I just returned from an absolutely amazing weekend in Kansas City, Missouri; teaching at the 2012 Fitness Summit alongside Alan Aragon, Bret Contreras, Lou Schuler and Eric Cressey.

BIG THANKS to Nick Bromberg (middle) for holding the event. And, to Aaron Kleinwolterink (on my left) for his hospitality at ARC!

If YOU weren’t a part of the 70 attendees – YOU MISSED OUT BIG TIME on one of the most informative, fun and interactive fitness events of the year! Expect a full 2012 Fitness Summit review soon.

All About Squats!

My last post on Squat Bar Position was a big hit. So we’re going to keep the squat theme rolling!

Today’s post on how to choose the right squat for your height comes to you from my man Lee Boyce, who’s great blog and no-nonsense approach to strength training is just what we love here at NickTumminello.com!

Squats – Where do You Fit in?

By Lee Boyce

Depending on your body type, anthropometry, and health, certain variations of the hallowed squat may not be your cup of tea.

When I started lifting weights early on, I had major trouble with squats. I couldn’t get deep, they hurt my knees, and my back bugged me too.  I attributed most of it to weakness and inexperience – granted, some of it was that.  But lots of it was due to the fact that I didn’t acknowledge my body’s structure.  Here are a few tips for the squatting impaired:

You a tall guy? Focus on Front Squats

I can’t complain about being a taller guy in basically any real life scenario except for two: Go karts and squatting. Luckily, when I got my driver’s license, I was able to do without the go karts. As for squatting, I’ve found that a switch to the front squat does well to accommodate the long femurs that impair deep range of motion in other variations. Because of the front load, it’s easier to “lean against” the weight and use it as a counterbalance to achieve a nice, deep depth. Tall guys may notice that they get more glute activity just from doing front squats alone, simply because of the greater distance they need to extend the hips.

So what is a “tall guy”?

I’ve always considered that to be anything above 6’1”. That’s where I see a lot of giant wingspans and huge levers. Again, though, it’s a really subjective question.

Long extremities? Heel Lifts and Zerchers!

I’ve dealt with very tricky issues in the gym where the odd client of average height (let’s say, 5’10”) had major issues squatting deep. It’s like they had the proportions of a lanky, tall lifter without actually being tall. This is due to long extremities. When you have a short torso and long arms and legs, it makes it equally as hellish to get in to a decent back squat. Front squats may not quite do the job either.  A lot of trainers will elevate the client’s heels when optimal flexibility isn’t attained right off the bat. I use it solely so get a good depth. In cases like this, you can do all the flexibility work you want – if you’re not built to have a good squat, then you’re not going to have a good squat. If you still want to do the movement, you’d better choose a way that will make you get the most out of it for your sorry condition (poor souls).  People say lifting the heels is a “cheat method”. Not always, and this is one of those circumstances.

In short – torso situations, it’s also of interest that often times due to compensatory situations, the low back takes plenty of load that it shouldn’t need to, especially in the futile pursuit of clean depth (due to all the trunk flexion). Zercher squats are a safe bet. Two good things happen during Zerchers:

  1. The load is taken off the axial skeleton and placed in the extremities. That already reduces compressional load off the spine
  2. The load, though lower on the body, is still in front of the body. That means you can still use the counterbalance approach and achieve deeper depth with less trunk flexion

Basically, you get the best of both worlds.  Here’s a link from Diesel Strength to show how they’re done:

Squatting Tips for the Vertically Challenged

If you’re a shorter lifter, it would do you well to make extra focus on your mobility. It’s easy for you to pack on muscle on to that shorter frame, and it’s equally as easy for you to lose your flexibility and range of motion because of that. Back squats are good and probably aesthetically pleasing, but due to short arms, front squats may pose a problem, especially if you use a clean grip. If this is a movement you’re intent on working on, focus on flexibility movements for the triceps, lats and thoracic region of the back. Ensuring that the strength of your muscles is up is relatively easy for guys with shorter levers. But making sure they’re still in good quality is a little tougher. Common areas of tightness are quads and hips, hamstrings, and shoulders. Take to a foam roller and get crackin’.

Overhead squats are also a great exercise to include to keep your mobility on point. Get good at these and you’ll be a step ahead of the game.  They ask a lot of a healthy body including:

  • Thoracic extension
  • Good core strength
  • Hip flexor strength and flexibility
  • Glute flexibility and strength
  • Rotator cuff stability
  • Shoulder mobility

You’ve just killed, like, 20 birds with one stone. Use these bad boys every week! Here’s a video:

 Another thing to think about is to simply do less squatting. Focus away from bilateral stance movements into more split stance movements like this:

Note from Nick: We love using the Sorinex Single Leg Squat Stand for more than just Squats! Here’s our top 5 exercises using the Sorinex One Leg Squat Stand:

Summary

I usually talk for a long time but in this article, I’ll keep it short (pun intended). Training can’t be the same across the board if people are so different. Knowing this, employ the right tricks of the trade to make sure you keep yourself healthy and reach your potential in the smartest way. And hey – anyone who can squat deep looks pretty badass to me.

About Lee Boyce

Lee Boyce is a sought after strength coach based in Toronto, Canada. He’s a contributor to major magazines like Musclemag, Testosterone Nation, and Men’s Fitness, and has been featured Men’s Health, and various blogs and websites like wannabebig.com.  Lee Boyce is the fitness expert for First Look morning show on National TV, and also works with clients for preventive care at a leading medical clinic in Toronto. You can view more of his articles and media on his website, www.leeboycetraining.com, and contact him via email at lee@leeboycetraining.com.  Be sure to follow him on twitter @coachleeboyce.