Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

The Trifecta of Squat Cues

by Phil Meggers, SSC | April 25, 2023

a lifter at the bottom of a squat

The descent of your squat is important. It should put you in a strong bottom position so that you can effectively drive your hips out of the hole, so let’s discuss a cue – really a trio of cues – that will help you achieve the correct bottom position for your squat.

When teaching the squat, we start without the bar, and the first task is to get you into the bottom position. While you’re down there, we point out a few important details about this position. Your hip crease is just below your patella, you’re appropriately leaned over (i.e. your back angle is relatively horizontal), and your femurs are pointing in the same direction as your toes (and since we’ve already taught you to point your toes out about thirty degrees, this means your femurs point in that direction as well).

Now, how do we achieve this position? You won’t hit this bottom position correctly without being taught, so before you start your descent that very first time, we give you some very explicit instructions. A few minutes later, when we put an empty bar on your back for the first time, you’ll forget everything you’ve just learned (don’t worry, this is normal), and so we give you the same explicit instructions all over again.

These instructions are as follows: Hips back. Chest down. Knees out.

This trio is the trifecta of squat cues, the triumvirate, the triple crown – it doesn’t matter what we call it, but it does matter that you know it. When cueing a lifter (and this applies if you’re cueing yourself while under the bar), we typically give one cue at a time, maybe two, so a trifecta of cues starts to get a little long-winded. Cues should be concise so that you don’t need to process a lot of information with a heavy weight on your back, so if we use the trifecta in its entirety, we typically use it during the teaching stage of the squat or during warm-ups. In other words, we use it when you can spare the mental bandwidth needed to think about and execute the movements. As the weight gets heavier, we might use only one or two parts of the trifecta as needed.

With the trifecta, you are solving the geometry problem created by taking your body and the barbell through the squat’s long range of motion. To descend, you’ve got joints and segments that need to get out of the way, so how do you do that? You shove your knees out (specifically forward and out, but just focus on the “out” part), you reach backward with your hips, and you point your chest down.

When you shove your knees out (i.e, sideways), you create space for your torso to fit between your femurs. “Hips back” and “chest down” are two sides of the same coin - if you reach your hips back without leaning over, you fall over backward, and if you point your chest at the floor without reaching back with your hips, you fall over forward. Falling in either direction is rather counterproductive, so you simultaneously reach back with your hips and point your chest down.

Try the trifecta out the next time you squat. Your descent will be more efficient, and you will have set yourself up for a strong ascent – you’ll have put yourself into the correct bottom position, which means you’ll be able to effectively drive your hips up out of the hole.

Hips back. Chest down. Knees out. Give it a shot.

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