Are you looking to improve your squat? Joining me on the show today is the one and only Lance Goyke. With Lance being very passionate about the anatomy and biomechanics behind the squat, I wanted to have him on to unpack the #1 problem we continuously see holding back our athletes’ squats. There is an education piece that has been misconstrued in the fitness population, and it comes down to understanding the difference between the squat as a movement pattern and the squat as a performance metric.
We start the episode off by diving into the history behind the coaching of the knees out and butt back squat and why this cue might not be the most attainable for you and your goals. On the other hand, those who want to be a low bar squatter and compete in powerlifting are taken out of this equation because it’s one of the only exceptions where squatting with your knees out and butt back makes the most sense. Lance and I then dive into what you should look for in a squat in order to achieve the “perfect squat”. We unpack different strategies and tactics you can use to break away from this never-ending cycle of incorrect technique. Be sure to listen in as Lance and I share how to quickly improve your squat pattern so you can squat big weight, pain-free.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode:
- [05:59] The history behind the knees out, sit back phenomenon
- [11:20] When knees out and sitting back in your squat makes the most sense
- [14:10] The difference between the squat as a movement pattern and the squat as a performance metric
- [16:02] What to look for in a squat
- [18:32] Why your muscles are overactive
- [19:46] The “perfect squat”
- [28:21] The distinction between health and performance
- [29:56] Best way to Improve the squat as a movement pattern
- [36:55] The squat in the phone booth concept
- [40:17] The carryover effect
- [42:09] Breaking the cycle of incorrect technique
- [44:47] Best squat cues to give
James Cerbie: But let’s jump into the episode today with Lance Goyke to talk about why we need to ditch the sit back, knees out cue and you squat, what a real squat should actually look and feel like, and how you should train your squat to improve both movement and performance metrics. I hope I didn’t waste all of my emotions when we were off air, but to do it all over again. Lance Goyke, what’s going on, man? Thank you so much for coming on today so we can chat about squats and stuff.
Lance Goyke: I love it. I’m excited. I love talking about squats. There aren’t many things I’m opinionated about, but squats might actually be one of them.
James Cerbie: Yes, I can’t wait. So, as we were just joking about, squats are a subject that I am still bewildered by. And I mean that in the sense that when I go to gyms, like here in Salt Lake, or when I travel, when I go to bigger gyms and I watch people squat, or I see people still talking about squatting on the interwebs, I am continually blown away by the fact that we’re still cueing knees out and sit back in the squat. I thought this is something that we had put to rest.
We haven’t done this for at least eight years. I’m trying to think of the last time I coached somebody to sit back and push their knees out in a squat, but I think it is more the norm than how we coach the squat, and it drives me insane. And I’m trying to figure out what the gap is like, what is not being clearly communicated here. Why do we still have so many people doing squats this way when we know that it’s better to do squats this other way?
So, there’s clearly a communication issue, education issue. There’s something being missed, lost in translation here. And I’m trying to figure out what it is. And so I wanted to have you on the day to talk squats because I know you’re passionate about squats. You’re better with the anatomy and biomechanics than I am. And so, I wanted to just dive into this and talk about the characteristics of a squat. Maybe this squat to hinge spectrum, where things fall on this spectrum. How we can think about this movement, what this movement should actually look and feel like for people when they do it.
The History Behind the Knees Out, Sit Back Phenomenon
Why is knees out, sit back not a great option unless you fit within this one very particular subset of the population that we will talk about. That’s kind of what we want to go over today.
Lance Goyke: That’s a great teaser.
James Cerbie: Yes, that is a great teaser. I hope everyone is hooked. You’re all hooked. No one’s going to leave now. But where do you want to start? I’ll let you go. Where do you think the best place is to start in this realm?
Lance Goyke: So, I was actually thinking about that. So, I think we can try to do a squat course. I feel like a squat course is more helpful when you’re there and you’re coaching, and it’s learned by doing. I don’t know if I want to take a comprehensive course on squatting in the next 20 minutes or whatever.
James Cerbie: No, we won’t be able to go there. So where can we go that’s going to be beneficial for people listening?
Lance Goyke: What I would think is first, why do we have to ask ourselves, why is that cue to push your knees out, sit your hips back. Why is that even here? And there are two answers in my mind?
One. Triplaner compensation of somebody’s body, and that comes down into two dysfunctions. One is I shift forward. Therefore, I should shift back. And the other one is that my knees collapse. Therefore, I should push them out. And then the third one, maybe we’ll talk about later with all the canvas suits and stuff. So, the thing we have to ask ourselves, why do the knees drive in? Why does the weight shift forward? That is the structure of our body. If our weight shifts forward, we can catch ourselves.
We can push through our calves. We can even come up onto our toes even. And we can catch ourselves before we fall. If your weight shifts back over your heel, the same amount you will fall or you’ll have to take a step, right.
And so it’s either less safe for your jeans or it’s embarrassing, right. We don’t want that. The other part of this outside of that sagittal plane, just body structure is the frontal and transverse plane body structure, hence triplanear compensation, right.
So there’s this angle between the hip and the knee that we call the cue angle. It’s wider in those who have wider hips, right? Generally, females, generally, some females have wider hips as they do that, right. So your knees come down because your feet want to stay under your body. So if the hips are out wider, then the knees have to be coming in. The femur bone angles in more. And we say that’s a greater cue angle. What that does is it angles that femur bone inward. But the shin has to stay vertical because gravity is perpendicular to the ground, right.
So if I take that and I just put gravity down through an angled shin bone, try to picture it, but guess where the knees go. They fall in, right? So this queue angle is the other part of the structure. So we don’t want to fall backward. We’re prone to falling forward and we’re prone to our knees coming out. So if you watch somebody who’s never worked out in their life, they do a lot of this knee cave forward shift thing. If you’ve ever coached these people and you say, hey, can you show me a squat?
Oftentimes, as you ask them to squat down, their heels will come up almost immediately. Sometimes they’ll just balance on the balls of their feet. Their knees will shoot way forward. Their heels will never touch the ground. And then they’ll come back up. And then they’ll say, oh, man, did you hear that? My knee popped because they’re throwing so much force through the knee. Now squats are, I would argue, a knee exercise. They’re also a hip exercise, right. But they should load the knee through the joint.
But the issue is when I adopt those patterns, instead of compressing that joint, which the joint is really good at dealing with, I shear that joint so the femur bone and the tibial Plateau come apart. Is that fair to say, James?
James Cerbie: Yeah, I’m on the same page with you so far. All good.
Lance Goyke: Okay, so you get newbies who collapse their knees and they fall forward a lot. So obviously you would think, sit back, push your knees out, and that’ll correct everything. And sometimes it does. And that, I think, is what kind of perpetuated this? I don’t know who the first person to really popularize that. But the other theory that James presented to me before we started recording that I’m going to steal right now is powerlifting. Louie Simmons, WestSide Barbell, starts coaching his lifters, when you squat, you need to really hard drive your knees out and set your butt back.
What that does when you’re in, if you have not put a squat suit on, you should try it once. It’s literally like taking a painting canvas and wrapping it around your waist. So when I sit back, I stretch that canvas more. And if the suit is stiff enough, you can just hold there effortlessly in the bottom of a squat, just your body weight. And the suit eventually hits this equilibrium where you just float at the bottom and they use that to help rebound themselves out of the bottom of that squat.
And so there’s the element of sitting back to get the stretch. And there’s the element of the knees coming out, because otherwise, with the tension in that suit, your knees are going to collapse. Louis trains the strongest people in the world and has for a really long time.
When Knees Out and Sitting Back in Your Squat Makes the Most Sense
James Cerbie: And they’re all suited low bar back squat, powerlifters. So we gotta make sure this is one of my big qualms. And I hate this in our industry. People don’t place these things in context. They just say, oh, this person’s really fucking strong. And this is how they’re coached to squat. So I should squat like that. But you aren’t a suited powerlifter. You probably don’t low bar back squat. So therefore, that is a terrible way for you to do this exercise. Right? Again, it’s all about context for that population that set up and cueing makes the most sense, that is stacking the deck in their favor for them to be as successful as possible, to suited back squat, the most weight imaginable.
For the rest of the population, and people listening to this who likely don’t have an interest in doing that thing, but they do want to be really strong, they do want to have a very strong squat, right? Most people listening to this, I would imagine, are in that realm of, hey, I want to squat. We have a pretty decent spectrum, right? I want to squat 300, 400, 500. We don’t have too many people that are going to be pushing that 600 squat. That’s a little bit outside the scope of what we do.
But I think most people in our realm are trying to either hit a 400 or a 500-pound squat. Okay, because we have to keep all this in context. They’re trying to squat that and still be really athletic and feel good and move well. They’re not trying to do it within the domain of low bar suited back squat, powerlifter. That distinction is incredibly important, not discussed and talked about enough.
Lance Goyke: Absolutely. And that’s one of my biggest pet peeves is like, you see, it a lot, and I don’t blame this on them. But you see it a lot in new trainers who can only prescribe what they’ve done because it worked for them, and they’re really excited about it. They’re really motivated to be a trainer because it worked for them.
James Cerbie: That was me. When I first started 100%, I was just like, hey, based off my experience here’s what we’re going to do.
Lance Goyke: Yeah, I was there.
James Cerbie: I was in that camp when I was probably 22.
Lance Goyke: I don’t know that there’s anybody who has become a trainer and didn’t like working out first. You’re going to give what you like. But those trainers also get really frustrated when what they’ve done for themselves that worked in the past doesn’t work for anybody else or other people. So we can’t say since this has worked for someone, therefore it will work for everyone else now.
What is the purpose of the squat? I would argue that a squat is I shouldn’t say this to your audience, I suppose. But I would argue that a squat is a better test than it is an exercise even. That’s not to say you can’t build a 300, 400, 500-pound squat. It’s still a good goal, and it’s fun, and it’s a great exercise. But in terms of just measuring every joint, the squat is honestly the only test that I still use. I can see the little compensations, right. So, I can use it kind of to isolate joints. It evaluates everything right away. It’s super time efficient.
The Difference Between the Squat as a Movement Pattern and the Squat as a Performance Metric
James Cerbie: I think this is really important. I’m going to jump in here super fast because this is going to be a good path for us to go down. So I’m glad you brought this up. There is a distinction and difference between the squat as a movement pattern and the squat as a performance enhancer or performance metric. I think that distinction is what we’re getting at right now, which is really important. And I would love you to dive more into when we’re looking at the squat as an assessment tool, as a way to look at human movement, as a way to potentially improve this movement pattern versus squatting 500 pounds.
But I do think it’s a different conversation, right. And I’ve talked about this before to where if we think about placing this movement on a spectrum, it’s just a very basic squat hinge spectrum. On one side, I have a true squat that’s going to be characterized by vertical displacement of the pelvis and knees going out over the toes, staying very upright. On the other side of that spectrum, I have a hinge horizontal displacement of a pelvis with a shin angle. That’s probably really not changing very much, if at all.
Right. And then we have some room to play between those two extremes. But we’re talking about the squat as a movement. It’s this vertical displacement of the pelvis, right? It’s just being able to more or less sit straight down. Knees go out over toes. Things in that realm, you can open a pelvic outlet, for example, one thing that no one ever talks about. Everyone is just like, oh, my ankles. I can’t squat because of my ankles, and it’s like, maybe, maybe not, right.
Lance Goyke: Why are your ankles tight?
James Cerbie: Yeah. You know that wall you feel when you get about, like, I don’t know about halfway down towards parallel. Then you’re like, oh, no, I got a break. Probably has more to do with your pelvis than anything else. But I’ll push this back to you so we can talk about the squat as strictly just a movement pattern, an assessment tool. What are we looking for in a true squat?
Lance Goyke: The thing that I’m looking for as a coach is, I don’t want to see any joint restricting you. I can tell you don’t have restrictions if you can squat all the way down. So all the way down, meaning, butt essentially to heels. You want soft tissue approximation. So the calf and the hamstring come together, and that’s like, I’m all the way there. My knee is totally bent. Sometimes if somebody’s had knee surgeries in the past, you might have restrictions there, especially if, like, a friend of mine. If you didn’t do your rehab after your ACL, that’s a good way to limit your knee flexion. It’s the stability he wanted. He didn’t want the mobility.
James Cerbie: Give me the stiffest joint possible, baby.
Lance Goyke: The knee is not normally your restrictor, though, barring any of any injury or something like that. Normally, what people notice is a calf block or an ankle block where I need dorsiflexion. I need my knee to be able to go forward, but I need my heel to stay down, and that creates a sharper angle at the ankle. There we go. And then the third one is, I need full hip flexion.
Hip flexion is a triplanar movement, because that is a ball and socket joint. And as I come down, the orientation of the acetabulum has to change. Now to manage all of this, we talked about it before. You can’t shift your weight forward. If I shift my weight forward, I turn my calf on. I can’t dorsiflex my ankle. It’s all done. If I shift my weight forward, I kick my back. I can’t use my low back to kind of serve as a counterweight. So ideally, when I get to the bottom, I’m actually going to have a little bit of a round, a little bit of a flattening of the lumbar spine, the low back, and normally we have a little bit of a forward round like this lordosis, this arch in the low back.
But as I descend, I need that to reverse to achieve the full depth. And that’s that pelvic outlet stuff that James was talking about before. If I don’t have that, then I have extra tension somewhere, because that should be the normal motion, like physics demands that my low back does that and accompanying pelvic movements, right.
So, if I don’t have that, then I have to start thinking about, okay, what muscles are overactive and why are they overactive? And generally, it’s because people are shifting forward or because people hold stress tension, they don’t sleep enough, they’ve got discomfort, or they just squat a whole bunch. They like to hinge a lot, and you’re putting a lot of stress on the back. You have a lot of activity in the erector spinae, the QL, and I can’t get that reversal in the spine. And if I can’t get that reversal, I can’t get any of the other reversals that need to happen.
Lance Goyke: But in an ideal, unloaded scenario, I would like to see you squat all the way down, your knees come forward, your butt comes down, you get a very similar angle. It’s probably more like this between your shins and your torso. And as you get toward the bottom, you’ll almost even come upright a little bit more and come out of that dorsiflexion just slightly.
How to Achieve the “Perfect Squat”
James Cerbie: Yeah. One of the cues I like to give people when we’re working on this, and one of the things we’ll get into here in a little bit is, and I’ve thought about this. I’ve talked to Cupples about this, too. How realistic is it to do? What we’re describing right now is what we’re going to call the “perfect squat.” I’m not sure how realistic it is to do that and actually move a lot of load.
I don’t think that you’re going to squat 500 pounds and be able to do what we’re talking about right now. But the goal is still to be able to keep this more as a vertical displacement of a pelvis activity, as opposed to just turning it into a glorified hinge/good morning, which is what most of these butts back, knees out people turn into. And so they just end up with crazy pumped out low backs and knee issues, et cetera. But a cue that I like in this realm that I tell people, I always get great comments back from people because I put this in the notes in the programs is keep your asshole directly beneath your ears, right?
Because that’s what you tell people. And they go to squat and they’re like, okay, asshole beneath my ears. And then I have people that can’t even get that standing upright, right? And then they get it, and okay, then they start to squat, and they make it probably about three inches, and they all of a sudden feel this happened where they’re starting to shoot out backwards. We’re getting this counterweight effect that we talked about earlier where if things are going to drift forward, then we have to counterweight, shift ourselves back, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. The asshole under ears cue is one that I really like because people get that one relatively fast.
Lance Goyke: I think it’s important to distinguish. I mean, I said it and you said it, but I want to reiterate that this ideal testing squat, do you have this mobility and all the requisite joints, that demands that I don’t have load. It doesn’t demand it, I suppose.
James Cerbie: I was going to say, I think the counterexample and the only example you see on this, Cupples and I have talked about, is if you look at in particular, Chinese or Asian Olympic lifters who seem to have this capacity to just go pretty much straight down and straight up in a squat. We do know that the actual structure of their pelvis is different, and their ankle. They have some things going on because of their heritage and background, it’s just different than the two of us sitting here who are probably like Northern European white folk.
So, I think that’s the only example I’ve seen where you’re seeing people move a real load and they’re sticking more to what we’re seeing here as this testing type squat deal. But to go back to what you were saying, please continue. I think the distinction is going to be really important.
Lance Goyke: And that’s a good point. You have to understand that everyone’s different for the testing purposes, what I’d like to see is you not needing a counterweight, like holding a goblet squat weight in front of you and being able to reach the depth. You can train it by adding a counterweight. And though you’ve added weight, you’ve made the exercise easier. I think that’s an important point that people need to understand.
Because you’ll start to understand, why am I shifting forward? And why do I not need to sit back more? You need to shift back, but you don’t need to sit back. You don’t need to bend over and you’ll feel the accompanying hamstring activity, and you’ll be like, oh, my God, I actually use my hamstrings in my squat, and your knees will feel better because you’re going to prevent more of the shear forces that go through the knee. So I love all of that.
The difference, though, is if it’s loaded, there is a drawback we have to talk about. To train the legs, to get big quads, ideally, I want to overload with an appropriate weight. I want to push to an appropriate amount of pretty much all my fatigue, and I want to ideally take my joint through maximum range of motion, so I get maximum deformation of the tissue. For the quad, that means full knee bend, and in a squat, full knee bend means I go all the way down. But if I have a weight on my back and I go all the way down, we talked about it already, but I have to compromise my spinal position.
I have to change my spinal position to achieve that depth and to keep my balance through all of that. What we’ve learned through Stewart McGill’s research on the back is that the back doesn’t like to be loaded and move around a whole lot. I think it likes to move around, and we shouldn’t try to stabilize it with our lats and stuff, so that’s something a methodology that I might disagree with Dr. Mcgill on, but I don’t want to load it, and I don’t want to twist it and flex it while I’m Loading it.
So if I want maximum quad hypertrophy, I should probably push my squat ass to grass, and I should probably go all the way down. But if I do that, I need to make compromises somewhere, and I would rather do fewer sets, half squat everything so that my spinal position is fine. I’m still getting load on the legs. I probably use a little bit more weight, and then later on, if the goal is really like maximum quad hypertrophy, that’s when you’re post fatiguing with some sort of isolation exercise where your spine is out of the equation. It’s just the knee. You sit on the quad extension; you bend your knee all the way back and then you extend it again.
James Cerbie: And this is where we’ve talked about using machines and training being an important metric here, because this is where I think being able to get on something like a hack squat makes this a far more attainable, I don’t want to say goal, but it makes it far more attainable for people, to get this full range of motion, really loaded squat, as opposed to, say, putting an SSB bar on your back, which is still better, right? Because I have the weights on my back and my hands are in front of my body, so I’m still at least getting some type of a counter, making it easier to maintain the stack position that we talk about.
Maybe I give you a wedge, so I stack the deck in your favor even more, making it easier for you to sit straight down. So this is where if we can understand what we’re looking for in a squat itself, what do we want a squat pattern to look like? Then I can begin to manipulate how we load this exercise and the tools I’m going to use with the exercise to make it look like how I want it to look so that I can load it and I can get more strength, hypertrophy, power out of the exercise because the mechanics of it are better. I’m not having to make as many of these compensations to the spine or other places. Right. And I have another thought, but we’ll go there in a little bit. I’ll just want to pass that back to you.
Lance Goyke: I think that there’s another way you can look. So you talked about the wedge, but the other example is squat shoes. Olympic lifting shoes. One of the reasons all those Olympic lifters can sit down because they have a crazy heel elevation, nice firm heel elevation, and they just sit there and they do it all the time. So if your goal is to squat lower, I’m too lazy to change my shoes. Like I’ll take them off, maybe.
But that’s it. So I’m just going to limit my depth on my squat. And that is fine for me. If you’re training Olympic lifting, you need to be in Olympic lifting shoes because bodies don’t squat that way. Bodies can’t sit in the bottom of a squat with your arms overhead and not lose balance. Squat shoes or Olympic lifting shoes have their place, and they can be helpful if you want to load to greater depth. But I would also say you don’t need them to train the squats or to learn how to squat.
James Cerbie: Can you elaborate on that last bit a little bit more?
Lance Goyke: So it frees up some range of motion, right? So I can sit down deeper with load, where load is more difficult for me to maintain my positions, right.
So we talked about at least the load when it’s actually like a training load. If it’s a Goblet squat, it’s easier. We talked about that too. But if it’s a training load, I’ve got more things to juggle, more plates to spin while I’m doing my squat. So I have to not only not get crushed by the weight, but I also have to keep my balance. And I also have to not turn my low back on too much too soon so that I can sit all the way down. Does that make sense?
The Distinction Between Health and Performance
James Cerbie: Yeah. I think at the end of the day, the question is, and this distinction comes up on many occasions. There is a carry over here. I want to make sure it’s important that I say this, but there is a distinction between health and performance. There is definitely a carry over there. I do think that there is a foundation of health for high level performance, but at the same time, you see some of the highest performers in the world whose health is absolute poopoo. Right. But there is going to be a distinction there.
It’s like a Venn diagram. There will be a crossover, but they’re not the same thing. Squatting to lift as much weight as possible is going to be a different conversation, a slightly different story than trying to squat as biomechanically perfect as we can. And this gets into that distinction of just exercise selection. And what is the goal of the exercise I am doing right now? I talk about this a lot, but I think it’s something that people just don’t do. If I’m giving you this exercise, am I giving this to you as an output exercise? Meaning I’m chasing a performance quality. I’m trying to improve strength. I’m trying to improve hypertrophy. I am trying to improve power. Really our big three. Or am I giving you this exercise because I’m trying to improve the movement itself. And there is a distinction between those two as an example. If I’m trying to improve the movement itself on a squat, I don’t know if there’s a better squat movement pattern builder than a two-kettlebell front squat.
Best Way to Improve the Squat as a Movement Pattern
To this day, I still think that a two-kettlebell front squat is maybe the best way for you to really just improve the squat as a movement pattern. But the two-kettlebell front squat is not going to be the thing I’m going to use if I’m really trying to drive up strength, hypertrophy, and power, right? Because I’m going to be really limited on that at some point. I can only hold so much load two kettlebells in the front rack, but it’s a great movement pattern builder.
If I care more about the performance outcome, I’m going to go with the safety bar or a hack squat, something in that realm where I can really push load and velocity, but I can still do it in the confines of this is generally what I want a squat to look like, right? It’s not going to be perfect because I’m putting a lot of load here. I know it’s not going to be perfect. As long as it’s within the realm of acceptability, I can be happy, right?
That’s where my brain goes a lot on these things. But again, when I’m chasing it from a performance standpoint, I’m still not going to let somebody just do this crazy sit back hinge knee out thing because it’s not a squat.
Lance Goyke: I was going to try to segue us there.
James Cerbie: We need to have confines. We got to put up similar to when you go bowling, there’s guardrails. If I give you an exercise, I have guardrails in my mind of what it needs to look like within this range. And if we keep doing the person where my first motion is, my squat is my chest falls forward and my hips shoot back and I keep sitting back and my knees keep going out and my shin angle stays vertical, that ain’t going to fly.
That’s not going to get the job done unless you want to be a low bar squatter and compete in powerlifting. You people are taken out of this conversation. You do not apply. If everybody else listening, that’s just not going to work. That’s no blame.
Lance Goyke: So I would also argue that the low bar hinge variation of the squat is really hard if you want to do powerlifting raw because it’s difficult to get the depth without the suit.
James Cerbie: So I think you’re seeing more people in that realm going with it’s not a true high bar, but it’s also not a true low bar. There’s somewhere in the middle of these two worlds. Right.
Lance Goyke: This is funny that you’re talking about that because I spend very little time reading what other people write on the Internet. But when I see stuff that says, I’m thinking I’m going to blame Reddit. So when I’m on Reddit and I’m looking at somebody asked for advice about their squat, a lot of times they’ll say I’ve been doing a low bar squat or I looked it up and I think I should do a low bar squat, or somebody will say you should move to a low bar squat because you’re going to be able to do more weight that way when I hear that. I know your squat sucks.
I’ve been doing this for ten years, so you shouldn’t know the difference between a testing squat for mobility and biomechanics versus a training squat for performance like I do because I have the experience, right? So I don’t blame you for that. But I do know that I would want to fix your squat if you would default to a low bar squat because I think you would find it much easier to hit your depth, and you would be way less concerned about not hitting your lifts if you just knew how to squat with a higher bar position, because if I go low bar, I have to hinge more and then I just have two deadlifts and a bench press.
I have a good morning bench press and then I have a deadlift for my raw powerlifting or whatever. And for athletics, it doesn’t make any sense.
James Cerbie: Thank you. That’s where I was going to go next.
Lance Goyke: Okay, good. So it doesn’t make any sense to do a hinge. I mean, you can deadlift, and deadlifting is great.
James Cerbie: RDL, rack pull. There’s a lot of hinge options that are hinges.
Lance Goyke: Why do you have to put it on your shoulders to do it? You could just hold it in your hands, get grip training at the same time. That would be great.
That’s my biggest issue with squatting that way. If you want to hinge, do a normal hinge like you can do good mornings. That’s fine if you want. If you need the accessory lift. I don’t really find the need for them very often, but you could do them for sure. But if you’re going to squat, you should train the squat. You should try to stay upright, and you should try to let your ankles bend a bit, because then you’re actually going to load and feel your quads.
The point that I wanted to make was for athletics, like, I need that variability of positions that I can achieve and work from, so one of them might be bending over and whatever your sport is picking someone up and one might be dropping down, getting under them and pushing away and thinking about alignment or whatever. But outside of that, I’ve been thinking about cycling lately. If I push really hard on the bike, okay. Five years ago, if I pushed really hard on the bike, I would throw my head side to side, and I would really feel like I’m doing a lot there and my neck would suck. My neck would hurt so bad after. It’d be tight for days. I get a headache, whatever. I actually received a comment on a post.
I think I was filming somebody else and this guy trained cyclists, and he said, don’t you think they’re losing a lot of force in pedaling that way? And I was like, you know what? You’re right. That is a great point. And so if you try this, if you’re this type of person and you push really hard, try training with a little, like, squat position, so the slight torso lean forward. I’m mostly upright and it looks like I got a stick in my ass, but I’m pushing now down into the pedal, and I can move when I need to move, so I don’t lose my momentum on the pedal.
Actually, I’ve seen it. I thought my buddy Mike Camperini and I were working out the other day and he was biking like that, and I queued him on that and he pushed down. He was like, It’s weird. I felt like I wasn’t trying as hard, but my wattage went up. That squat position can be better for producing force. Like, if I need a jump, I need to know how to squat. I don’t necessarily need to know how to hinge.
James Cerbie: Or land from a jump. Yeah, because that’s one of the things, it’s an older episode, people can go back and find Ty Terrell. We talked about this from the Atlanta Hawks, and Ty had mentioned he likes to use the squat as an assessment tool, also, because he’s like, I want to be able to see an athlete squat in the phone booth. I will say that Ty has a phenomenal coach speak. It is always on point. Great coach speak.
The Squat in the Phonebooth Concept
But the squat in the phone booth concept is super important because we were talking about agility and change of direction, these other athletic qualities we want people to have. And Ty talked more in detail about being able to squat in a phone booth and how that ties into athletes being able to actually receive force stop force, and turn that force around, and it being really important. And that’s where when we train a squat, that’s why it gets me so upset when I keep seeing everybody mess this up.
Exactly. You’re not training a squat, so you’re missing out on all of this. You’re just doing more and more glorified hinges in a really bad position. So the squat should be a more vertical displacement of the pelvis activity. Your knees should go forward out over your toes. You should be more upright. This is not a Hingey activity. It is a straight up and down activity as much as we can manage it. And if it doesn’t look like that, then you have probably picked the wrong variation for you or it’s being coached incorrectly or it’s being queued wrong.
I know a lot of people are going to be like, well, then I can’t back squat. You know what is correct? You are right. The answer to your question is yes. If you have a bar on your back and you can’t do it, then stop doing it. Yes, this is the answer to your question. Use a safety bar. Use a hack squat. Do a front squat. We have so many other options at our disposal now to allow you to get your hands in front of your body to make this more of a squat and less of a hinge. Use a heel wedge. There are all these squat Nazis running
around who feel like it has to be done this one way. And if you use a heel wedge, it is cheating. If you use a safety bar, it’s not a real squat. Get over yourself. That’s just not the case, right? I’m not trying to compete in powerlifting. Neither of these other people. If we wanted to compete in powerlifting, then yes, that would be the case.
I would have to play by the rules of your game. But it is not some just written rule of nature that a squat has to be done with a straight bar on your back. So I think the goal here is that when we’re using a squat as a performance improving tool, we still need to keep it within the confines of what should that squat look like? And it should fit the characteristics of the things that we’ve been talking about throughout this episode.
Lance Goyke: The thing that I want to add is you got me thinking about athletics a little bit more when you said Ty’s name. One thing that’s important, and I definitely want to mention this here because some of my Rebel clients are people who play team sports. Those are multidirectional team sports where I need to be able to change direction. I need to be able to decelerate so that I can get the edge on somebody.
Specifically taking a cut, making a cut. If I have to stop that way and I hinge to do it because I don’t have hip mobility because I don’t have ankle mobility or the reason that I don’t have them is because I never train it because I squat like a hinge all the time. Then I can’t slow down because to decelerate, I need to increase my shin angle.
So it doesn’t just change your squat. It has a lot of other trickle down effects that will affect all sorts of other stuff. So just keep all that in mind.
The Carryover Effect
James Cerbie: Yeah. I think that’s one of the reasons we’re so passionate about this particular topic because we know when it’s performed well that it has a carryover effect to everything else you’re doing in your training, to your overall athleticism. When it’s done poorly, it has the opposite effect. Right. You’re becoming more and more of this very rigid two by four of a human that has less and less options at your disposal in terms of your ability to move and generate force and accept force, et cetera. Do you feel like there’s anything else that we need to hit? I feel like we’ve done a pretty decent job on this one.
Lance Goyke: Oh, yes. The last thing I want to talk about. So we’ve bashed some really common cues, but I don’t think we’ve really offered what we would do instead.
James Cerbie: Okay. Yes. That’s a good call.
Lance Goyke: So this is the most common scenario for me as a coach, and for all the people out there listening. If you are the type of person who would default to a hingey type of squat and he would push your knees out. Before I do this, I need to tell you the problem with the knees out when I don’t have a squat suit on is it’s just as bad as the knees coming in. It’s more shear force through the knee. The knee needs compression through the joints. But if I get the knee outside of the hip and the ankle, then I have this Boeing effect, and I put extra stress through the knee. That’s also not good for you. Right. And if we talk about athletics, you’re now more prone to roll your ankle if you’re prone to push your knee out when you load your hip and ankle together, right. So we have to think about that. If I am queuing you and I don’t want you to do that, and I don’t want you to hinge over. I’m going to just correct in the total opposite end of the spectrum, right.
So if you do a hinge squat with a bar in your back, I’m gonna give you probably a Goblet, maybe two kettlebell. If you’re really strong, I might let you do a front squat, but you’ll probably mess it up, so I probably won’t. And you’re not going to be able to load as much. But that’s because we need to break the cycle of the incorrect technique that you’ve been training. You need to do something different if you’re ever going to make the next step right. So I want you to be super upright.
I’ll probably give you a heel elevation. I probably won’t because I’m kind of lazy about it, and I wouldn’t do it myself, right. But I would not blame you if you needed to. I might actually do it. There are people that do it. So heal elevation. You’re holding a weight in front of your body, and I would make you squat all the way down. If you hold the weight in front of your body, you can keep your back pretty flat. And so the load that goes through there is okay.
I might even have you push it out at the bottom so that you can feel some stuff shift around, especially if you don’t keep your heels down. The biggest thing that I watch if I coach exclusively remotely now. So if I watch somebody’s video and I can only have half their body, I’m usually looking at the bottom half because I want to see your feet. I want to see what your feet are going to do if your heels come up at any point during the squat. I’m a stickler. I’m like, you got to stop. You got to go slower. You got to pause there. We got to change the exercise because you obviously can’t do this. I don’t get very mad.
Best Squat Cues to Give
I want to make the point very clearly. Heels stay down. That’s what allows the ankle to move. Heel elevation helps me sit, helps me stay vertical and therefore helps me correct the hip position. So I like those things. Biggest cues that I give are to keep your feet flat, push through the heels, and then I fix whatever needs to be fixed after that. Sometimes people come out of the squat, their butt will come up, and then their shoulders will come up. And in that case, you’re like, you’re doing it on the way down.
But you’re just going back to your old ways on the way up and you’re trying to good morning that weight back up. And so at that point, I say, okay, when you squat up, I need you to just push your butt forward, keep it more underneath you. Try to get it underneath you sooner and then finish with your heels. So we just would come back to the heels and we drive hip extension at the right time. We don’t want to flex all the way, keep the flexion as we extend the knee and then come out of it like a hinge.
We want to load, bend every joint at the same time and unload unbend, extend every joint at the same time.
James Cerbie: Yeah. Some cues I really like in this realm, feet like tree roots into the floor. I’ve always really liked it. I found that when people get that sensation and they get their feet like trees into the floor. They get this inherent kind of posterior weight shift. They end up finding their feet, they end up finding their heels, they feel their hamstrings turn on. I really like cueing people to pull themselves down into the bottom of the squat. Like a lot of people just passively. Just drop it like it’s hot.
But I want you to actively use your hamstrings to physically pull yourself down into the bottom of the squat. And once we’re there, I have very similar cue. I just want you to push the floor away, to stand up. And I like the cue if you push the floor away. And the first thing you do is you shoot your ass out, then, yeah, push the floor away. But push your hips forward, keep your butt forward. Or again, I’ll come back to your asshole is not underneath your ears.
When we push the floor away, your asshole has got to be underneath your ears, right. And then there are a lot of other things that you can use. And if you’re having a really hard time getting this again, it just means you’re in the wrong exercise for you right now, right? This is where you need to use the tools and other things at your disposal to make it so that the squat looks this way. That’s using a heel wedge that’s using a load that’s in front of your center of gravity.
Right. Maybe once we get a little bit better at this, we go to a Zercher squat because I think a Zercher on a ramp is another really good way to drill and work on this thing. Be strict about this with yourself. Most people are not, and you’re just playing a dangerous game that almost always catches up to you. It’s just a matter of when is it going to catch up to you, right?
Lance Goyke: It’s not that you can’t load the squat. It’s not that you never are going to be able to back spot again. It’s just you’re forcing yourself to play a game that is not really well suited for you at this moment in time, I don’t need all your training sets to be Goblet squats. Maybe I do if you’re really bad at it. And in which case I’m going to give you a lot more volume so you can still train. And you got to be a stickler about losing your position, because otherwise you’re not going to get the technique improvements that you’re looking for.
But you’re also not going to get a training effect. You can use Goblet squats, for example, or you could use the heel wedge as the heel raise as priming tools. And sometimes what you might notice is if you do five sets of ten Goblet squats with a heel elevation that maybe you could do a safety squat bar squat after. Or maybe you could even do, like, a half range of motion back squat after, because now you’ve mobilized those joints, you’re not going to be able to just jump back into the weights that you used to do, because as soon as you feel that weight on your back, you’re going to go back to the stabilization pattern that you know which is arch my back and take a bow.
James Cerbie: Yeah, I will say that in this realm, I’m not the most patient person that I know. And so sometimes a lot of the clients we coach aren’t that patient either. And I understand for a lot of people the patient is required to pull yourself back and check your ego to really go back to goblet squats. It’s really hard, but if you still want to push the squat, then that’s where I think you just need to rely more on external constraints and references to almost make it impossible for you to mess it up, right?
That’s where again, we’re going to go back to this idea of okay, if I can get you on a hack squat. Perfect. I don’t know if you can mess up a hack squat. I think it’s easy, literally. I don’t know how you could mess it up, right? You have tons of constraints. You’re lying on a thing. I have pressure all going down your back so I can cue you to feel your back into this pad. You’re going to sit straight down just because of the way the machine is built.
Or again, I can play around with giving you a safety bar, giving you a heel wedge, maybe some other external modalities. I’m using external tools to essentially force you into an acceptable biomechanics pattern that we can really load and get after and have some fun with. And then maybe in your warmup or other places in your workout. I’m going to trickle in and give you more of these goblet squats, two kettlebell front squats so that we’re both happy, right. Because I know that a lot of people listening are going to, essentially, not be patient enough.
So we want to make sure we’re giving you both because I need you to be happy and training and having fun. So that’s where we’re just going to use more tools and external constraints to make the squat look like a squat. Then other places in training are where I’m going to really hammer this more sensory motor component to get the changes in the movement pattern I’m looking for. Then hopefully we blend those two wheels together over time. Kind of like a convergent approach to periodization type situations.
Lance Goyke: The last thing that I would like to add is it’s not as cool, but a lot of people can still get a training effect with single leg training. I would still drill the squat pattern, but I might load a single leg pattern. I would prefer a split squat because it’s less dynamic. You’re not moving your stance at all or a static lunge kind of position. So both feet are staying down, just come straight down, come straight up. You can still train the knee coming forward. But now I’ve introduced a little bit of room to play with the positions and all, and you can still load that stuff up like you can do hundreds of pounds on a barbell if you’re strong, and it’s pretty cool when you say this is what I did in the gym today.
It doesn’t mean anything to anyone. So you have to be able to get past that hurdle. But if you can, you can get a great training effect and increase your biomechanics at the same time.
James Cerbie: Yeah, I will definitely piggyback on that because I have found that if I just have a really hard time or can’t get somebody into a loaded squat that I’m happy with, that I can at least live with, then we have to pull it out. And that’s where I’ll go directly to what you just mentioned. Okay, we’re going to hammer this pattern with goblet squat variations with two kettlebell front squat variations and Zercher squat variations. We’re not really going to move a ton of load in those.
We’re going to get that squat pattern cleaned up so we can load it later down in the programming. So where we are going to get the stimulus for performance is going to be a single leg movement. And we’ve talked about that before. I think we had a whole podcast on training on one leg, right. I’ve had guys that go 400 plus pounds for a double on each leg with a safety bar reverse lunge. You can still move a lot of load and get strong as piss in a lunge.
Right. And so I think that adjustment is another tool that you can potentially use in your own training if I’m having a really hard time getting the squat right. But I still want to be able to load and push weight and get a big training effect for my lower body squat type stimulus. Just load the piss out of a unilateral variation instead. It’s a really easy option to fall back on. And then only another note, I was going to say here because you were talking about this progression of a squat over the course of a program for somebody that’s maybe looking to improve their squat pattern.
I think the Pyramid Method program that we have in the shot from you does a really good job of making that happen. So somebody wants to see what that looks like over a program in terms of moving from a Goblet to two kettlebells to a front squat to a back squat. How you may actually manage that with everything else. I highly recommend going to look at Pyramid Method because you’ll be able to actually see that done for you, and then you just have to follow along.
Lance Goyke: Yeah, it’s the slow but more sure method of kind of I don’t want to say, rehabbing, but retraining this pattern acclimating to more volume and setting yourself up for success down the road.
James Cerbie: I think that’s the important one. We’ll end on this point because we’re coming up on an hour, which is longer than we had planned on. But you have to think long term. What is your long term potential? Where can you be in one year, three years, five years. If you’re willing to take a step back and improve this now, your ceiling becomes so much higher. It sucks in the short term because you get the ego. Check yourself right. But what you’re going to be capable of is going to be so much greater over the long term, as opposed to not working on it now and continuing with the same frustrations and problems, your potential just won’t be as great for improvement.
That’s why it’s called the Pyramid Method, right? The larger the foundation of the pyramid, the higher I can take the peak. And that’s the idea here. But you have to be willing to step back and work on this stuff. If it’s a problem for you and to maybe keep your mind open and stop thinking about the squat as sit back, knees out because we just need to stop with it.
Lance Goyke: It’s a solved problem. I don’t do it that way anymore.
James Cerbie: I thought it was a solved problem. I’m clearly very wrong because I still see it everywhere all the time. That’s why I just want to live on a farm.
Lance Goyke: You’re living your best life. Hopefully this changes at least one person’s mind.James Cerbie: Yeah, maybe one person listening to this will change what they’re doing. But everyone, thank you so much for listening. If you have further questions on this topic, if you want help with this sort of thing, because we know that if you’ve been in the sit back, knees out camp and you’re really married to that, you may not love what we’re saying. You may have further questions. If that’s you, totally fine. Go shoot us a DM on Instagram. Drop us an email [email protected] com. We’re happy to have a conversation to help out and to further the discussion that was started here.
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- Learn more about force production in my episode with Ty Terrell: https://jamescerbie.com/how-to-use-velocity-based-training-to-become-a-more-powerful-athlete-ty-terrell/
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