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Why We Low Bar Squat | Starting Strength Radio #7

Mark Rippetoe | June 07, 2019

https://youtu.be/f0r_V4mjEEA | Convert video-to-text with Sonix

Mark Wulfe:
From the global headquarters of The Aasgard Company in beautiful, downtown Wichita Falls, Texas... From the finest mind in the modern fitness industry... The one true voice of the strength and conditioning profession... The most important podcast on the internet.... Ladies and gentlemen... Starting Strength Radio.

Mark Rippetoe:
Welcome back to Starting Strength Radio. Glad you're here with us today. What we thought we'd do today is take a little deeper dive into the squat and get back to our training emphasis that we normally pursue. As much fun as all this other stuff is we really need to talk about the squat and one of the things that we are criticized for in the YouTube comments on the... by the bottom 3 percent of humanity in the YouTube comments where people type just the first thing that comes into their into their head is that we're rather dogmatic about our approach to the squat.

I've always found it interesting when people say "Well there are as many ways to squat as there are people that squat!" and I mean you've you guys have seen that right? I mean "As many ways the squat as there are stars in the sky." No there aren't. "Whatever feels comfortable for you is what you should do." Like we're here for comfort right. We're in this for the comfort right.

Well we're not in it for the comfort, we're in here to get strong. So what is strong? Let's start from first cause. Strong is the ability to produce force against an external resistance. That's all strong is. There's one type of strength. I don't care if you read Supertraining or not, there's one type of strength and that's the ability to produce force against an external resistance. All right.

When we do strength training we train for strength and we apply ourselves to the process of being able over time to produce more force against an external resistance. That's the definition of strength training. We're taking a logical course of action that results in us being able to apply more force to an external resistance than we are at the beginning of the process. The end of the process leaves us stronger and the process must be thought about or it's not training. All right.

One of the things that we have to do when we train with strength is we have to do exercises and there are only a few exercises that are useful in a strength training program. And there are only a few exercises that lend themselves to the ability to train for strength - for the increased production of force - over time. And as it turns out these exercises are all multi -joint exercises. They use a whole bunch of muscle mass over a long range of motion. And since they use a whole bunch of muscle mass over a long range of motion they affect a huge amount of muscle mass and the range of motion by increasing the ability to produce force over that range of motion.

We squat, we press, we deadlift, we bench press and these are the basic strength exercises that we use to train for strength. All of those exercises employ a large amount of muscle mass over a long range of motion. We also do the clean as a part of this because we'd like to for that you know the demographic for which this applies we'd like to be able to keep our power production capacity in line with our increasing strength. So we we produce power with the clean and we train the clean as a light day exercise when that becomes necessary. We use the clean as the light day pulling exercise. But the important thing to understand is is that there are rules about how to efficiently increase the production of force over time. And one of the rules is: the exercises that we're going to use must be able to involve a whole bunch of muscle mass and a big, long effective range of motion.

Now this means that there are ways to squat that accomplish that goal better than other ways to squat, right? So when we talk about the squat today let's keep in mind the fact that we are training for strength and we're trying to satisfy some criteria. Criterion number one is a large amount of muscle mass, the largest amount of muscle mass possible involved in the exercise. And 2, a lot of weight lifted by that muscle mass. The more weight we can lift, the stronger we're going to get because strength is force production and force production means how much weight's on the bar. How much can you lift? And 3, the range of motion over which we lift that weight must optimize the amount of weight lifted and the amount of muscle mass. So these three are all inter-related quite thoroughly. If we do all three of those then we get stronger. OK.

So this is this is how we have to analyze the squat. The squat can be done lots and lots of different ways. We can front squat. We can quarter-squat. We can half-squat. We can squat down to a box below parallel. We can squat to a box above parallel. And we could do anything in between. We can front squat.

Did I mention front squat already? I did say front squat. I repeated myself. I'll do that probably today because there's there's a bunch of repetitive concepts in here.

And in the course of this discussion we're going to figure out why we don't want to front squat. The only people that need to front squat are Olympic weightlifters. Nobody else can benefit from a front squat. And it's clear through our analysis that this is true.

We also are going to determine through the course of this discussion that the low bar position on the back is the best way to set up the squat and that the position of the bar up on top of the traps less thoroughly satisfies the criteria we have established for doing the exercise in the most effective way possible to facilitate an increase in strength over time. OK. So.

And those of you that have been to the seminar understand that this is the Saturday morning discussion at 8 o'clock we have about squat. We talk about this every time we get together for a seminar, every month, and this is this is the first lecture that we do having established the basic ground rules in the physical science on Friday night.

That's that's what we spend Friday night doing is examining some physics and physical science - high school physical science it's not really what you'd call physics because there no calculus involved in it. And on the first big... the main lecture on Friday night, the Starting Strength lecture is a couple hours about some of our training stuff, but we really get into the into the first cause argument in the eight o'clock lecture and this is a continuation of that.

So let me point out right now that before any anything else goes on that we are concerned about the center of mass of the lifter-barbell system being over, directly vertical to the center of balance which is the middle of the foot. And we demonstrate this real thoroughly during our lecture on Friday night, that the middle of the foot is where the balance takes place.

And if you're going to be in balance when you're standing there - when you're squatting down, standing back up - the center of mass of the system and in discussion which would be either just your bodyweight or your bodyweight center of mass plus the center mass of the barbell - should be over the middle of the foot and that the heavier the bar gets, the more critical the movement pattern becomes with the center mass of that system over the middle of the foot.

When you're just warming up and the weight is light, the center of mass... the center of the barbell will not be over the middle of the foot. The center of mass of you and the barbell will be over the middle of the foot because if that's not true then you fall down, but the barbell itself does not describe a vertical line directly over the middle of the foot until the weight gets fairly heavy and maybe we'll talk about that in some other some other podcast about why that would be, but right now we're going to concern ourselves with the idea that when the weight is heavy the bar should be over approximately the middle of the foot.

Now - and this is true for a front squat, high bar squat, low bar squat, everything - because if the if the system is not in balance you can't squat it. And especially in the instance of a front squat. If you bend over with the front squat too far and you get the bar too far out in front of the middle of the foot, it won't stay on your shoulders. It will fall in the floor and if it's in the floor you're not squatting it. So it's not helpful to do that.

What we need to do is talk about... let's talk first about the bar position. Now we place the barbell on the back in a position that is right below the spine of the scapula. And the spine of the scapula is a nice landmark for the for the bar position on the back. If you put the bar in a position directly below the spine of the scapula and you take the correct grip width on the bar then the scapulas adduct - they pull together - the spine of the scapula which is not normally in a horizontal line in a relaxed position becomes kind of a horizontal line on across the top of your back. And if grip is in the correct position, then what happens is a shelf is formed on the back for your bar position on the back. The posterior deltoids come up into a bunch. They bunch up and form a little place for the bar to be in a stable position on your on your upper back.

Now this position, if correctly assumed, is the lowest position that we can get the bar on your back where it will stay in a stable position, not moving around during a set of five reps. All right. If you have placed the bar too low - and sometimes this occurs because the lifter misinterprets what we're talking about when we say the low bar position. If the bar is below the spine of the scapula, down in the middle of the scapulas, for example, it's not sitting on top of the bunched up posterior deltoids and it will scoot down during the set.

If you have found that your bar is scooting down during the set, sliding down your back, and that you're having to go to a lot of effort to hold your elbows up high enough - which would be shoulder extension - in order to maintain the bar's position on your back, then you started out with the bar too low.

Likewise, if you've started out with the bar too high - which would place it up somewhere in the belly of the traps, the superior trapezius muscles, then what typically happens in a situation where you've chosen that type of positioning is that the bar will scoot up or roll up during the set. If the bar changes position upward, you've started with it too high.

So these positions are very practically determined by your ability to effectively hold the bar in the lowest position that you can and keep it stable in that position during the execution of the squat.

Now why do we want the bar low on the back as opposed to high on the back? The answer is is quite simply because we want the most horizontal back angle that we can make when we squat down and back up with the bar because that is the position that creates the longest moment arm between the barbell and the hips. A long moment arm between the barbell and the hips causes a whole bunch more muscle mass to be involved in the movement pattern than if the back position is more vertical and therefore a shorter moment arm is created between the hips and the back.

And you can illustrate this by just simply showing the distance between the bar and the point of the hips when you squat. And if the the back is more horizontal the moment arm is long. If the back is more vertical, the moment arm is short. If to an extreme degree... to illustrate this to an extreme degree a vertical back in the front squat, required to keep the bar from falling off, creates a very, very short moment arm on the back segment because the back segment is very vertical.

Now, this means that if the back segment is more horizontal, the long moment arm is on the hips where most of the muscle mass is. If the back segment is more vertical, the moment arm is on the knees, on the quads where less muscle mass resides.

We want to cause the body to operate a long horizontal back angle type moment arm and we squat because it works more muscle mass.

Now look at it like this: How does a person squat the heaviest weights? With low bar position or a high bar position? Well if you're actually in a federation that judges depth in the squat...

And lots of them don't. Obviously you've seen the videos on the internet where they're all squatting this far above parallel with a real wide stance and a vertical back and all the all the people are slapping the guy on the back every does it. Does a half squat. "BEAUTIFUL DEPTH! Beautiful depth!" They all talk like that.

And since we're concerned with squat depth because... the reason we're concerned with squat depth is because of that "largest amount of muscle mass" thing we talked about earlier. If you half squat, you're not involving as much muscle mass over as long range of motion as if you are below parallel squatting. So that's what we want to do. We want to squat down a little bit below parallel so we involve the maximum amount of muscle mass.

Now we don't go too deep on the range of motion because that causes us to give up weight on the bar. It allows... it requires us to relax lots of things to get eight inches below parallel. So that's not an effective range of motion. Longest range of motion that is effective is anywhere between a half inch and inch and a half perhaps - not much more than that - below parallel. Because that's where most of the muscle mass is involved. And more muscle mass is called into this exercise if the back angle is more horizontal than if it's vertical. All right.

Now this has to do with the hamstring anatomy and the glute anatomy. And so let's let's examine the hamstring anatomy right now. The hamstrings are one of the big muscle groups in the human body that cross two joints. They cross the hip joint and the knee joint and this is because of their anatomy so let's look at that. The hamstring anatomy would start at the proximal - the hip side of the thing. Hamstrings all share a common origin - which is the proximal insertion of a muscle - a common origin on the ischial tuberosity, on the posterior ischial tuberosity. All three hamstring bellies share a common origin at this bony landmark.

And now look at the ischial tuberosity - the hamstring at the ischium, hangs down below the femuroacetabular joint, the hip joint. It is the short moment arm in the first class lever system that is the hip and back of the human anatomy. All right. This short moment arm is the point of attachment of the hamstrings. The hamstrings cross the hip joint and when a muscle belly crosses a joint it causes a motion around that joint and in the case of the hamstring, the proximal function of the hamstring is hip extension.

Now the distal attachment area of the hamstring is on either side of the tibia - medial and lateral tibia. And this... the muscle the hamstring attachment down on the tibia occurs as the tendons come in from either side and wrap around the lateral and medial side of the tibial plateau and have fibers all the way forward to the tibial tuberosity in the front. This is below the knee. The attachment points below the knee therefore cross the knee. And again, if a muscle crosses a joint it has as a function around that joint and the distal function of the hamstring is called knee flexion. All right.

So you have hip extension and knee flexion as the functions of the hamstring. As you go down into the bottom, during the eccentric contraction down into the bottom of the squat, the hip flexes as the knee flexes. And then as you come up out of the bottom of the squat the hip extends as the knee extends. Try to keep all this straight.

Now the extensors of the knee are the quadriceps. Anytime the knee flexes therefor, the quadriceps are working eccentrically - they're performing a negative. If the knee extends, the quadriceps are working concentrically. Likewise if the hip flexes, the hamstrings are working eccentrically and when the hip extends the hamstrings are working concentrically. Except for the fact that must be considered that as the hip flexes, the knee flexes too. And as the hip extends, the knee extends too. Which means that during the lowering part of the squat -during the descent of the squat - the hamstring very well may not change length at all. And our position on the matter is that the hamstrings are functioning isometrically during the descent of the squat. It's an isometric function. And the way you know that is that during a properly performed low bar squat training program your hamstrings do not get terribly sore.

Now delayed-onset muscle soreness deserves its own show and we're going to talk about that separately one of these days. But right now suffice it to say that our current thinking on muscle activity is that delayed-onset muscle soreness is produced during eccentric work. This is because of the nature of the of the sarcomere. The sarcomere is... the cross bridges of the sarcomere are damaged during the eccentric function that they performed when the muscle belly elongates under an eccentric load. If the hamstrings do not get particularly sore then they're probably not working eccentrically.

This indicates to me that most likely what happens during the descent of a squat is that the hamstring belly does not really change length. This means that its function is isometric and this means that its function in the squat is the control of the back angle.

So the horizontal back angle is designed specifically to put a load on the hamstrings. If the hamstrings are not under the load imposed by the long moment arm, then the hamstrings are not doing as much work as they could be if that moment arm were in fact longer. The long moment arm is... is specifically designed to affect the hamstrings isometrically during the squat.

In contrast, the front squat produces a short moment arm on the hamstrings because of the extremely vertical nature of the back. That short moment arm in fact removes the hamstrings from the movement pattern. Now here's how you know that, okay. When you do a heavy front squat, a heavy triple front squat, several sets across you may have noticed that your glutes get very, very sore. The glutes don't get very, very sore in a normal squat workout. In fact, in a normal squat workout the only soreness that you will note every time you do it is a little bit of quadriceps soreness. And the quadriceps soreness is a function of the fact that three of the quadriceps bellies only cross the knee joint so they're always loaded eccentrically in the descent of the squat and concentrically as the knee extends up out of the bottom of the squat.

If you do front squats with a very, very vertical back angle therefore the long moment arm is on the knees and a short moment arm is on the hips. A short moment arm on the hips loads the hamstrings at almost no level of involvement, but the hips still have to extend. So what is left to extend the hips if the hamstrings are shortened at the bottom and can't shorten any more as they come up concentrially? And the answer is the glutes. The glutes get very, very sore when you front squat and the hamstrings don't get sore at all when you front squat.

The hamstrings don't get very sore under any type of squat, but you'll feel the fatigue in them when you do a proper low bar squat. That is because the loading on the hamstrings in the low bar squat is isometric in nature. It is a long moment arm that we have intentionally created to involve more muscle mass and therefore to train more muscle mass.

If you're using more muscle mass, then more muscle mass contracts to lift heavier weights and that's what we're trying to do when we squat. So the hamstring anatomy is extremely important to understand why we're using the low bar squat and this is all... It all goes back to being predicated on the idea that when the bar is heavy the barbell is in balance when it's over the middle of the foot. And if the bar is low on the back then the horizontal back angle is established because that's what's necessary to keep the bar over the middle of the foot.

Now can you squat in a low bar position with knees forward? Yes you can. And this is one of the reasons that the squat is probably the most technically challenging of the four primary strength movements that we use. It's... it involves quite a bit of coaching and it involves a level of execution that the lifter must pay very close attention to if he's going to do this involvement of more muscle mass thing and thus lift heavier weights. and the reason for that is because the knees have a degree of freedom that allows them to go basically anywhere in the room you want to go no matter where the bar is on your back.

If we're going to produce a horizontal back angle during the squat with a low bar position that enables us to use all this muscle mass, we have to consciously control the position of the knees. We must move the hips back to allow the hips to be loaded so that they can involve all that muscle mass that thus allows us to lift heavier weights. In other words, you will lift heavy weights if your hips are back during the squat. If your hips are back during the squat more muscle mass is involved and you can lift heavier weights than if you allow your knees to drift forward at the bottom of the squat in an attempt to involve the quads. Quads are always involved in a squat whether you want them to be or not.

So the more back your hips are, the more hip muscle mass - glute hamstring, low back - the more posterior chain as it's called muscle mass is involved in the movement pattern and the heavier weight you can lift to that slightly below parallel position that we're looking for in the squat. That's where squat mechanics are optimized. So that when you start down in the from the top of the squat you immediately establish a more horizontal back angle as you unlock hips and knees and then you maintain that horizontal back angle until you get to the bottom. You consciously learn to drive your hips up out of the squat.

It is very very useful to have a a mental cue to think about to lift heavy weights. And that mental cue is to shove your butt up out of the bottom. On a heavy third attempt at a meet, if you can focus on the technical aspects of what you're doing instead of how much weight you're lifting, it has a calming effect on the central nervous system. You don't have to be worried about if I can lift this or not because your job is to focus on what you're going to do during the movement pattern and shoving the hips up is the key to driving up out of the bottom of the squat and making that third attempt. It's heavy. And this is dependent on the position that you occupy when you get to the bottom. You have to have enough hip back in the movement. It all ties into the back angle.

Remember that the hips and knees are tied together. This is the relationship right. If your back is more horizontal, your knees are back. If your back is more vertical, your knees are forward. In which position is the longer moment arm on the hips? The more horizontal position.

So you have to get used to holding the knees back and making the hips go back and bending over and getting more horizontal because this is what we're trying to do when we low bar squat. We're trying to intentionally involve the hip muscle mass in the movement because the quads are in there already whether we want them to be or not because your knees in fact bend when you go down. It's impossible to not create moment arms on on the segments - the backs segment, the thigh segment, and the shank segment - when you squat down stand back up because angles are involved. If angles are, involved moment arms are involved. We want to tailor the moment arms to be longest on the part of the body where the muscle mass is the greatest. and that's the basic thing here we're trying to get done is to intentionally design our configuration at the bottom and squat to affect as much muscle mass by controlling the length of the moment arms. Okay?

So that's why we want to bar low on the back. We want it in the right place on the back - not so low that it scoots down during the movement pattern, but low enough that it allows us to get more horizontal so we involve more muscle mass and produce more force with that greater involved muscle mass during the execution of the squat. And we have in that position access to the hips. We have to have access to the hips because the hips lead the squat. The squat is a hips exercise in general strength training. It is not a leg exercise. It's hips. The legs go along for the ride. The legs are involved accidentally, but your mind must focus on the hip aspect of the squat in order to most effectively train the thing for strength.

Now one of the other aspects of using your hips in the squat is where we tell you to look with your eyeballs while you're doing the squat. And we're going to want you to look down. We want you to look at a position on the floor four...five...six...seven feet in front of you so that your eye gaze direction is down. Now we get a lot of pushback on this, especially from high school coaches who think that you have to look up to go up. Look up to go up. Bar wants to go up, you got to look up. Because you know apparently they're thinking that squatting and driving are the same thing.

The reason we look down is because it works better. Okay. We know we want a more horizontal back angle in the squat and if we are going to keep our cervical spine - our neck - in normal anatomical position, then your chin has to be down and your eyeballs keep your chin down if they are looking on the floor in front of you.

Now you can prove this quite easily to yourself by getting in the bottom of a squat having somebody block your hips - and we do this at the seminar - as you try to push your hips up out of the bottom of the squat. And you'll find that it's much easier to do that, to use your hips, if you're looking down then if you're trying to look up to go up with an overextended cervical spine with your eyeballs kind of pointed up at the ceiling. It's an extremely stark difference in your ability to drive your hips. Eyeballs down allows you to use your hips much, much, much better than eyeballs looking up at the ceiling.

But there's an even more compelling reason to look down and it's balance. OK. One of the interesting things about the squat is that it trains balance even as it trains force production. And leg presses don't do this, leg extensions, leg curls, any other type of a leg training protocol that you can dream up with is not nearly as effective as squat... as the squat at both recruiting a whole bunch of muscle mass, but also training balance at the same time. One of the features of squatting is not falling down. And if you don't fall down when you squat then you've done the job of balancing. You accomplished balance even while the squat is going up in weight every workout. You are training balance because balance - while not the bottleneck for the exercise, balance is a function of squatting down and standing back up. And balance is facilitated by looking down at the floor.

Let's say you go out in the garage all right and you're going to pick something heavy up in the garage. You've got a big box of parts in the garage, a couple of water pumps and some cast iron junk and you're going to pick that up and you're going to load it up in the back of the truck right. I'll bet you about a thousand dollars that you don't go out in the garage and stand over the box - because you know you need to stand over it if you're going to pick it up, you don't have it out in front of you, obviously. The middle of the foot problem is solves itself. You're not stupid enough to try to pick something up out in front of you. But I will bet you that when you pick up that box of parts that you don't look up at the ceiling while you do it. I'll just I'll bet you a thousand dollars that's not what you do. In that particular instance, you're going to ignore your high school football coach because you're not a fool. All right.

And you want to stay in balance and as a result of that you look at the floor in front of you because the floor in front of you - directly in front of you, on the ground - is a position reference for your lifting up of the load. Proprioceptive input about your position relative to the floor is provided by your eyeballs looking at the floor. If you lean back you immediately see it. Ff you lean forward you immediately see it. You dial in your position as you refer to that position with your eyes on the floor the proprioceptive input provided by your sight picture on the floor helps you with balance. And if you don't believe that then try to squat down and stand back up with your eyes closed. You can't do that nearly as well. Even if you look up you get a little bit of proprioceptive response from your sight picture of your eyeballs on the ceiling.

But let me ask you a terribly important question: When you're squatting down and you're close to the floor at the bottom of the squat where are your eyeballs closer to a position reference on the floor or on the ceiling? On the floor. Duh. All you have to do is try this one time and you'll see that it's obvious that the best thing to do is to look down at the floor in front of you when you squat. This is not a complicated little problem to solve.

I understand what powerlifting coaches want you to do. I understand what you're ingenious high school football coaches want you to do. I also understand that they have no analysis for doing that "look up to go up" it's not an analysis. It's a high school football coach expression and it's it's not particularly useful.

So what you'll have to do is just prove this to yourself by just looking at the floor squatting down, standing back up and then look up at the ceiling squat down, stand back up. Try to drive your hips. Concentrate on that when you're doing these two things and you'll see exactly what we're talking about when we do it. Okay.

So we want you to look down and that's probably different than maybe what you've been doing but it takes exactly 10 seconds to figure out that this is by far the better way to do the movement pattern.

Now let's talk about the difference in our stance relative to more conventional types of squatting. When we teach the squat what we do is we have you stand with your heels at about shoulder width apart. So if someone is standing in front of you they're gonna draw a straight line down from your shoulders to your heels this will generate a stance where your heels are pretty much under your hip joint maybe a little tiny bit wider and we are going to point your toes out and about 30 to 35 degrees.

Now the guys that want to use the squat to "do quads" want your knees pointing straight ahead. Let me point out something very important. When we squat we're not doing quads. We are squatting, okay. And when we squat we want to do more than quads. Don't we? We want to involve the most muscle mass that we can involve over the longest range of motion so that we can lift the most weight and thus get stronger. And we have found that pointing the toes out allows us to involve more muscle mass. And here's why.

Let's look at hip anatomy. First let's look at the lateral hip anatomy. And we're going to be talking specifically here about muscle mass that accomplishes a movement pattern called external rotation. Okay, external rotation of the femur is here... just watch me real quick. Look at my humerus right here [Rip rotates his arm externally] that's external rotation of my humerus. This is internal rotation of my humerus [Rip rotates his arm internally]. External, internal external, internal.

Now those of you watching this podcast - take your feet...sit down right now...take your feet. If you're driving in a car, don't do this. OK. Take your feet. Place your heels about 12 inches apart point your toes straight ahead, point your knees straight ahead. Ok. Sitting in a chair, knees and toes pointing straight ahead. Now I want you to externally rotate your femurs. What happened to your knees? What happened to your knees? They went out, didn't they? When you externally rotated your femurs you also ab abducted your knees. They're the same thing.

If you take a stance as we describe and you point your toes out and you squat down and you keep your knees in line with your externally rotated feet, then as you go down your femurs externally rotate while they stay in a straight line with your feet. Now in a straight line with your feet your knees are protected. They scissor in a neutral manner. The femur, tibia scissor correctly in a straight line neither loading... loading neither the medial or lateral aspect of the knee. Everything stays in nice, tight balance.

But what you are doing when you squat down with your knees shoved out in order to stay in line with your toes is you are externally rotating and all of the muscle mass in your hips that externally rotate suddenly become involved in squatting down and standing back up. Now this muscle mass is significant. It's the glutes - the medius, minimus, and maximus - those are all external rotations of the hips. And there are also all what all of the the little muscles inside the hip that can't be palpated.

We call these the physical therapy muscles because one of them is the piriformis and every time a physical therapist goes to a weekend conference about piriformis syndrome he comes back and he wants to talk about piriformis. Well piriformis is one of those external rotators. There are the gemelli - inferior, superior gemellus - the obturator. I think maybe there are too obdurator heads too. And then there's one called the quadratus lumborum.

These little, bitty muscles, although not powerful external rotators get added to the movement pattern as you force them to keep the knees out in external rotation over your toes if they're pointed out at 30 or 35 degrees. So by pointing the the toes out and then pointing the knees out, we are enabling the addition of the external rotator muscle mass.

By pointing the knees and the toes out also, keeping the knees out of the way of the belly, we are enabling depth in the squat to be obtained much more easily than if your knees are pointed forward. In fact, what we find is that if you're squatting high the vast majority of the problem can usually be fixed if you shove your knees out. So if depth is your problem, the knees out is usually the solution to that. Just keep that in mind if you find yourself squatting consistently an inch above parallel. Shove the knees out - a little bit more in depth is almost automatic. It's not even... something you have to really think about in terms of depth. You just think about knees out - you automatically get depth.

OK now let's talk about the medial aspect of hip musculature. We're talking about now the adductor group or the groin muscles. The adductor group - its origin is, for most of the muscle mass, the anterior side of the ischial tuberosity. The same bone on which the hamstrings arise posterior is the bone where the adductor group, the groin muscles, arise anterior. One of the groin muscle bellies arises from the pubis, but most of them come off of the anterior side of the same bone that the hamstrings use to extend the hips. Now this is this is important. The groin muscles, the adductor group, all insert distally on the medial aspect of the femur and some of them go all the way down to the knee. The gracilis in fact crosses the knee in a very weak in very weak position, but all of them attach distally to the medial aspect of the femur. Therefore they cross the hip joint. And if they cross the hip joint - as we talked about earlier if a muscle crosses a joint, it causes motion around the joint. And if you hold your knees out in external rotation a-b-duction at the bottom of the squat, then you are enabling the adductor group to function as hip extensors as they come up... as you come up out of the bottom concentrically operating the a-d-ductors in the ascent of the squat.

Now think about what you've done here. By positioning the toes out and the knees out and keeping the knees in a straight line with your pointed out toes, you have added adductor muscle mass and abductor muscle mass to the squat. Those of you who have torn a groin muscle before remember that the pleasure with which you experienced that tear over the couple of weeks that it took to heal it up. But you also could have discovered the interesting fact that you can squat with a torn groin muscle if you take a close stance, point your toes and your knees straight ahead, and stand back up because in that stance position your a-d-ductors - your groin muscles - are completely quiet, they don't contract at all.

And what we want to do is force them to help us with squat so we're going to point the knees out and keep them in a straight line with our toes which are pointed out at 30 or 35 degrees. In other words we're going to make the external rotators hold the knees out in a position that enables the abductors to function as hip extensors during the squat and this adds muscle mass to the squat and therefore trains more muscle mass during the squat if we do it this way.

Now let's consider the involvement of the lower back muscles - the lumbar erectors and all of the muscles that stabilize the spine in their involvement with the squat. All right. The... the term posterior chain is typically used to refer to the glutes and the hamstrings. We have just shown that the adductors also extend the hips and a better definition for the posterior chain is the hip extensor group. So I would add the adductors to the posterior chain as well. I would also add the lumbar erectors to that because they are posterior. And if there is a bar involved in the movement and the moment arm along the back is acting as a force transmitter - whether it's in a deadlift or a squat - then the lumbar erectors are part of the posterior chain in that they stabilize that wiggly column of bones in such a way that the spine, when rigid, becomes an effective transmitter of moment force to the load whether it's hanging from the arms or perched up on top of the back in the squat position.

Spinal stability is a very important thing to consider here for lots and lots of reasons okay. People are worried about the squat and deadlift damaging the low back because it's under a load. All right if we we want a more horizontal back angle to squat more effectively and we have to have a horizontal back angle to pick the barbell up off the floor and we're telling you that it's a strength exercise and everybody in the medical community is telling you to keep your back vertical... Well what we're telling you is to strengthen the muscles that stabilize your spine and they're telling you to avoid using the muscles that stabilize your spine. Now this doesn't make any sense.

All right. If we... what is better? A strong back or a weak back? Well I would maintain that a strong back is better. So how do you get your back strong. Well you load the back, progressively, just like you load everything else to get it strong. You use an exercise form that produces the necessity to maintain a stable spine. So you find a light weight where you can keep your back stable with your hips back, your eyeballs on the floor, and you do the squat correctly with a more horizontal back angle. And then you go up five pounds, and then you go up five pounds, and you go up five more pounds, and you keep doing that till you can't do it anymore. And in the process of doing that what have you done? You've strengthened the muscles that keep your spine stable.

Now this is commonly referred to as the "core" in modern... in the modern what is you call it the fitness industry the the... it's the fitness industry calls it the "core." And I hear people saying "the core" because they are just parroting what they've heard. I don't ever use the word "core" without putting scare quotes around it like you just heard me do. Okay.

If your back is strong enough - your back muscles and all of the abdominal muscles, and all the muscles on either side, and the floor of the pelvis, all the muscles that stabilize the spine - is strong enough to deadly a five hundred pounds, then my friend you have a strong "core." OK.

So how do you keep these muscles strong? How do you get them strong? How do you... how do you require them to adapt along with the rest of your training, because that's what they do? Well you establish a stable back position using those muscles. And the way you do that is first to understand spinal anatomy. All right.

Now normal anatomical position for the lumbar spine is a position called extension. And the lordotic curve established in extension is that hollow low back position that you see most people effect when they stand up straight. An extended thoracic spine is a kyphotic curve - it's the opposite direction. And then there's also a lordotic curve in the cervical spine - the neck - that is not nearly as pronounced as the one in the lumbar spine. So you have lordotic lumbar, kyphotic thoracic, and lordotic cervical. This is normal anatomical position.

And if we lock the back into normal anatomical position, then the spine - the back - becomes an effective transmitter of moment force like a wrench. A rubber ranch is not much good for anything, but a rigid Craftsman wrench is a damn good transmitter of moment force. Your back must be rigid when you lift weights - when you deadlift and when you squat. And if your back is rigid then your back is protected. And if your back is rigid and the load incrementally increases then your back incrementally gets stronger because the muscles that hold it stable are adapting to an increasing load incrementally. They're quite capable of doing this.

So if you learn to lock your low back into a position and hold it steady, then you develop the ability to safely position your back at any angle of load, not just a vertical angle of load. Because as we have discovered, we can not lift the heaviest weights if the back angle is vertical. Because the moment arm on the back is too short to involve enough muscle mass to lift big heavy weights. So we want to lift big heavy weights and we have to do it with a more horizontal back angle, so it's incumbent upon you to fix your back position.

Now here's the interesting thing. Not all of you boys know how to extend your low back voluntarily. And when I when I talk about extending voluntarily I'm talking about a concentric contraction of the lumbar erector muscles of the low back that positions the low back in an extended position OK. And what we have found is is true is that while most people know how to voluntarily control a concentric contraction of the lumber erectors, some people don't know how to do it. Some people if I say, "I want you to arch your lower back," they'll lift their chest. Which involve thoracic muscle mass and not lumbar muscle mass.

There's a thing called an anterior pelvic tilt - where top of your pelvis tilts, forward meaning that the bottom of your pelvis tilts backward. This requires an extended lumbar spine and the muscles that produce an anterior pelvic tilt are those lumbar erectors we're talking about. If you don't know how to do that - and it very well may be that you don't - you need to learn how to do it. And the best way we have found to teach you how to do that is as follows.

You're going to take your position.. you're gonna bend over... you're gonna bend over into a position where your back is at that horizontal angle and then it's going to look like this [Rip demonstrates angle with his arm] your back will be here, legs coming down, back will be like that. In that position what you're going to do is drop your belly down between your thighs and you can clearly see what I mean by that. Dropping the belly down between the thighs means your back did that [Rip demonstrates movement using his hand] right? Belly drops down, back goes into extension. and then when back is in a nice, extended position like that then you tighten your abs. So you set the back position by dropping the belly down and then you tighten those belly muscles and it locks everything in a circle around your spine into a hard, rigid contraction which is the way you transmit force from the legs and hips, up the spine, to the bar whether it's on your back in the squat position or hanging from your arms in the deadlift position.

This lumbar contraction is sometimes difficult for some people to voluntarily produce. If you don't know how to do it, you need to learn. You need to learn how to do this because this is how you voluntarily control spinal extension and voluntarily correct a position of flexion that might produce an injury - although it's not likely - but will definitely produce a less than efficient force transmission up the spine to the load on the bar. All right.

The reality of the situation is there's a lot of people want to think about this as a safety issue. And you know I'd really hate to say this because I don't want to damage the importance of your internalizing this message, but flexion - lumbar flexion - is not as dangerous as everybody seems to think it is. If lumbar flexion when you picked stuff up off the ground was terribly dangerous everybody be dead because everybody picks things up off the ground wrong because a lot of things that you pick up off the ground are not as ergonometrically friendly as a deadlift bar.

Every strong man would be dead because stone lifting must be accomplished. Think of the geometry of the stone. Where is the center mass of the stone? It's out in front of you a little bit. You can't get over the middle of a stone. Therefore you're gonna have some spinal flexion involved in picking up a stone. And people live through four hundred pound stone lifts every single day because flexion - if it is stable - if you go into flexion and you squeeze and flexion, people get away with that all the time.

Now is it optimal? No it's not because it doesn't position you in the place you can get to most effectively lift the barbell off the floor. Now when you squat... when you are standing up in a squat at the top of the lift the lumbar spine the thoracic spine and the cervical spine should be a normal anatomical position because this is the position in which the intervertebral discs are shaped to be in a neutral, loaded position. The intervertebral discs do not want to be in a position of flexion,, especially the lumbar discs, because in a position of flexion the lumbar disks' load is reversed. The lumbar disks - and you can envision this - are kind of a wedge. And they are wedged open forward - anterior towards your belly - and closed toward the back. But if you do that backwards then you are not loading your discs the way they're configured to be loaded so it's safer and in addition more effectively maintained in extension if extension is established and held by tight lumbar and abdominal muscle mass. This is this is terribly important to understand, okay. And if you have through the course of this discussion determined that you don't really know how to wiggle your low back around like you're supposed to you need to get where you develop that ability. There are several suggestions for doing this in the book and I recommend that you revisit that.

Our squat's a little different. We want the bar down low on your back so that when the barbell is in balance over the middle of the foot the horizontal back angle creates a longer moment arm on the hips thus involving the muscle mass that the hips can contribute to the movement pattern. We are specifically configuring these angles to place the greatest amount of force on the biggest muscle mass so that we can more effectively train that muscle mass for the squat. We take a stance that enables more muscle mass to be involved in the squat by shoving the knees out. Keeping them in a straight line over the feet so that the external rotators hold the femurs in external rotation so that the adductors - the groin muscles - can contribute to hip extension. And we're going to position the low back and all of the muscle mass that surrounds the spine and in the best position they can be in to maintain rigid, normal, anatomical position under a load at any back angle. We're going to pull the bar off the floor in a deadlift in a more horizontal back angle and we're also going to squat in a more horizontal back angle. This loads the muscles that keep the spine rigid at that angle and as a result of that those muscles get strong too. We don't avoid these angles. We actively pursue them because we're trying to strengthen all of the muscle mass involved in maintaining that position.

Now if you if you've understood all of this congratulations there's a lot of material here I understand this is rather dense. This is all discussed in the blue book, Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training. We've discussed it in several videos on the website in addition to this one and all these resources are available for you to understand more effectively why we want you to squat in this oddball way. Why we want you to look down while you're doing it too which seems to offend lots of people. But if you understand Why then you'll agree with us because we thought about this pretty carefully.

Thanks for joining us on Starting Strength Radio and tell your friends about it. If we've helped you I want you to, you know spread it around and let's see what we can do about making more people educated about the correct way to squat. Thanks for joining us. See you next time.

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Rip goes in-depth and explains why the low bar squat uses the most muscle mass over the longest effective range of motion and is therefore is the preferred squat for getting strong.

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