne. But, the physical and mental benefits are great. She liked finishing strong. She learned the hard way when she pushed too hard too soon (something I told her would pay off in her future training and racing). And, she started to look forward to the final few miles of her long runs instead of feeling more and more tired and just wanting the run to end. The workouts made training fun and her fitness, as expected, took a jump upward yet she never had any aches and pains.
READY FOR “REAL RUNNER” TRAINING
After two months, she knew what it felt like to run fast, recover and run fast again. She developed better running form. She also developed more stamina and finishing strong became a habit. Her body was stronger and her stride smoother. But most importantly, she now had the confidence that she could go to the group workout and in her words, “not make a fool of myself.”
I, too, felt great knowing she built up her faster running slowly and safely. I also knew that once she started attending group workouts, she’d be hooked and I couldn’t wait to hear about all the successes to come.
Read more about progression runs and how these three progression runs can boost your fitness while having fun.
SUZANNE’S TRAINING PROGRAM
“I have achieved my goals for 5K, 10K, and now a Half Marathon – thanks McMillan Running!”
-James W, RunClub member
Tired of winging it and want a proven plan with coaches at your side and a community to share your running with? Learn more about RunClub.
The idea of running a half-marathon had been swimming around in my head ever since I completed my first 10-km run in January 2015. I clocked 76 minutes to run 10 km – nowhere near an impressive timing considering the guy who won that race had finished in an absurd 33 minutes or so. But it was an achievement for me, nonetheless, considering I had never run more than five kilometres in my life before that.
A half marathon was still a long way off at that point. I knew that I had to first finish a 10-km run in 60 minutes or less to even think about running 21.097 km. Later that year, in December 2015, I participated in a couple more 10-km runs in Mumbai, but did not manage to better my timing. It wasn’t surprising since I had not trained for them for more than a month prior to the race. Even for a 10-km run, you need to train for at least two months to be able to do decently well. But in spite of my below-average performance, I decided to make it a New Year’s resolution to participate in a half marathon in the next running season, which meant I had about a year to prepare for it.
The preparation (or lack of)
2016 was a busy year for me, both professionally and personally – I was getting married in December. I took some time out to run whenever possible and had some weeks where I exercised at least thrice, but those were few and far between. In August, I came across a post on Facebook where an NGO was offering some charity bibs for the Mumbai Half Marathon on January 15, 2017. What I had to do was pay a flat sum of Rs 17,000 upfront to the charity and then raise that money myself by promoting it. I was never going to qualify for the Mumbai Marathon myself, with my 76-minute 10ks. So, this was the only way I could do it. It was a risk, considering I had six months to train for it, which is not a lot, and there was no guarantee I would raise the complete sum of my donation. But I decided to bite the bullet, telling myself that it would be a good challenge and motivation to run. Plus, I was doing it for a good cause.
I found myself a beginners’ half-marathon training plan online, which was for 20 weeks – perfect for me. I was really motivated and told all my friends and family about it, and they gladly helped me kickstart my fundraising. However, my 20-week training schedule went for a toss after just a fortnight. In mid-October, I went to Thailand with my friends for my bachelor trip. On a quiet beach in Phuket, I vowed to myself that I would restart my training in full vigour once I return home. Six months were now down to three, but better late than never, I thought. As Diwali came and went, I managed to raise nearly half of the Rs 17,000. I also bought myself a book called Run Your Butt Off!, which taught me to set myself weekly running targets. I was back on track…sort of.
Back to square one
However, by the middle of November, I was back to square one again as wedding preparations kicked in. By the end of the month, I was off for a three-week wedding-cum-honeymoon break. When I was back in mid-December, I had just about a month left for the marathon. It was too late to do anything, but I still restarted my running. In the last two weeks before the race, I ran for five kilometres and clocked 10,000 steps almost every weekday, with some help from a daily step-goal challenge between friends. If this was a 5-km run, I would ace it. If it was a 10-km run, I would probably do the same as I had done three times earlier. But this was 21 km and I was nowhere near prepared.
As D-day arrived, my goal was to just finish the race. I had just over three hours to do it. As I left home at an unearthly hour to make it in time for the 5.40 am start, I considered leaving my cell phone behind, lest I got tempted to book an Uber after five kilometres to take me home. In the taxi to the race venue, my best friend, who had run at least a dozen half marathons and had a personal best timing of somewhere around one hour and 45 minutes, sensed my nervousness and told me to take it easy. “I’m sure you’ll complete it,” he said. “I’ve seen people who were lesser prepared than you who have completed it.” That gave me some confidence.
I had already walked more than three kilometres that morning to reach my section of the crowd behind the starting line. There were at least 15,000 participants and I was right at the back along with other first-timers and corporate-sponsored runners. I saw the official pacers with 2h30, 2h40, 2h50 and 3h flags attached to their backs. If I could do 10 km in 76 minutes, or 1h16, I should be able to do 21 km in 2h40, theoretically. Even if I had to factor in fatigue, I thought I would definitely beat that old man who was the 3h pacer.
The first half
I decided not to follow any of the pacers as I had been advised to run at my own pace and not get influenced by others around me. As the race began, I jogged along at my own leisurely pace, watching the more enthusiastic and prepared runners brush past me. I had a four-hour-long playlist on my phone for company. Let’s do this!
As I ran past the one-km marker, my legs had already begun to ache, but I pushed on. I had set myself a target of running non-stop for at least 20 minutes to start the race before taking a breather. I pushed myself and managed 25 minutes, by when I had knocked off three kilometres. After that, I set myself a target to run for eight minutes and walk for two, and repeat. I managed it twice, before my legs forced me to revise it to six+two. By the time I finished six kilometres, 50 minutes had passed.
The first 10 km of the Mumbai half marathon are all on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link and the Worli sea-face. I expected a lot of sea breeze to slap my face and keep the sweat away, but I got no such assistance. I was anyway disappointed that the pleasant winter chill that had set in Mumbai over the last two weeks had suddenly disappeared, conveniently, the night before the race. So, when I crossed the starting line again, which marked the end of the first 10 km of the race, I was hot and exhausted. This was also when the 3h pacer – that old man who I was so sure I would beat – merrily passed me by, even exchanging a few high-fives with some of the full-marathoners who were running in the opposite direction on the other side of the road divider. I almost called an Uber.
The second half
The last half of the race saw me walk most of the way, as each part of my lower body slowly gave in one-by-one. By the 11-km mark, my calves had given in and didn’t allow me to run more than 500 metres. By the time I reached the Haji Ali junction, around 13 km in, my quadriceps had given in, further reducing my running distance to 200 metres. By the time I reached Girgaum Chowpatti, the 16 km mark, my toes started cramping up if I ran even 50 metres. By the time I reached Marine Drive, for the last three kilometres of the race, my hamstrings had given in and I was near crawling.
But I did not stop. Not once. Along the way, I saw many co-participants stop by the side of the road to stretch their legs and arms. I knew that if I did that, I would want to do it more and more. The only place where I stopped momentarily was on Peddar Road, an uphill stretch of about two kilometres, where some race volunteers were giving runners ice packs to apply on their legs. That was bliss.
As I reached the milestone that said I had only the last 200 metres to go, I pushed my body into finishing with a run. It was the most painful 200 metres I had ever run, with every muscle in my legs almost non-existent, but I managed to do it without a break and without collapsing. I had done it. Almost three-and-a-half hours in, but I had done it. Twenty-one kilometres running, jogging, walking, almost crawling, but without stopping. I had kept my New Year’s resolution, even if it was only just.
Do not try this at home
However, even though this was an achievement for me, I would not recommend the way I did it to anyone. The fact is: I was severely under-prepared. I took nearly three-and-a-half hours to finish. The winner took just over an hour. That’s not to say I was targeting to win, but it’s still a difference of two-and-a-half hours. The last 10 km of my half marathon were not fun. I saw ambulances rush past me at least five times. Later, I saw pictures on social media of people being stretchered off after fainting. It could so easily have been me.
My advice: Do not enrol for a half marathon until you can clock 10 km in 60 minutes or less. That’s my New Year’s resolution for this year. And even if you do enrol, please do not leave yourself with just one month to prepare for it. Give it at least six months, proper, if not more. Otherwise, you will not enjoy the experience, which is the whole point behind taking up running in the first place.
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.
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.
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.
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.