We have been getting back under the barbell a bit lately and everyone in the gym is coming along quite nicely with the mechanics of the movement.
As we continue to ramp up the intensity, we must remember that consistency is paramount.
In order to ensure we maintain a consistent squat as the loads increase, we must pay more attention to the points of performance that are slightly less visible to the naked eye.
Luckily, back squats have a very natural "crawl, walk, run" progression. As we master the air squat without weights, it becomes easier to stay safe and efficient while under the load of a barbell.
Despite this, every extra pound (or kilo!) we add, makes it more difficult to maintain a stable midsection and a nuetral spine. Accordingly, this makes it even more important for us to work towards improving our ability to recruit the abdominals, spinal erectors, and other core muscles used in doing so.
So, how can we accomplish this task?
You will hear the coaches use the cue "flex your abs like someone is about to sucker punch you!" If I am the one coaching, that saying is usually followed up by a shadow punch fit for a Power Ranger, but it is important to stress be doing so really increases the stability of our trunk.
Once our core has become an active player in the stabilization of our upper body, we must then maintain pressure throughout the entire the range of motion, descent and extension.
Is it enough to just simply "flex" our abs, or is there more we can do to aid in our quest for tree trunk-like stability?
Not if we want to absolutely maximize our ability to move heavy loads safely.
In his article "How to Breathe While Squatting", Dr. Aaron Horschig says "Professionals in the strength and medical field have failed to incorporate proper breathing during lifts. Many have essentially approached our core like a balloon; trying to strengthen the outside rubber walls instead of learning how to increase the pressure within!"
He continues to expand on the common misconceptions that we should continue breathing throughout a movement, inhaling on descent, and exhaling on the way up. This belief is the folly of amateur personal trainers and professional strength coaches alike.
While this technique may sufice for moderate weights and larger repetition sets, for true strenght training and performance, the use of a technique called the VALSALVA to maximize core rigidity throughout the lift is best.
Similar to how Fighter Pilots maintain consiousness under massive g-forces, and how Navy SEALs equalize their sinuses while diving to great depths, the technique can also be used while exerting force on a barbell.
To employ the technique, simply take a deep, diaphramitic inhale, and attempt to exhale against a closed airway.
When we are squatting heavy (near to or heavier than about 80% of our one rep max) taking a this type of breath and then bracing our core for a "sucker punch" through the entire repetition will maximize our stability and efficiency. Just be sure to inhale prior prior to bracing your core in order to maximize the amount of air in your lungs to allow your body to move properly and lift tremendous weights safely!
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