Sign Up for the Active Life DC Newsletter ...

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Mastering the Squat

Mastering the Squat

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 - 5:15am
Mastering the Squat

Photo by Flickr user Andrew Malone. License

About Community Posts

In order to promote community participation, open debate, and facilitate the sharing of fitness-related news, Active Life DC allows members of the local fitness community to contribute posts. We do not vet these posts, and the opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Active Life DC. More information can be found in our Terms of Service. For information on how you can submit a post, visit this page.

True 180 Fitness - personal training studio
Four Workout Recovery Tips from Washington DC Trainer Josef Brandenburg
Top 5 Fitness Pitfalls
A Time Efficient Warm Up That Will Improve Your Workouts and Reduce Injuries
5 Ways To Boost Your Recovery
Why You Don’t Need To Eat Every 3 Hours – Meal Frequency Myths
3 Things Not To Do With A Kettlebell
4 Fitness and Weight Loss Myths
5 Strategies For Muscle Growth Success
The Truth About “Super Foods” and 7 Foods To Consider Eating More Of



The good news is that functional, or original, or primal movement is taking over fitness.  No longer do we think that our toddlers would be safer doing the leg press instead of those deep squats early humans love to do.  The challenge that we’re running into as we return to the movement roots of our species is that we’re losing the ability to move. We’re losing it because we’ve created a world where we don’t really need to move very often (and certainly not well), and our body’s adapt to anything.  

The squat is actually a perfect example of our species losing movement.  Above is a picture of my 18 month old daughter doing a perfect full squat.  As much as I’d love to take credit for teaching her that, it’s just something that her body does naturally.  Easily going into a full squat is something all adults also used to be able to do.  

The picture below is from a 1943 U.S. Infantry Journal.  The full squat is an extremely advantageous firing position because it allows you to quickly go from a big (standing) target to a small target without taking your eye of the target.  In the 1950’s recruits stopped being able to get into this position, so the US military abandoned the full squat for firing.



The good news is that we all spent the first 9 months of our lives in a full squat (fetal position), and we can all get our squats back.  Hopefully my squat story can be a good example for you.  I was 19 the first time someone assessed my ability to squat, and it looked like garbage.  Not only did it look bad, but it also required an old-man grunt to execute.  16 years later I like to think it’s improved.


Getting to an Awesome Squat – Progressions, Standards and Corrections

The best corrections are smart progressions.  The path to an awesome and authentic squat are also smart progressions.  That is, most of the time, the best way to “fix” a squat is to have the person start at the right place and build from there.  If we start someone too far along the squatting continuum they learn to survive a squat, but they don’t really learn how to do an authentic squat.



1. No pain.  First you need to be able to do a bodyweight squat (no matter how awful) that doesn’t hurt.  “Does it hurt?” only has two answers “no” and “not no”, so “just a little,” or “not that much” means you have a medical problem and that you should get that taken care of by someone who can help.  Adding load and volume on top of pain will only help you develop more pain.


2. Basic squat patterning.

Step 1:  Start your workouts with an effective and time efficient RAMP UP.  (Range of motion Activation and Movement Prep)  
This will help to make sure that we establish normal hip extension, hip internal and external rotation, thoracic spine mobility, etc. so that your body will move the way you want it to.

Step 2:  Making patterning a workout.
For your workout I’d suggest starting with the brace squat.  (It’s a lot harder than it looks.)  The brace squat fixes two issues that we see with most people’s squat: (a) core timing, and (b) weight shift.

(a) Core timing – when you hold a weight with your arms extended your core turns on reflexively.  If the core is set first, then the hips and then knees do what they’re supposed to do.

(b) Weight shift – bad squats are when you shift your weight forward as your trying to squat down.  This pushes the knees forward and usually in.  Holding the weight away from your body encourages your body to push that butt back.



  • Reach first

  • Then lower your butt and push your knees apart

  • Drive up from heels and then bring your arms back in

Standards:  3 x 10 w/ 10-15lbs and hips below knees.  This is a lot harder than it looks.


3.  Goblet squat.  

This takes your pattern and starts to build some strength on top of it.  Squat elbows to knees (no butt wink) with the heaviest KB you can hold onto for 3x10.  Ladies, this should be at least a 24k before it makes sense to move on.


  • Start tight and tall with arms tight on your body

  • Lower your butt and push your knees apart

  • Drive up from your heels

Standards:  Squat elbows to knees (no butt wink) with the heaviest KB you can hold onto for 3x10.  Ladies, this should be at least a 24k before it makes sense to move on.


4. Getting Stronger.   At some point your arms fail in the goblet squat, and the double kettlebell front squat allows you to bypass this limitation.  

Cues – same as for the goblet squat

Standards:  To consider yourself strong at this level I’d suggest a pair of 20k’s for 10 reps for women, and then a pair of 32k’s for 10 reps for men.


5.  Next level of strength.  At my studio we don’t do barbell front or back squats because the risk-reward ratio doesn’t make sense for our clients.  (Mike Boyle has done a great job of saying everything that I would’ve said on the topic of risk vs. reward for bilateral squatting here and here.)  For the next level of knee dominant strength we look to single leg exercises like single leg squats and rear foot elevated split squats (a.k.a. the Bulgarian split squat).  You can see our standards for single leg squats here.

About the Author

Josef Brandenburg is a Washington D.C.-area fitness expert with 16 years of experience and co-author of the international best-selling book "Results Fitness." In 2004, he started True 180 Fitness (formerly The Body You Want) personal training program, which specializes in helping you get the body you want in the time you have available. Josef holds certifications from Precision Nutrition, American Council on Exercise, National Academy of Sports Medicine, Functional Movement Systems, Corrective High Performance Kinesiology, and the National College of Exercise Professionals. Learn more about Josef on his blog, follow him on Twitter and Facebook, or check out his fitness videos on YouTube.


Add new comment

Filtered Text for Comments

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.

Plain text

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.