The best way to learn how to squat properly is to have an experienced lifter (not some pencil-necked ‘trainer’ employed by most gyms around these days, who are generally even frightened of performing concentration curls, never mind squatting) to instruct you. Failing that, you will have to refer to magazine articles or other literature. In a nutshell, this is how you should squat to put maximum stress on the thigh muscles; this is known as the ‘high-bar’ or ‘bodybuilding’ squat.
1) First, have a bar set up on a set of squat-racks at shoulder height, loaded with the desired poundage. Grasp the bar with your hands, perhaps six inches or so outside your shoulder width, and duck your head under the bar, and allow it to rest across your trapezius muscles on your upper back, across your shoulder girdle, in a position that feels comfortable for you. Position your feet facing very slightly outward to the side, about shoulder width apart.
2) Do not let the bar rest too low down your back, or more of the stress will be transferred to your lower back and glutes (buttocks) – this is the powerlifting-style squat, and together with a wider than usual stance, allows better leverage for moving heavy weights, but affords less training stress to the thighs.
3) Once the bar is in a comfortable position, consciously tighten the muscles in your legs and back, and lift the bar from the racks, keeping erect, and not allowing yourself to bend forward or curve your lower back forward.
4) Fix your eyes on a point on the wall in front of you at eye-level, and keep focused on this point as you descend into the squat.
5) Squat down, keeping your lower back flat, and head up, until your thighs reach parallel to the floor, or just below parallel.
6) Then, without bouncing at the bottom of the movement, drive upwards until you are stood erect. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Stiff-leg Deadlift Performance……
The hamstrings (or leg-biceps) are the muscles situated at the back of your thigh and are very important both in terms of leg strength/stability, and to the appearance of the leg as a whole, and so should not be neglected in your training. A big difference in the strength of your hamstrings to your quads can mean nasty injuries in e.g. when performing the squat, so don’t neglect those leg-bis!!
The stiff-leg deadlift is a very important hamstring exercise if done correctly and, along with the seated and standing leg-curl, will greatly develop this muscle group. The best way to perform this exercise is in a style dubbed ‘Keystones’ by Dr. Fred Hatfield Ph.D., who has squatted over 1000 pounds in the past, and so knows a thing or two about leg training, as you might guess. If you’ve ever seen the Keystone Cops, the relevance of the name to the stance you must adopt will be obvious.
Basically, stand erect in front of a barbell loaded with a suitable weight, and lift the weight as if you are doing a conventional deadlift, keeping your head up and lower back flat. To begin the Keystones, while standing erect with the weight in your hands, bend the legs slightly whilst keeping a strong inward curve to your lower back, and sticking your rear-end out as far as you can (- sounds funny but this really works!!). Then bend forward at the waist, keeping your legs very slightly bent with your knees just unlocked. Return to an upright position.
If you are doing this right, you should feel an incredible stretch in your hamstrings on lowering the weight, and in the position described you should not be able to let the weight drop below mid-shin i.e. you will not be able to lower it all the way to the floor. If you can, then you are allowing your lower back to round out, and are risking injury. This exercise works the hamstrings to the limit if done properly. The weight you use for your work sets will vary depending on your strength level, but always warm-up with a lighter weight first!!