We’ve all seen those trainers who over-cue their clients to the point that their client freezes and its unable to initiate an exercise. As a coach in the weightroom and on the field, I have found external cues to be most effective for learning movements to execute them at a high level. The body is a system, and therefore requires cues that move it closer to task completion, rather than cues that light up small assisting muscles.
Case in point, few athletes or trainees have the body awareness and mind muscle connection that would allow them to activate their right piriformis muscle to open up their hip while pulling themselves up out of a squat on trainer’s command. Instead, these complicated internal cues seem to lead to nervous system “freeze-up”, in which the athlete has lost focus on the whole movement.
Here are 3 essential external cues to strengthen your squat technique:
1) Screw your feet into the floor
Lifter A screws his feet into the floor, while Lifter B didn’t read the blog and will lose most of his hip force in this position.
These cues apply in the above order once the bar is removed from the rack and the squat stance is set. Feet are screwed into the floor to cue external rotation at the hips when the lifter stands with the bar unracked. This creates a solid foundation for force production. Think of turning each foot to the outside as if turning a screw, without actually moving your feet. This produces a torque that allows force to be transferred through the hips and shoulders to support the barbell evenly.
2) Split the floor apart
This lifter is opening up his hips by splitting the floor in two with his feet.
Once the lifter begins descending with the bar, the hip abductors are cued by imagining splitting a massive crevice into the floor. As the lifter lowers below parallel and hits which is the sticking point of the squat, they continue to split the floor apart to keep their knees from collapsing inwards.
3) Push the floor away
As the lifter drives up into standing, they imagine pushing the floor away or lifting the ceiling with their head to cue adequate hip extension and abdominal activation. This cue also reminds the lifter to be perfectly vertical and avoid overextension of their body.
Glutes and core muscles are engaged properly without overextension of the spine.
Give these cues a try on your next squat session and let us know how you do! Next week New Edge Fitness discusses some alternatives to barbell back squats. Ever thought of matching how you squat to your training goal?
John, D. (2013) Intervention: Course corrections for the athlete and trainer. On Target Publications.