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Squatting With Cookie Monster: Part 1

5 Sep


As many of you probably already know, my little 2007 Toshiba is finally giving up the ghost.

Last night when I got home from work (11pm), I sat down to write this post and it began to freeze up every time I tried to open a webpage. This computer freezes with pretty much everything other than word document.

So I was stuck writing a post on form, with no video to refer to like I said. Go figure.

Now, I am writing this after having watched the video on my phone, and I am hoping it is as accurate as possible (since watching it multiple times can really eat up the data). A part of me hopes that the laptop will finally just crash, so I have a justified reason for throwing it against the wall. The other part of me is scared that it will, because then…well…I wouldn’t be able to do much of anything.


The main purpose of this post is to go over some common form errors in the squat, and how to fix them. I thought the best way of demonstrating would be to use the video of someone who possesses some of these technical issues. A reader/subscriber named Chris (whom I met in Detroit) happily lent me the use of his videos. Thank you, Chris!


At first I was going to diagnose Chris’s deadlift, but then had recently been getting more requests for something on squats, so I thought we’d start with that first.

Keep in mind, this is for educational and improvement purposes only. Chris was nice enough to allow me to use his videos as demonstration, so I ask that you view them in such as well. We can all learn something here.

Chris – I hope this post is helpful to you! Please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email if you have other questions!




One very important thing to keep in mind when you want to get tight and stay tight from the beginning of a squat, is to not rush the set-up.

When Chris gets under the bar, his shoulders aren’t locked back and down properly. His upper back is not tight enough, so when he un-racks the bar, he is already at a disadvantage. Remember that there is no hurry for performing your squat. I realize that some of you may not especially like getting under the bar, and just kind of want to get things over with. But don’t rush that part of the set-up.

Go slow to get under the bar. Don’t be a sloth. But make your set-up mechanical if you must. Set your hands. Draw your shoulder blades back and down. Lock everything into position. Without losing tightness in your back, bring yourself under the bar, and lift your chest up. Bury the bar into your traps, look up, take a deep breath, and stand straight up.

Always let the weight settle for a moment before walking out.


One thing that I do like, is that he stays in his heels the whole time, and begins the descent with his hips.

However, this is something I see in a lot of other squatters as well – you have to remember to arch your back, and use your glutes.

In this video, he only has 135 on the bar, so it’s a pretty easy weight for him. Had the bar been loaded more, his back would likely take a big hit from the way it is positioned.

(NOTE: Chris mentioned to me that he has tight IT bands and hips, which would definitely make sense given the way his back is positioned. Another indicator of very tight hips is the inability to arch during a bench press. I will give some mobility/warm-up ideas at the end of this article that can be used by anyone who is having a difficult time getting and keeping an arch in the back.)

The arch is important because it allows your back to be fully contracted during the movement. With no arch, the likeliness for becoming loose in the low back when the weight gets heavy is much higher.

Having an arch will also allow you to engage your glutes more, and really sit back into the squat.

If you cannot feel your glutes totally contracted on the lock-out, and if you cannot feel them moving on the ascent, that means they aren’t fired correctly, and chances are, you’re not using them much at all.

The glutes are the LARGEST muscles in your body. And the strongest. To not incorporate them in a squat wouldn’t make sense. But it goes to show that sometimes, staying in your heels does not always indicate that you are using your glutes and hamstrings. The squat in this video is still very much quad-dominant.

While the weight is in his heels, much of the lock-out power is coming from his quads/knees.

Which brings me to saying, DON’T LOCK OUT WITH THE KNEES!

You literally have to think of humping the air at the top, and squeezing your glutes as tight as you can. This is made easier once the glutes have been properly activated prior to squatting.

As a final pointer, always remember to keep the knees OUT. Force them to the sides. If you find that this is difficult, maybe try changing your stance up. Your knees may not be properly tracking with the feet. You can find out what foot width and toe point is best for you when you get into a bodyweight squat. If the knees track in line with the feet, you’re good to go.


It’s important to breathe through the stomach when performing squats. The tendency is to take a deep breath through the chest (while thinking “chest up), but this limits the amount of oxygen, and also the length of time you have holding it. If you have to grind through a heavy squat, you want to make sure you don’t pass out from lack of oxygen (since you are holding your breath during this time).

Always remember to breathe deep at the beginning of each rep, contract your abs, and hold the breath throughout the movement. One exception is letting out a little air with a “tsss” sort of sound to release pressure on the way up, or when you get stuck (hope that makes sense). This way you are ensuring that you don’t pass out from the pressure build-up.

Don’t let out all your air at the top, because this can also pre-exhaust you. Breathe normally, and always take air before you descend. Otherwise you can get loose at the bottom, since you’re like a deflated balloon at that point.


Much of the issues with having a quad-dominant squat can be solved with frequent stretching, mobility, and activation work.

Before squatting, try to take your time warming up. The following exercises are fantastic for activating the glutes, and getting to know what it feels like to really squeeze the glutes throughout the movement:

  • Banded clamshells
  • Banded good-mornings
  • X-band walks
  • Single-leg glute bridges
  • Glute thrusts (between two benches)

For reference, Bret Contreras has some excellent videos and material on youtube if you want some ideas for different exercises. My general recommendation is 1-3 sets of 15-25 reps per exercise.

Yes, per exercise.

I take my glute warm-ups quite seriously these days.

As for mobility work, this is the video I refer to constantly when it comes to warming up my hips:

I’d say at least 5-10 minutes of hip mobility drills is necessary pre-squatting. I also recommend 10 minutes of mobility work first thing in the morning for you plywood folks.

“What about foam rolling?”

Foam rolling is okay. Most people can afford to skip it, and save it for after squats. Use it if you are quite sore or stiff. But don’t over-do it.

ALL static stretching should be left for after you are finished squatting.
If you have flexibility issues, make sure to stretch for a minimum of 10 minutes post-training.

As a final side-note with warm-ups, please…for the love of everything good in this world…STOP FOAM ROLLING YOUR IT BANDS!!

I know. Shocking.

I advocated it in the past. Lots of fitness gurus advocate it. But my RMT would chop my head off if he ever saw me doing it again.

The reason being, your IT bands are just that…bands. They are not muscles. When you do soft tissue work on a muscle, it breaks up scar tissue and helps loosen up the stiff muscles. However, when you try to do soft tissue work on your IT band with a foam roller, you are only compressing the band even further, causing more tightness and more pain in your hips. The IT band needs to be stretched, not compressed.

If you are suffering from very tight IT bands, please keep this in mind. As tempting as it is when they are sore, don’t massage them or roll them with a PVC/rumble roller. Stretch them out.

Thank you!!

(NOTE: Sorry I have to cut this is a little short. I’d love to go off on a tangent, but I have to get to work.

If anyone has further questions, I’d be more than happy to answer them in the comments section below. Give me your thoughts, and I’ll see what I can do with em!)

Relieving Back Tension: A Balanced Routine

27 Apr


Before I even get into writing about what this post is regarding, I just have to share this picture of a non-dairy ice cream purchase I made today:


It is was awesome. While it lasted.

Okay. Back on topic.

(NOTE: I am actually half drunk, so please forgive me if something went unexplained throughout this blog post. It’s Friday night and I bought myself a special wine glass for $1 at Wal-Mart. I had to kill the whole bottle…don’t judge me.)

I have been talking about doing a lower back tension relief article/video for a couple of weeks and I have finally gotten around to it. I am posting the video first, so that I can break down each exercise in order.

All of these stretches will help you to:

  1. Relieve tension
  2. Relieve back DOMS
  3. Increase flexibility
  4. Increase circulation


PLEASE keep in mind to go at your OWN pace. If for some reason you are not flexible enough to do the ranges of motion that I have done in this video, adjust it to your own experience level. Do NOT try to rush these stretches.

I sped these up somewhat, but you should generally hold each stretch for about 30 seconds to reap the full benefits. This routine can be done once all the way through, or twice, or however many times you want to do it.

Again, go at your own pace and adjust the stretches when and where needed to suit your own individual fitness level.


Remember to breathe DEEP during each stretch. Breathe in through your nose, and exhale lightly through your mouth. Breathe through your stomach and not your chest, attempting to deepen each breath. This will really help you relax your muscles further.

A glass of red wine helps too. 😉

So without further ado, here is the video. Please excuse my nappy appearance.

STRETCH #1: The Cat/Cow Pose

Not sure what cows have to do with this pose but whatever.

In this pose, you will start on all fours. On the inhale, you will curve your spine down (hyperextending), and at the same time raise your head and chest. Really open up through the chest and take in a deep breath.

On the exhale, you’re going to think of pulling your belly into your spine and rounding the back. The neck and head follow and are dropped towards the floor as you get a nice stretch through the upper back. Repeat.

STRETCH #2: Child’s Pose

This stretch is extremely relaxing for the spine. You will be sitting back through your hips onto your bent knees, and reaching forward through the finger tips to loosen up your upper back. The head and neck stay down. After feeling a good stretch in the upper back, completely relax your upper back and arms and allow yourself to sit nicely into the stretch. Again, breathe deep. With ever exhale you should feel yourself relaxing even further.

STRETCH #3: Cobra

Pressing through your palms, raise your chest high into the air, focusing on keeping your feet straight and your hips on the floor as much as possible. Raise yourself only as high as you can to get a great stretch in the lower back and hip flexors.

STRETCH #4: Downward Facing Dog

From the Cobra stretch, come up onto your toes and press your hips back and up into the air. If a close stance is hard, try keeping your feet wider apart and focus on slowly working your feet in closer together until you can keep them close with your heels pressed into the ground.

Doing some extra shoulder stretching and mobility work as well as hamstring stretching prior to this will really help you to nail this pose more. (NOTE: I actually didn’t get a chance to before I did this video so my back wasn’t as straight as it normally is, but you get the idea.)

Try to make sure you are not wearing see-through leggings while doing this stretch. Or on second thought, never mind that. You sexy beasts, you.

STRETCH #5: Lying Hip Flexor Stretch

I don’t actually know what this one is called. But it’s good.

Sitting on your feet, lay back as far as you can, preferably with your shoulders flat against the floor. If your hip flexors are still too tight to do this, you can also rest on your palms or elbows until you can work yourself down to the floor. Breathe deep.

STRETCH #6: Back Bend

Place your hands by your ears about shoulder-width apart, feet flat on the floor. From this position, press into your palms and your heels at the same time to raise your body in the air. Go as high as you can and hold.

Pushing your head further through your arms and towards your glutes will help you to get an even deeper stretch.

Be careful when coming out of this stretch. Walk your feet out slowly and lower yourself to the ground in a controlled manner.

STRETCH #7: Knee Pulls

Bend one leg, and have the other extended. Grasp the bent leg behind the knee and pull it as close as you can to your body. Stay relaxed, breathe deep, and just allow yourself to really stretch out your lower back. Repeat on the other leg, and then grasp both legs behind the knees and pull yourself into a ball, breathing and relaxing your spine. Release slowly.


As said before, I recommend holding each stretch (except for the cat/cow pose) for at least 30 seconds. This routine can be repeated as many times as you’d like. I usually do it 2-3 times and it works like a charm.


If you need help figuring out how to make a certain pose/stretch easier, just let me know in the comments and I will help you out. Stretching is all about working at your own pace. You never want to rush or try to stretch in a way that you know you are not capable of. This puts you at a big risk for injury, which is exactly OPPOSITE of what we are trying to accomplish!!

I hope this post helps and gives some of you with tight backs and idea of what to do for loosening up, improving your flexibility, and relieving tightness. I also hope my explanations were understandable enough. If not, let me know!

Train safe – and, as the yogi’s say: “Namaste!!”

King Cobra pose

King Cobra pose