I’m squatting over 10 years at this stage.
I’ve come from squatting 120kg to a bench in a pair of york knees sleeves and a shitty velcro argos belt to doing over double that in powerlifting competition.
If you asked me 3 months ago if there was anything I was going to learn about squatting now that would completely change how I thought about the lift I’d have scoffed and said no.
(pride commeth before a fall right?)
But back in October I had some sense slapped in to me by a man who’s coaching powerlifting longer than I’m alive. Guess even in my 30s I can still display the arrogance of youth.
He showed us a squat warm up variation and a way of thinking about squatting that made me realise I still know very little.
BUT FIRST, A CAVEAT
Before ploughing on, it’s important to qualify things a bit – this squat warm up is probably the only one you’re ever going to need IF you already move well. If you move like a picnic table, obviously there’s other work to be done.
If you want to work on your mobility and movement quality so you can get into better positions and remain injury free, I HIGHLY recommend ROMWOD. I think one of the reasons I’ve managed to train at such a high volume and stay injury free ( ** knocks wood **) over the last 3 months – I’ve been doing ROMWOD exercises as often as I can and my consistent hip niggle has all but disappeared.
Anyway, with that out of the way, let’s talk about toes up squatting. Here’s how it looks.
There’s a couple of reasons why it works so well.
#1 – The toe elevation stretches everything around your ankle joint forcing it to move a bit further than it normally would (#broscience). Technically, it creates an increased dorsiflexion demand. You don’t need to know that, but it’s always nice to remind you I have the fancy science words too, I just choose not to use em all the time.
Long story short, every squat reps turns into a loaded ankle stretch this way.
And that makes a lot of sense – because if wearing weightlifting shoes to elevate your heel makes squatting easier (position wise) then elevating the toes should have opposite effect – it makes getting low in a good position harder.
BUT foregoing weightlifting shoes in favour of flat shoes with NO toe elevation won’t have the same effect. Don’t ask me why. Its true. I’ve tried all the different variations of toe / heel / shoe elevation combination you can think of.
#2 – It teaches you to keep your chest up. When you elevate your toes, you disrupt your center of gravity. The temptation is to lean forward to balance things out. Knowing that ahead of time, you become acutely aware when you’re tempted to do it.
The only solution is to jam your knees WIDE on the descent to try and keep your hips underneath the bar. That means your hips / abductors get a crazy crazy stretch as well.
THE “…AND THEN”
The question you might be asking right now is “why does any of that matter”. It matters a great deal. It matters because the more straight up and down your bar path, the better. The less it moves forwards and backwards, the better. The more you can get your legs and hips into it, and your lower back out of it, the better.
In the short term, you might find it hard to squat with your hips under the bar. But long term it’s the best position to be in. Just look at any top level lifter, they do a great job of making sure their hips don’t shoot up before their shoulders.
The less horizontal displacement you have been the bar and your hips, the better. Check out the pic below for illustration. Good on the left, “bad James” on the right.
Let’s break it apart piece by piece…
In picture 1 you can see that the bar is over the middle of my foot and well balanced, my shin angle is a bit forward, and my hips are relatively close. That is all GOOD. It means my legs are going most of the work.
In picture 2, taken about 10 weeks ago, you can see my hips have shot up and way from the midline. My shins are vertical, the bar is back over my heels and off balance, and I’m now relying on my back to finish the lift for me (it did, but it was ugly).
If you find your squats look more like the second photo than the first, you need to concentrate on getting your hips open and staying under the bar.
The GREAT NEWS in all of this is that if you follow the warm up recommendations in this post, and go all the way up to 70% x3 with your toes elevated, you’ll start to do that automagically.
There may be a few weeks where you need to back the weight off a bit as you get used to it, but investing smart now will pay major dividends down the road.
Here’s a quick video of it in action:
Every squat warm up to and including 70% has been done toes elevated recently. A toe elevation helps stretch your ankle / calf area, but also lets you jam your knees out hard to open your hips. The end result is that once you take the plates away you end up arriving at the bottom of the squat in a beautiful position that lets you keep your hips under the bar better. Give it a try. #revfit #irishpf #sheiko #squat #powerlifting #irishfitfam
One final point to note – as you can see in the vid I don’t make it all the way down for the first couple of reps. That’s fine. Your goal is to get as low as you can while maintaining a GOOD POSITION. As you push on and loosen up (and with more weight on your back) you’ll find yourself getting down easier and easier.
I’d love to hear how you get on with it, so give it a try and pop us a mail on firstname.lastname@example.org with the results.
PS – you probably just wanna go ahead and share this article with your training buddies too so you don’t have to explain to them why the crazy man on the internet told you to put plates under your toes while everyone else has them under their heels