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Teaching the Front Squat

One of the 3 most common loaded variations of our standard air squat – the Front Squat is widely regarded as the most “athletic” of the weighted squat movements.

While we believe that any and all squatting has great benefit to performance, the Front Squat is indeed a great lift which comes with a host of benefits beyond basic below parallel strength. Due to the “front rack” positioning of the barbell, a vertical torso is not just helpful but required. This means that hip and ankle mobility become an even greater part of the equation. As does midline stabilization (aka core strength). Lastly, the front rack position itself is one requiring some coordination and upper extremity mobility.

When attempting the Front Squat for the first time, there are a few main coaching points to keep in mind when teaching the front squat:

1. Hand placement – the front rack is a difficult position for many athletes to get into. Instruct them to take a wider than shoulder width and loose finger grip. The bar should rest on the meat of the shoulder, not the collarbone. We address front rack mobility development in other videos.

2. Elbow Height – this is the most common issue for new athletes. We want to keep the upper arm as close to parallel to the floor as possible. Use visual, auditory or tactile cues to get them to keep the chest proud and elbows high (the “2 Potato Rule”). One great cue is to tell your athletes to lead from the elbows on the way out of the bottom of their squat, cueing them to drive the elbows up.

3. As always, we recommend that athletes master the basic squat first before attempting any loaded variations. Even more important, though, is to maintain our 4 points of squat performance during every loaded rep. We never add weight to an improper movement!

The key to development is to master the basics…then master them again!

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Teaching the Overhead Squat

One of our very favorite movements here at PLT4M, the overhead squat is a must-have in any athletic training program. We love this squat variation not for raw strength development, but primarily as a mobility, stability, balance, and body control tool.

Athletically, developing the overhead squat does wonders for core stability and positioning – much like the wall squat (squat therapy). It challenges hip and ankle mobility, while demanding a more vertical torso, and increased shoulder range of motion throughout the movement. Disassociating the shoulders/thoracic spine from the hips during a squat (keeping a vertical torso) is useful for any athlete.

The need to “Get Low” is ubiquitous in sport. If, to drop hip level, you sacrifice your entire torso by losing the lumbar curve or collapsing the chest with extreme T-spine flexion, you are surrendering your athleticism. Maintaining a proud chest and active shoulders allows the athlete to act beyond the hip descent. Eyes are up, lungs are open, shoulders are engaged and the hips can move in any direction.

It’s no surprise that the OHS is now often being used by college recruiters as a mobility test for a range of athletes, including football Offensive Linemen.

While widely beneficial, the OHS can be a difficult movement for new athletes to master – or at first, even complete (part of the reason we love it!).

When introducing the OHS, we focus on the overhead position and bar path (beyond our standard points of squat performance).

Athletes should grip the bar in a snatch-width grip and bring overhead to full lockout. We are looking for active shoulders in a “press that never ends”. Armpits should be facing forward in that externally rotated position, with elbow pits to the ceiling.

As the athlete descends into the bottom of the squat, the bar should remain over center mass. This may require some opening of the shoulder (reaching the weight back) to compensate for any forward lean of the torso. This is OK, so long as it isn’t extreme, and they bring the weight back on the way up so that the bar is always directly over the mid-foot.

Once we’ve dialed in supreme positioning, the OHS may also double as a next-level test of midline stability, balance, and full-body strength by adding load to the bar overhead. (This should only be done with experienced athletes that demonstrate perfect technique.) A weighted overhead squat is one of the most athletic blends of mobility, midline stability, full body strength, balance and body control.

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Teaching the Back Squat

Once our athletes have mastered the foundational air squat (and only then), the first loaded variation we introduce is the “High Bar Back Squat”. The back squat, along with the bench press and barbell deadlift, is one of the 3 “Power Lifts” and is widely considered one of the best tools for developing raw strength.

You may see other programs and trainers utilize a “Low Bar” back squat. While this is also great tool for pure strength development, we feel the low bar variation is difficult to perform well by new athletes. It often turns into some sort of good morning/squat hybrid that goes against all of our movement tenets. Thus, we aim to first master the High Bar squat when training our high school athletes.

The loaded back squat is relatively simple in it’s execution, so long as you master the set up and always keep all 4 points of squat performance in mind during every rep.

To set up appropriately, the athlete should set the bar to roughly chest height (to allow for a little dip when getting under the bar), and grasp the bar with a double overhead grip just outside of the shoulders (or wider depending on shoulder mobility). The athlete steps into the rack and under the bar, positioning it on top of the actively engage traps which create a sort of shelf on which to rest the load.

The athlete stands to full extension in order to lift the bar out of the hooks. Once standing tall, he or she steps back away from the rack. Taking the time to get comfortable (don’t rush!), the athlete sets up in proper squat width stance and begins the prescribed reps.

As with any squat, all 4 Points of Performance apply for the duration of the set:
1. Entire foot in contact with the ground
2. Lumbar curve maintained
3. Knees tracking toes
4. Hips descending below parallel (hip joint below the knee joint).

If, at any point, these points begin to falter, we stop our athletes, drop the weight and correct the movement before adding heavier weight back into the equation.

Upon completion of the set, the athlete walks back into the rack until the bar hits the j-hooks (not by leaning forward). Then, he or she softens the knee and allows the bar to settle back into the hooks before stepping through.

Keep an eye out for our video discussion on how best to teach athletes about spotting, bailing a bad rep, and staying safe in the gym!

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How to Teach the Squat

The Squat.

Arguably the most foundational movement within any fitness or training program. Why? It’s simple. Mastering it boasts the most bang for your buck.

Firstly, it is a movement pattern essential to our DNA. Squatting (properly) is how we were designed to sit – chairs, couches, and toilets haven’t always existed. Squatting and standing is our way of getting up and down. While some may claim that a full range of motion squat is injurious to ones knees, the truth is actually just the opposite. Instilling proper mechanics and adding the squat through training is actually quite rehabilitative of bad knees (and backs, hips, etc) as well as preventative of potential injury. A good squat will set anyone up for a healthier life.

Additionally, it is a movement that can be used to improve your athleticism in every way. Proper squat mechanics translate into enhanced body control in a multitude of movements, keeping you injury-free and energy efficient. Developing raw squat strength makes you more powerful and explosive and initiates one of the best hormonal responses you can get from working out. Working the squat and it’s variations is also one of the best full-body mobility tools there is. Not surprisingly, it is also one of the most versatile movements you can program – from strength, to power, to stamina, to pure mobility, you can get it all from the squat.

All of these benefits, though, assume a mastery of movement. You’ll never see results if you don’t set the foundation first. So let’s talk about a proper squat and it’s 4 Points of Performance:

1. Entire foot in contact with the ground
2. Lumbar curve maintained
3. Knees tracking toes
4. Hips descending below parallel (hip joint below the knee joint).

Knowing the points of performance is one thing, executing them to perfection is another. Just telling an athlete what we’re looking for will rarely result in a perfect rep on the first try. More realistically, as we teach the squat, we will see a number of different issues from different athletes. In this discussion, we highlight some of the most common faults we see with new athletes, and offer up just a few possible coaching strategies to correct them.

Take time to get comfortable with the squat in intimate detail. Your ability to instill perfect mechanics in your athletes will go a long, long way towards setting them up for success.

Looking for more advance squat help? Check how to front squat or how to back squat.

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What if not everyone has a phone or I don’t want 30 phones in the weight room?

With Rackview up to 5 students can share 1 device and still get their personalized workouts and weights.  

Rackview is great for every type of school partnering with PLT4M because it gives flexibility for different students to work together any workout of the week.

Rackview  also fosters accountability among the students working together. Students know they must use the phone/device as a tool and not get side tracked by texts or other apps, because they all need to get their workouts completed. It keeps kids moving and on task, all while sharing one phone!

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Do you work with schools that are a similar size to us?

PLT4M partners with over 700 high schools nationwide. As teachers and coaches we are proud to provide the tools and resources to run a successful educational fitness program for every student and athlete at your school.

PLT4M has partnerships with schools as small as 50 students grades K-12, all the way through some of the largest high schools that have over 2,000 students.

While every school faces its unique set of challenges when it comes to strength and conditioning and educational fitness, PLT4M is equipped to help you navigate anything that might come your way.