Paleo Plan

Do You Really Know How to Squat? Part 4: Shoulders & Back

Fitness guy, Max Shippee, getting more into the squat. Enjoy!

PaleoSquat1 8327
“I feel like I’m hunched over all the time.”

“Do you commute?”

“Yes.”

“Do you work at a computer?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have a ‘smartphone’?”

“Yes.”

“Then you probably ARE hunched over all the time.”

Good posture means good health. Having good posture helps you exude confidence, poise, and even sexiness. We often get so bogged down with life, that we forget this spine of ours can really help us get what we want out of work, life and play.

Having this lazy spine habit not only affects how we go about our day, but also how efficiently and effectively we workout. The cool thing about improving the posture in your squat is that it almost always improves your posture in your everyday life. We’re going to address, in this fourth part about squatting, how to make your squat look pretty, and your posture overall look way better. (You can review our other squat posts here –> Squatting Part 1-Feet, Part 2-Knees, & Part 3-Hips.)

Shoulder Position

PaleoSquat1 8328Many people think that keeping your back straight is just about pulling your shoulder blades back & together. While that’s a bit true, it’s actually better to think of driving your shoulders blades DOWN the back. Ballet dancers are familiar with this (why do you think they look so good?), while the rest of us wrestle with our body awareness to make it happen.

One of the major reasons for the drawing down of the shoulder blades is that it engages the biggest muscles in your back, the “lats” (latimus dorsi). If you’re only engaging the smaller “rhomboids,” you’re missing out on a LOT of strength of the back. The lats are the biggest muscle in your back; use ‘em!

So, bring your shoulder blades straight down your back, as if you are trying to drive both of your shoulder blades into your back pockets. Yup…that simple. If you do this, you’ll tend to stand up straighter, and you’re gonna be more active in your back throughout the day.

But wait…there’s more!

Squatting for Posture

The squat is as much about the rest of your body as it is about the legs. Most people don’t realize how tight the entire midsection should be for the duration of the squat. The rest of your body, ESPECIALLY the midsection, should be very active throughout the movement. Driving the shoulder blades down the back will help make this happen. Also, when the time comes that you get to start squatting with weight, having the habit of bracing the entire midsection, including the back, will help you to progress with weight much faster, and more safely.

So here’s what we’re gonna do, remember that wall we just used for our butt? We’re gonna use it again, only this time we’re gonna turn around.

* Be careful with this, depending on your proficiency with the squat, you may tend to lose your balance backwards, so be ready to take a step back to catch yourself if need be.

PaleoSquat1 8329Set yourself up about 12 inches from the wall (further is fine to start), facing it. Straighten your arms in front of you. This probably means that your arms will end up at an upward angle, with your hands slightly higher than your head. The closer you get to the wall, the higher your hands are going to have to go. Then squat from this position, WITHOUT TOUCHING THE WALL!! (See the first pic of this post for reference on the starting position.)

This is hard for everyone. Literally, everyone. If it’s not, then you are too far from the wall. Yes, eventually, your feet will be just an inch or so from the wall, and the angels will sing as you descend in gluteus maximal glory, but until then, include a few sets of these in your warm-ups.

You’re going to feel this in your midsection, and specifically in your erectors, the longer muscles that follow either side of your spine. You should also be aware of driving your shoulder blades straight down our back (see above). Doing this “squat therapy” will help you to realize that you’ve been being a little bit lazy with your squat, and need to get tighter overall.

As you get better at this, you’ll be able to move closer and closer to the wall. Ideally, you should be less than an inch from the wall. In addition to keeping your midsection engaged, this position also calls for flexibility in the shoulder, a keen sense of balance, and strength through the entire back of the leg. Basically, it’s good stuff.

Go find a wall people, and get to it. Both your squat and your posture will thank you!

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4 Comments

  1. Paleo Jew

    I’ve been doing 2 or 3 sets of squats more days than not since January. For the most part, I’m mechanically sound, because of an old overuse knee injury in college. Back then, I learned the vital importance of keeping weight in the heels and knees over toes. The trainer I worked with was enlightened enough to even stress going all the way down, rather than stopping at 90 degrees, like nearly everybody was doing in the mid to late 90′s. However, I will be the first to admit that my upper body is EXTREMELY lazy in performing squats. I’d lately been wondering how to engage my upper body more fully; well, now I know. I have a feeling this is going to stop being an “easy” exercise in my routine!

  2. Great article on a very under rated, under utilized exercise. I have most of my clients perform this movement as it is one of the best if not THE best exercise to create strength, stamina and flexibility in all the joints of the lower body!

  3. Thanks Mx, so many I see put their arms straight out, parallel to the floor. I know this will be helpful for me.

  4. Paleo Jew – Glad to see you’re already in the game, and now, like you said, looks like you’ll be getting that upper body active!

    Fred – totally agreed!

    djah2 – Having your arms straight out is usually ok, but it’s also easy for people to get lazy and not encage as much as they could. Using the wall really gives a chance to correct form and feel it in the whole body!

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