The proper execution of the back squat is one, if done correctly, a great strength building exercise for speed. Depth is very important. You must drop your hips below parallel in order to engage your strength and speed muscles, the gluteals and hamstrings. Too many times I have seen athletes perform this exercise incorrectly. Common mistakes are:
1.Not going to parallel or below. Only hitting the quads, which are not muscles you need to develop for speed.
2.Improper bar placement. Usually to high on neck. Not only will this cause your neck to ache but it will put your back into a very rounded position. This is definetly not a good position for your lower back as well.
3.Not pushing your butt back first to initiate the movement. Most people will "break" from their knees putting the load more on the quads and knees. Again not good.
As a strength and conditioning coach, I know the value of this exercise. For that reason I make sure an athlete can first do a body weight version to either a low box or to a medicine ball and sit and hold for a second or two(not a small one but usually a leather ball that is higher off the ground and is at least 18-20 lbs.).
Next, I then orient them to perform another version of this movement with a dowel or stick behind the neck before we go to a weighted bar.
If all things go well, then we go to the power rack. Before I explain how to execute this exercise, I want to share more observations of athletes trying to squat without proper instruction. Some are similar to the common mistakes I had mentioned above.
1. The surprisingly weak high school athlete.
This applies to both male and female. I have trained and consulted a few a high school varsity athletes in strength and conditioning and by far teaching them how to perform this exercise was the most challenging.
From not placing the bar properly behind the neck, to shifting all their weight to their knees and not heels, to rounding their backs and not pushing their butts back and down, to not coming close to dropping their hips to parallel or below and last but not least I have seen athletes just descend all the way to the ground. Yes, like dropping like a stone so that they are "stuck" on the ground.
Yes, I have seen all of those.
In case you're wondering, weak core musculature, weak hip musculature and poor flexibility all contribute to the above scenarios.
2. The macho athlete
This is the male athlete who loads up the bar with tons of weight and then proceeds to "squat" maybe 5 inches. What a complete waste of a great exercise all because he wants to impress his friends.
1. When you do this movement properly, you need to squat to a box or bench. Why? Because, it reinforces you that you need to lower your hips to below parallel to reap the benefits.
2. When you descend to the bench/box you have to sit for at least a second or two and then ascend. If you merely just touch the box with your butt and get up, you are just activating your quads. To develop speed you have to strengthen your hamstrings and glutes. So you need to sit and hold and then ascend.
3. If done properly, this exercise should not hurt your lower back. I know a few strength coaches that prefer front squats over back squats because they feel it is too much of a load on the lower back and their athletes were getting sore. Yes, I have experienced that with some of my inexperienced lifters but I remedied that by:
a. lowering the load,
b. re- correcting their technique and,
c. if necessary adding more isolated hip,hamstring and ankle mobility exercises.
4. I have also encountered athletes who's "strength coach or trainer" had them perform only partial squats. Partial squats can be implemented in a quick tempo/high rep fashion as a change of pace but they should not be the only way in which you squat!
I actually had a high school football player be taught only partial squats because his schools' Athletic Trainer, who was the acting strength coach, told him that because he is a lineman he only needs to partially squat. Well, needless to say the poor kid was a mess strength-wise and mobility-wise.
Ok I'll do my best to explain how to best position the bar and execute this exercise.
1. Get right under bar on rack so that you are able to stand directly up straight and not leaning forward.
2. Hands should be about shoulder width apart. You should be able to shrug your shoulders easily without your head tipping forward. Every thing should be straight.
3. Once you feel comfortable, push your butt back first like you are about to sit in a chair (use a bench instead). Chest and chin are up always.
4. Sit 1- 2 seconds on bench and then rise up and perform a few more perfect ones.
5. When you are done, walk forward so that the bar hits the both columns and place bar back on rack. Do not bend forward and put weight back on rack. You could easily get hurt and you will end up on my knucklehead list (you don't want that).
* make sure you set rack for your height. I find it best to set it a bit lower than higher. Too high makes it difficult to get weight off rack and usually makes you place the bar too high on your neck. This not only will make your neck uncomfortable but also your lower back.
From Back Squat to Strength Training