Squatting is a fundamental exercise that requires coordination between different joints and muscle groups. As a coach, your role is to break down the movement and explain the technique in a simple manner, ensuring that the lifter understands how to perform the squat with proper form. In this guide, we will discuss various squat cues that can be used to enhance your technique. Remember that not all cues will apply to everyone, so it’s crucial to identify the cues that work best for your individual lifting.

First, let’s start with the setup for the Barbell Back Squat. Always face into the j-hooks of the rack and position the barbell on your lower traps, not your upper traps or neck bone (high bar squat). Lift the barbell up and take one step backward, ensuring your feet are mirroring each other.

Next, focus on proper foot positioning. Perform a knee-dominant movement with your feet shoulder-width apart and flat on the ground. Slightly turn out your toes and aim for a depth of 90 degrees or below parallel.

Engaging your core is essential for a successful squat. Inhale as you squat down, bracing through your core/mid-section. Drive your hips back and keep your eyes forward. Slightly push your knees out to “drop into the hole,” as if avoiding sitting on an uncomfortable toilet seat.

Maintain upper body stability by keeping your chest tall and ensuring your face and neck are relaxed. Engage your obliques and core to create overall body stability during the lift.

Now, let’s go through squat cues that will help optimize your technique:

  1. “Get tight on the rack” – Engage your upper back and core muscles before lifting the barbell from the rack. Techniques like lats tight, pulling the bar in, shoulder blades together, and squeezing your hands will help achieve this tightness.
  2. “Breathe and brace” – Activate your core muscles before descending into the squat. Take a big breath, brace hard, and breathe into your low back and belt to properly engage your core.
  3. “Ribs down” – Maintain a neutral spine and hold core bracing throughout the entire squat. Focus on packing your stomach, bringing your sternum and belly button together, and performing a one-quarter crunch.
  4. “Claw the floor” – Find balance on your feet and keep the barbell over the midline of your foot. Gripping the floor, feeling it with your feet, and screwing your feet into the ground will help establish a stable base for the squat.
  5. “Externally rotate your femurs” – Open up your hips and ensure proper knee tracking during the squat. Techniques like screwing your feet outward and rotating your upper thigh bone (femur) outward will facilitate this movement.
  6. “Crack at the hips and knees” – Maintain equal balance between your hip and knee extensors as you descend into the squat. Avoid excessive forward-leaning with the torso or excessive forward knee bending.
  7. “Push the floor” – Drive from your legs first when coming out of the bottom of the squat. Activate your quads to extend the knees and maintain consistent force distribution.
  8. “Drive your shoulders back and up into the bar” – Maintain upper back tightness throughout the squat, particularly during the bottom and mid-range of the movement.
  9. “Accelerate through the lift” – Apply maximum force throughout the entire squat movement regardless of the load or number of reps.

It’s essential to focus on one or two cues at a time to enhance technique effectively. Identifying the cues that work best for the client is crucial for coaching. Avoid using the cue “chest up,” as it can compromise proper spinal alignment and core activation. By following these cues and practicing regularly, you will optimize your technique, enhance your squatting performance, and minimize the risk of injury. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid:

  • Rounding the Back: Avoid rounding upper or lower back during the squat. This can lead to increased stress on the spine and increase the risk of injury.
  • Knee Cave: Do not let your knees collapse inward as you squat. Keep knees in line with your toes to maintain proper knee tracking and reduce the risk of knee injuries.
  • Leaning Too Far Forward: Avoid excessive forward leaning with torso, as it can put unnecessary strain on your lower back and compromise your stability during the lift.
  • Shallow Squats: Ensure you reach at least a 90-degree angle or below parallel when squatting. Going too shallow may limit the benefits of the exercise and can lead to imbalances in muscle development.
  • Overreliance on Belts: While weightlifting belts can offer support, relying too much on them can weaken core muscles. Use belts for heavy lifts but focus on strengthening your core for overall stability.
  • Incorrect Foot Position: Make sure feet are shoulder-width apart and flat on the ground. Avoid excessive toe pointing or positioning your feet too close or too wide, as it can affect your balance and stability.

Safety Tips:

  • Warm-up: Always warm up before performing squats to increase blood flow to the muscles and prepare them for the exercise. Dynamic stretches and light cardio can be beneficial.
  • Start with Bodyweight Squats: If you’re new to squats or have any concerns, begin with bodyweight squats to master the technique before adding weights.
  • Use Proper Footwear: Wear flat-soled shoes or weightlifting shoes that provide stability and support during squats.
  • Spotter: If lifting heavy or trying new personal bests, have a spotter present to assist in case you need help during the lift.
  • Gradual Progression: Gradually increase the weight lifted to avoid sudden overloading and reduce the risk of injuries.
  • Listen to Your Body: If something doesn’t feel right or you experience pain during squats, stop immediately
  • Proper Breathing: Remember to breathe properly throughout the movement. Inhale before descending into the squat and exhale as you stand back up.
  • Rest and Recovery: Allow adequate rest between squat sessions to allow your muscles to recover and prevent overtraining.
  • Know Your Limits: Respect your body’s limits and don’t push yourself beyond what you can handle safely.