Loading the Glutes: The power of the squat

So I love squats a lot. Anyone who has ever worked out with me knows this.

Correctly performed, squats have the power to make a profound difference to athletic performance as well as injury prevention. They can:

  • Increase vertical jump
  • Increase agility for both denying and creating lateral space
  • Improve box out strength for better rebounding
  • Increase 'shove strength' for establishing or denying position in the low post
  • Improve straight line acceleration during sprinting
  • Improve muscle, tendon and ligament strength for superior durability
  • Improve landing patterns to unload the forces on the knees
  • Significantly improve defensive and triple threat stances

It's an amazing list of pros.

So why isn't every physio, strength coach and sports med doctor a fan?

The first problem is that squats done wrong can really injure you, leading to severe back problems and painful knees.

The second problem is that almost everyone does them wrong!

Too deep, too wide, too slow, quad dominant, caving in at the knees, bent and twisted spines, over-used adductors and under-used glutes. Compensatory patterns everywhere.
It's a mess.  

Just drop in to any gym on a Monday night and have a look around if you doubt me!

Despite this, the great news is that everyone can to learn to squat properly, you just need patience and some supervision (or at the very least a video camera so you can self analyse). Before we get into the dos and don'ts it's important to dispel some of the myths that fuel a lot of the bad squatting

Myth 1: Athletes should squat like powerlifters

0e981b7283ab304e4954e782f5188a09.jpeg

I've spent over 13 years having huge no neck gym junkies tell me in big voices 'if its not parallel its not a real squat' and that I should make my athletes lift like they do, some of them even offer to 'help' me train my athletes 'properly'. Strangely I always (politely) decline.  The key detail the powerlifting guys forget, is that my athletes are competing on the court not in the gym. The other thing the powerlifting crowd struggles with is the whole less is more concept. They are very much more is more people. It is no coincidence their sport has a high attrition rate with most retiring early due to burnt-out backs, shoulders and knees. I love lifting big weights too, its just that I place safety first.

This parallel to the floor dogma comes from the powerlifting regulation that in order for a squat to count as an approved lift, the top of the thigh must be parallel to the floor. This rule is a necessity in powerlifting as they need a defined end point to the movement in order to conduct fair competitions, and it works ok in a sport where pretty much everyone is short and stocky. However it's a disaster for anyone over 6 foot, as people with long legs just can't get that low without bending their back. A bent back without load is not ideal, however a bent back with  load is a long-term disaster and exposes the disks to huge compressive and shear forces, not the mention the wear and tear on the knees.

With the recent rise of CrossFit and its Olympic lifting component even more people are now arguing you have 'squat low or go home' and they are 100% right...IF YOU ARE AN OLYMPIC LIFTER, CROSSFITTER OR POWERLIFTER. For team sport athletes I just don't agree. In fact it is often counter productive for these athletes to get so low under load.

Truth: athletes should squat as low as they safely can

At Core Advantage we like to squat low and we like to squat with load, we just don't like mixing the two.

When it come to a barbell squat this means squatting as low as you can get with your feet at hip width (i.e. stacked under the body as they would be when we run and jump) whilst keeping a neutral spine, and getting enough knee bend that you increase power, but not so much that you grind away your cartilage. For a six foot tall athlete this usually means down an angle of between 60 and 90 degrees or around 9 seats as pictured below. This moderate depth squatting actually elicits more glute activation with less groin based compensation patterns and vastly reduced potential to mess up peoples sacro-iliac joints. It doesn't fit in with cool slogans, nevertheless it will safely and effectively build more explosive athletes with cleaner motor patterns.

jess gourlay manual 1-11-08 143.jpg

N.B. wide stance deep squats without an imposed spinal load are totally fine, and in fact a fundamental primal pattern (how else would our ancestors have gone to the toilet) we are big fans of depth on what we call the R.O.M Squat, just never mixed with load.

Myth 2: Your knee must never pass over your toes

Australian Opal & Melbourne Boomer Bec Allen Squatting 60kg with perfect form

Australian Opal & Melbourne Boomer Bec Allen Squatting 60kg with perfect form

This myth is another throwback from powerlifters and Olympic lifters and is totally valid for people with short femurs (thigh bones), however for many people over 6 foot it's just a biomechanical impossibility. People with too much femur simply can't get into this position without falling over.

Truth: It's the shape of the squat that matters

The shape of the squat should be sitting back into the glutes. I'm ok with the knees ending up a little over the toes as long as the shape of the squat is sitting back rather than drifting forward through the knees.  

Myth 3: Weights will stunt your growth

In many ways I think this myth is a really good one, as it keeps lots of young kids from engaging in unsupervised gym training, which can be very dangerous. However it's still a myth. Like many myths, this one has a seed of truth in it, which was that in the eighties a number of junior Olympic lifters damaged growth plates in training. It's crucial to understand that these kids were doing explosive lifts such as the clean and jerk and the snatch.

Truth: Squats are super safe when coached right

At Core Advantage we only use these lifts on our experienced senior athletes as they are highly ballistic and complex to learn. Instead we treat gym day as a form of impact de-load for our athletes. The big thing to understand is that our form of squats isn't just safe in the gym, it actually makes you safer on court. Neutral spine squats increase the integrity of your body and support great running, jumping, and landing technique. A strong squatter will soak up the kinetic energy of sport through their muscles rather than their joints, and will have far safer growth plates than their non-squatting peers.

Below is a video explaining how to squat properly, so just do what the slightly blurry bald man says (sorry about the production quality)  and you'll be on the right track.

So the key cues to remember are:

  • Feet set hip width apart
  • Engage the core (pelvic floor up and belly button in)
  • Tear the ground apart with your feet (see the video)
  • Sit back into the squat like you are slamming a door shut with your butt
  • Drive out of the bottom of the squat with your chest up until you have locked the hips out.

In terms of frequency, don't squat everyday, just do it 2 or 3 times per week, and never squat through pain.

So get stuck in, but make haste slowly. Great squats are a long term project.

Interested in jumping higher? Check out the full series below

Read/watch these in order for heaps of resources, tips and tricks to maximise your vertical leap:

The science of vertical jump

Jump higher in 10 minutes a day

Taking off the handbrake

Waking up your glutes

The power of the squat

Anti-Valgus tips for safe and stable landings

Why you need to be careful with internet jump programs

The good and bad of box jumps

Intent to Move: How to lift weights for maximum power

Download Our Free Jumping Resources

We've built free resources to help athletes around the world improve their vertical leap.

Sign up to get access to:

  • A warm up and cool down guide for maximising jump ability
  • The key to making vertical leap gains in the gym
  • All our vertical leap training tips and tricks for strength, mobility, technique and plyometric power development
Thanks! We've just emailed you access to our free resources, they should arrive in a few minutes.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Learn more about Velocity Based Training with VBTCoach.com

Velocity Based Training, or commonly known as VBT is a fantastic way to inform us about the quality of our training, adding an objective velocity value on the quality of every rep. At VBTCoach.com, Jacob delves into how you can improve performance, build power, strength and muscle, and allow for auto-regulating training in real time. ⁠

More posts

Compensatory Patterns
April 25, 2017

Compensatory Patterns

The Invention of Jogging
April 25, 2017

The Invention of Jogging

How Not to Interview: A Lesson for Fitness Professionals
November 10, 2016

How Not to Interview: A Lesson for Fitness Professionals

The Problems with a Heel Strike
October 5, 2016

The Problems with a Heel Strike

Rehabilitation
July 30, 2015

Rehabilitation

How to book your workouts at Core Advantage
June 23, 2020

How to book your workouts at Core Advantage

Training When Injured, the Ultimate Guide
August 9, 2019

Training When Injured, the Ultimate Guide

Our Combine Infographics
May 23, 2019

Our Combine Infographics

Bulgarian Split Squat or Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat?
May 21, 2019

Bulgarian Split Squat or Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat?

Medicine Balls, Wall Balls and Dead Balls, what's the difference?
May 27, 2019

Medicine Balls, Wall Balls and Dead Balls, what's the difference?

A Coaches Guide to Keeping Your Team Fit Over Christmas
December 22, 2018

A Coaches Guide to Keeping Your Team Fit Over Christmas

The Athletic Combine Part 3: Results, The Most Important Thing in Athletic Performance Testing
May 9, 2018

The Athletic Combine Part 3: Results, The Most Important Thing in Athletic Performance Testing

Three Supplements for this Winter
June 5, 2018

Three Supplements for this Winter

The Athletic Combine Part 2: Interpreting your Athletic Testing Results
April 30, 2018

The Athletic Combine Part 2: Interpreting your Athletic Testing Results

The Athletic Combine Part 1: The Tests and Why They Matter
April 11, 2018

The Athletic Combine Part 1: The Tests and Why They Matter

5 Do's and Don't for Surviving the Holidays
December 28, 2017

5 Do's and Don't for Surviving the Holidays

Maximise Performance, Reduce Injury and Improve Your Running Technique all before training starts
December 11, 2017

Maximise Performance, Reduce Injury and Improve Your Running Technique all before training starts

5 Elite Habits Every Athletes Can do Now (for free)
November 8, 2017

5 Elite Habits Every Athletes Can do Now (for free)

Taper Like a Boss
September 13, 2017

Taper Like a Boss

9 Reasons Humans were Born to Run
August 23, 2017

9 Reasons Humans were Born to Run

Mailbag - How Can I Dunk in Two Weeks?
June 21, 2017

Mailbag - How Can I Dunk in Two Weeks?

Neutral Spine? How to Deadlift and Squat Without Hurting Your Back
May 22, 2017

Neutral Spine? How to Deadlift and Squat Without Hurting Your Back

Rockstar Muscles: Multifidus
August 30, 2017

Rockstar Muscles: Multifidus

Workout Soreness: What Causes DOMS?
August 16, 2017

Workout Soreness: What Causes DOMS?

48,360 hours of muscular creep
June 9, 2017

48,360 hours of muscular creep

Mini Desk Workout: Fix a Slouched Posture
June 28, 2017

Mini Desk Workout: Fix a Slouched Posture

How to do a Chin Up & Pull Up Properly: The Problem and Solution
May 11, 2017

How to do a Chin Up & Pull Up Properly: The Problem and Solution

The Push:Pull Ratio
May 11, 2017

The Push:Pull Ratio

Reinventing the Shoulder
May 9, 2017

Reinventing the Shoulder

Anti-Desk: Hips and Pot Belly Edition
June 14, 2017

Anti-Desk: Hips and Pot Belly Edition

Why is My Back Sore? The Reasons We Get Lower Back Pain
May 3, 2017

Why is My Back Sore? The Reasons We Get Lower Back Pain

Biomechanics of the Spine - How Posture Influences our Structures
May 16, 2017

Biomechanics of the Spine - How Posture Influences our Structures

Are Sit Ups Bad for You?
June 3, 2017

Are Sit Ups Bad for You?

Why Can't I Jump High? The Science Behind Vertical Leap
May 3, 2017

Why Can't I Jump High? The Science Behind Vertical Leap

Olympic Lifting vs Plyometrics
April 26, 2017

Olympic Lifting vs Plyometrics

Instant Strength: Push the Ground Away
April 11, 2017

Instant Strength: Push the Ground Away

Front Side vs Back Side Mechanics: What makes Better Sprinters
April 18, 2017

Front Side vs Back Side Mechanics: What makes Better Sprinters

What is Fatigue? Causes of Fatigue
April 19, 2017

What is Fatigue? Causes of Fatigue

Drills to Improve your Knee Drive for Sprinting and Acceleration
April 9, 2017

Drills to Improve your Knee Drive for Sprinting and Acceleration

Two Cues for Better Acceleration
April 10, 2017

Two Cues for Better Acceleration

Four Reasons My Brother Beat Me Over 50m
April 5, 2017

Four Reasons My Brother Beat Me Over 50m

Taking off the Athletic Handbrake: The World's Greatest Most Important, Best Stretch
April 5, 2017

Taking off the Athletic Handbrake: The World's Greatest Most Important, Best Stretch

Anti-Desk: Fixing Texting Neck
April 2, 2017

Anti-Desk: Fixing Texting Neck

High Protein Breakfast: Homemade Baked Beans
March 28, 2017

High Protein Breakfast: Homemade Baked Beans

How to Run Faster: Tips for Injury Free Effortless Running
March 27, 2017

How to Run Faster: Tips for Injury Free Effortless Running

Calf Raises: An Easy Home Workout to Jump Higher and Run Faster
March 26, 2017

Calf Raises: An Easy Home Workout to Jump Higher and Run Faster

Why aren’t shoes shaped like feet? A history of shoes: Part II
March 22, 2017

Why aren’t shoes shaped like feet? A history of shoes: Part II

Toga - Yoga for Your Toes
March 21, 2017

Toga - Yoga for Your Toes

Running Program for Transitioning to Barefoot Shoes (Minimalist/Zero Drop)
March 15, 2017

Running Program for Transitioning to Barefoot Shoes (Minimalist/Zero Drop)

ISOMETRICS: A POWERFUL WORKOUT TOOL TO INCREASE STRENGTH AND REHAB INJURIES
February 21, 2017

ISOMETRICS: A POWERFUL WORKOUT TOOL TO INCREASE STRENGTH AND REHAB INJURIES

The #1 Factor in Ankle and Hamstring Injuries (Hint: it's the same for both!)
February 2, 2017

The #1 Factor in Ankle and Hamstring Injuries (Hint: it's the same for both!)

Does Cardio Kill Your Gains?
February 2, 2017

Does Cardio Kill Your Gains?

The Conditioning Continuum: Is it possible to get 400m fit without running further than 50m?
February 2, 2017

The Conditioning Continuum: Is it possible to get 400m fit without running further than 50m?

Gym Shoes: Find the Shoe That is Best For Your Training Style
April 19, 2017

Gym Shoes: Find the Shoe That is Best For Your Training Style

Training Tips to Increase Strength on the Bench Press
January 16, 2017

Training Tips to Increase Strength on the Bench Press

The Fat Burning Zone Myth and 11 Other Ways High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Improves Fitness
January 16, 2017

The Fat Burning Zone Myth and 11 Other Ways High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Improves Fitness

Increase Strength and Hypertrophy with these Plateau Busting Gym Program Ideas
January 11, 2017

Increase Strength and Hypertrophy with these Plateau Busting Gym Program Ideas

Split Workout: Is it worth the extra effort?
January 3, 2017

Split Workout: Is it worth the extra effort?

High Intensity Interval Training: Repeat Sprints for Sport Specific Fitness
December 20, 2016

High Intensity Interval Training: Repeat Sprints for Sport Specific Fitness

Game Fit - The Best Training Method to Improve Fitness During the Preseason
December 20, 2016

Game Fit - The Best Training Method to Improve Fitness During the Preseason

Sweet potato or White? And a Killer Baked Potato Recipe
December 15, 2016

Sweet potato or White? And a Killer Baked Potato Recipe

The World's Best HIIT Workout: How To do 8:12 Intervals on a Spin Bike
December 14, 2016

The World's Best HIIT Workout: How To do 8:12 Intervals on a Spin Bike

Summer time Oats & Yoghurt
December 7, 2016

Summer time Oats & Yoghurt

Acute to Chronic Workload Ratio: Managing Errors in Training Load
December 7, 2016

Acute to Chronic Workload Ratio: Managing Errors in Training Load

Rules for Buying Sneakers
November 30, 2016

Rules for Buying Sneakers

Are Roches Killing Your Athleticism?
November 23, 2016

Are Roches Killing Your Athleticism?

The Power of Placebo
November 16, 2016

The Power of Placebo

What is a Trigger Point/Knot and How do They Work?
November 14, 2016

What is a Trigger Point/Knot and How do They Work?

Is Sleep Deprivation Killing your Athleticism?
October 31, 2016

Is Sleep Deprivation Killing your Athleticism?

Sprint Unification Theory
October 30, 2016

Sprint Unification Theory

Ankle Sprain/Ankle Injury Prevention & Rehabilitation Training
November 14, 2016

Ankle Sprain/Ankle Injury Prevention & Rehabilitation Training

An Effective Solution for Treating Shin Splints
December 14, 2016

An Effective Solution for Treating Shin Splints

Become Instantly Stronger: Creating Bar Tension/Picking Up the Slack
November 10, 2016

Become Instantly Stronger: Creating Bar Tension/Picking Up the Slack

Anti-Valgus Training Tips: Gluteus Medius
December 20, 2016

Anti-Valgus Training Tips: Gluteus Medius

Warmup 2.0 For Every Body
August 30, 2016

Warmup 2.0 For Every Body

Mailbag: General nutrition advice
May 19, 2016

Mailbag: General nutrition advice

Saturation Vs. Deficiency: Fill your empty buckets
March 31, 2016

Saturation Vs. Deficiency: Fill your empty buckets

Intent to Move: The secret of explosive athletes
April 12, 2016

Intent to Move: The secret of explosive athletes

Easy steps to increase your vertical Jump
April 5, 2016

Easy steps to increase your vertical Jump

Breakfast for Dinner? Science says yes!
April 21, 2016

Breakfast for Dinner? Science says yes!

Training the core for performance
October 29, 2015

Training the core for performance

Do you need protein shakes to improve performance?
October 22, 2015

Do you need protein shakes to improve performance?

Increase Your Vertical Jump in Less Than 10 Minutes a Day
October 27, 2013

Increase Your Vertical Jump in Less Than 10 Minutes a Day

Sports Specific Fitness: You're probably doing it wrong!
August 18, 2015

Sports Specific Fitness: You're probably doing it wrong!

The Magic of Foam Rolling
February 25, 2014

The Magic of Foam Rolling

Hydration Strategies for High Performance
January 23, 2014

Hydration Strategies for High Performance

One Muscle to Rule Them All: Gluteus Maximus
March 22, 2014

One Muscle to Rule Them All: Gluteus Maximus

How to Maximise Tournament Performance
May 19, 2014

How to Maximise Tournament Performance

The Perfect Pre-Game Meal
August 27, 2016

The Perfect Pre-Game Meal