Workout Tips

The 8 Best Ways to Improve Your Squat

Follow the Lift Doctor's workout prescription for improving training performance and results.

1. Work on Better Technique

Above all, you need to dial in your technique first. If you’re technique is poor, it makes no sense to start adding more weight and injuring yourself further. There are 3 very simple cues you need to always be thinking when you squat; chest up, hips back, and knees out. Most people squat straight down, instead of pushing their hips back into a hip hinge pattern while  driving their knees out, which forces them into a vertical and more quad-dominant squatting pattern. This type of squat requires great mobility at the upper back, hips and ankles and a strong core and upper back. If you don’t have all of these qualities and your movement is limited, you are more likely to fall forward when the weights gets heavier.

Two drills to help you keep your chest up, push your hips back and drive your knees out are wall squats (which will load your posterior chain to a greater extent) – where you face a wall with your feet about 6” away and squat down without hitting the wall, trying to go as deep as possible – or goblet squats – where you hold a dumbbell vertically on one end and squat down keeping your chest out and driving your knees outward – will teach you proper positioning during the conventional squat pattern. 

2. Try Different Bar Positions

Try different bar positions on your back.  If you have a higher bar position – right at the base of your neck – you will need to have good mobility in your upper back, hips, and ankles to be able to keep your torso vertical during the squat.  If you don’t have this mobility and you are weak, you will more than likely tip forward as you descend into the bottom of the squat.  It is simple physics. The longer the distance from your hips to the bar (high bar position = increased moment arm), the greater the torque at the hips.  If you have a lower bar position (around mid-trap) and slightly wider stance (slightly wider than shoulder width) – you will decrease the distance from the bar to your hips (shorter moment arm) and you will have better leverage. This might allow you to stay more vertical when you squat if you have good core stability and enough hip mobility. Play around with the bar position to find the one that works best for you. 

3. Gain More Core Strength

If your core is weak – all of the muscles that surround your torso from the shoulders to the knees – then you will be more likely to fall forward when you squat. You need a strong core to stay tight and keep your torso as straight as possible when you squat.  And setting the tension in the torso all starts with breathing. Before you begin the squat, you should take a full deep breath – expanding your abdomen and your chest – and hold it to set intra-abdominal pressure or IAP and to help neutralize your hips. Starting the squat movement with a better position at the hips and with good intra-abdominal pressure, will be essential to moving through a great range of motion with a more vertical torso angle. After you complete one repetition, repeat this deep breath and hold before you hit the next rep. Treat each repetition in the set like its own single set. So, instead of thinking of 10 reps, think 10 singles. 

4. Build Upper Back Strength

To get better at squats and to be able to squat more weight, you need a strong upper back. Every strength program should include pull-ups, bent over rows, seated rows, chin-ups, band pull-aparts and face pulls. If your upper back is strong, you will be able to create more core stability and stay more upright while under the bar. Also, being strong enough to drive the elbows downward when squatting, will keep your chest up – especially at the bottom of the squat – and keep you from falling forward.