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Is There a Best Way to Squat?

A question that comes up quite often is whether there is a best way to squat.  The answer, as usual is that it depends on context.   One issue is how the trainee is built but, as importantly, their actual goal plays a huge role.

Types of Squats

If you ask someone what the best way to squat is, invariably their answer will be: the type of squat I choose to do, like to do, am built for.  There’s a lot of proximity bias here and people think the best way to squat is the way they do it.  If only it were that simple.

While I’m sure you can find people with more lists, there are generally considered to be three primary “types” of squats:

  1. High-bar/Olympic squat
  2. Generic Power Squat
  3. Geared powerlifting squat

The Olympic/High-Bar Squat

The high-bar/Olympic squat is done with the bar held high on the traps and the goal is generally to keep the torso as vertical as possible; this is usually facilitated by wearing shoes with a slight “heel” on them as this lets the lifter get the knees further forward.     This keeps the torso more upright.  This is good for Olympic lifting since it’s closer to the mechanics of the clean recovery.   A heel is also good for trainees with bad levers for squatting who get bent over too much.

The focus of an Olympic/High-bar squat is more on sitting “down” rather than “back”.  It’s critical to push the knees way out and squat ‘between the knees’ (as Dan John puts it so simply).   A slightly narrower stance is also usually used (as this tends to have more carryover to pulling and the jerk in Olympic lifting).  Shoulder width would be fairly common here.

Olympic lifters use this as a general leg strengthener as well as to strengthen the muscles used in the Olympic lifts.  Generally, lifters using this type of squat aim for maximum depth (often called ass to grass or ATG).  Once again this is to strengthen the ever critical recovery in the clean and jerk.

Bodybuilders commonly squat high bar although they may use a narrower stance and stop parallel.  The goal here is generally to emphasize the quadriceps while limiting glute involvement.

Here’s an example of an Olympic style/high-bar squat.

The Generic Power Squat

The second type of squat is what I call the generic power squat.   The bar is held lower on the shoulders in this still, usually at the top of the rear delts.  While there is still a down component of the movement, there is also a greater tendency to sit back.

Due to the difference in squatting style, the torso will always be angled further compared to a high-bar squat.  This will put more stress on the low back.  There also tends to be more glute involvement due to the increased angle at the hip.

A generally wider stance, perhaps shoulder width would be common here and depth will generally stop just below parallel. This allows for heavier poundages to be used than in an Olympic style squat and this technique is appropriate for raw powerlifting competitions.

The following video shows a fairly generic “power” squat.

The Geared Powerlifting Squat

Quick note, I’m not a gear guy.  I’ve had one lifter use a light shirt and this isn’t my area of expertise.  So take my comments with that caveat.

As the name suggests, the geared powerlifting squat is used for geared powerlifting federations.  Frankly, technique here can vary massively depending on the federation, the depth required, whether or not a monolift is being used, etc.

You will see anything from a squat that looks almost like a high-bar squat (in IPF competition) to insanely wide stance squats in federations that use a monolift and pass bullshit (because it’s impossible to get below parallel with a super wide stance).

The focus is generally more on squatting back than down but, again, there is huge variance here. Unless you’re planning on competing in a geared powerlifting federation, this probably isn’t relevant to you.  You can go Youtube videos and you’ll see all kinds of different techniques, again depending on the gear and federation and what’s being passed as a squat so I won’t try to post a singular example up.

Other Aspects of Proper Squatting

Outside of the general types of squats, there are endless other details and debates.  People will argue about head position, how much torso lean should occur or is optimal, whether you should break at the knees or the hips first, etc.

All techniques have their pros and cons and there are always trade-offs in techniques and you will see top competitors doing all kinds of different stuff along with differences in “style” between two people doing the same ‘type’ of squat.  I doubt this really answers your question but short of writing a lot more, that’s the best answer I can give you.

Is There a Best Way to Squat?

So is there a best way to squat.  It’s a question with no answer.  For the average trainee I’d generally trend towards the generic power squat as it gives the best balance in terms of musculature used and poundages lift (the geared extreme powerlifting squat is for competitive geared powerlifters).

A high-bar/Olympic squat can also be appropriate.  A lot would depend on the mechanics, build and goal of the lifter.  To really do a proper high-bar squat generally requires Olympic lifting shoes, or at least shoes with a heel.  Luckily these are a lot easier to get and more affordable than they used to be.  I’d note that even for a generic power squat, many benefit from a heel.  Especially if they have long femurs since it will put them in a more upright position and take the stress off of their low back.  In some cases, they should just abandon the squat for the leg press.

If you want to get more information about squatting than you ever hoped for, I’d refer you to Boris Bachmann’s Squat RX blog and video series.  There’s some excellent stuff there and I wish he got more exposure than he does.

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