Welcome to the level-up series, where we will explore one exercise at a time and go through it step by step to help you level it up and get the most out of your movements to see strength gains, form improvements, and improvements to the mind-muscle connection.
First up – we will be looking at the squat.
Obviously there are a lot of squat variations:
– Single Leg
And these tips will work for pretty much all of them.
Let’s start with the typical cues for squats: break the floor with the feet as you lower (or as I like to say – push the elevator doors open like you’re trapped in there with zombies) and squeeze through the glutes to stand. Which are good cues – but let’s take it a step further to help you take your squats to the next level.
Squeeze the legs at the top: As you normally would – split the floor as you squat down, but when you go to stand, think of pinching the floor back together. This will get your inner thighs (adductors) to fire. Making this more of a whole leg exercise vs. just quads and glutes.
Now – you may be thinking, Ashley – how in the heck am I supposed to pinch the legs together for single leg squats?!
Answer: Pretend – your mind is a powerful machine, and you can teach your body to do pretty much anything. So just pretend you’re pinching the legs together – the muscles will follow.
If that doesn’t work for you – just squeeze the one leg fully at the top. The inner thigh will fire.
Slooooow it the heck down: The biggest thing I usually see is people doing squats very quickly – and in some instances that is what you want – like when you’re doing jump squats or if you’re working on explosions/endurance. But most of the time they’re going too quick and end up leaning into the toes vs pushing through the heels. Start playing with tempo work. Count 1 – 2 – 3 down, hold for a beat and then 1 – 2 – 3 up. Get a metronome if you have to.
This has a secondary purpose as well – time under tension (the coundown/up method) has been shown as a great way to increase strength across the board and help you work through sticking-points in your lifts.
For the love of god – engage your core: Some people believe that core training should strictly be in the form of sit-ups and crunches. But if you don’t develop a solid core through bigger functional movements, you’re missing a huge piece of the puzzle. And open yourself up to potential injury. Not working to tuck that tailbone under and brace through the core leaves your spine vulnerable and honestly weakens the movement. So the next time you’re setting up your squat – don’t just think of the legs, think of your body as a whole, engage the core – drive the belly button to the spine and stay strong.
If the drive the belly button to the core cue doesn’t do anything for you – think about that hip bone and your last rib and cinching them together. Or tucking the tailbone underneath. Those both will result in the same thing
Here you have it – 3 tips to help you level-up your squats and gain strength, mind muscles connection, and a functional body. Is this an exhaustive list? Absolutely not. There’s probably some extra seeds I don’t know about (hard to believe, I know). And there is always individual variations. But this is a dang good start and will help you be more mindful through your movements.
Still a little uncertain about where to start? Think about hiring a personal trainer/coach to help you really check form and progress effectively and safely.
Happy squatting my friends!