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Learning About The Squats! (Coaching Series Part 1)

This week I thought I’d give y’all a glimpse into studying for the CrossFit Level 1 (the first certificate required to become a coach at our gym)

The most integral thing to attaining the Level 1? Learning the 9 foundational movements of CrossFit.

For today we will cover the first 3 movements that get covered at the L1…

The Squats:

Progression: Air Squat -> Front Squat -> Overhead Squat

These three movements are taught in this order on your first day of the 2 day course.

Why start with the squats?

Because it is the foundation of how we move as humans, let alone CrossFitters! Every day you sit down and stand up. Sitting in a chair, getting in your car, using the bathroom, etc… all involve squatting! Learning how to do a squat correctly and squatting often is paramount to longevity of movement throughout life! And it all begins with….

The Air Squat

Points of Performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_VtOYc6j5c

If you go and watch that video you will see the “Points of Performance” for every movement in the CrossFit library (we have a library for this as well, but for purposes of relating this to the L1, we will use HQ’s videos).

The PoP’s are key points that must be hit by all athletes performing the movement for it to be considered “virtuous” or of a high enough standard that new volume, intensity, or load must be applied to create new adaptions. Small failures in a few of these is the goal and correcting them is a must to truly create a healthy adaption either in terms of creating more capacity for the athlete!

Why start with the Air Squat over a Back Squat? Because this movement must be down cold as it is the absolute foundation for all the other squats. Cleans? Snatches? Overhead Squats? Thrusters? All of these rely on a solid Air Squat in order to perform the extra demands that those lifts place! Adding weight when the Air Squat isn’t sound can result in exacerbating faults in the athlete, rather than promoting improved health and fitness!

While the width of the stance and angle of the feet may change for each athlete, athletes of all shapes and sizes should be able to accomplish these points of performance. If they cannot, CrossFit will have you demand the athlete get into position, where we will apply mobility practices to get an athlete into the correct position and teach them the tools to use in the gym and at home to relieve pain caused by tightness in this movement!

Last little bit on the air squat before these section blows up beyond proportion:

Knees out and hips go below parallel are a must because they safely allow force to travel through the joints rather than across. Our joints can be easily injured by sheer force (force that comes sideways across a point on the human body). Squat high? All that force is going to come through the patellar tendon to stop your downward momentum. Knees cave in? Sheer force is gonna come across your meniscus, ACL, and or MCL!

Neutral Spine? Our spines have a natural S-curve that you can see just by looking at anyone with a tighter shirt on. Your spine is an amazing structure that can bent and twist. But, when we lift, its’ primary role is to transfer energy placed on the upper half of our body, down to our hips and out through the feet. It is most effective at this when it is in its’ neutral state (natural S-Curve). Any bending of the spine from this point under load can cause a weak point and put the athlete at risk of injury. Using your diaphragm and abs can help create a nice air bubble to protect the spine during a lift!

The Front Squat

Points of Performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4ytaCJZpl0

As earn your stripes in the Air Squat in breakout groups, the instructors will then move you up the progression to continue to push you to be the most virtuous and mobile athlete you can be (and all with a PVC pipe).

As I’m sure y’all know, the Front Squat requires you to relax your lats to allow the bar to rest on your shoulders up against your neck! If this isn’t done correctly, the bar can roll down the chest and start causing pain in the wrists and elbows! Learning how to do the Front Squat correctly translates into a better front rack for pressing, a safe space for the bar to lean when you learn to clean, and creates an environment to improve your core stability!

The reason that the foundations move to the Front Squat and not the Back Squat is purely due to the movements chosen in CrossFit. And the reason CrossFit will chose one movement over another would be how applicable it is to life (and the 10 general physical characteristics of movement). Since most things in life don’t come from a rack, the floor is where movement usually starts. This places move of our movement in front of us, making the front rack in the Front Squat a good place to start training athletes to learn to move weights!

(At Vegvisir will actually start athletes with Back Squats for their first weighted movement as it allows us to work through problems in bracing without worrying about mobility. Front Rack/Squats get’s covered in the very next session).

Virtuosity is reached in a Front Squat when all the points of performance of an Air Squat are met and the elbows remain pointing at the 9/3 o’clock position with the bar resting on the athletes shoulders in a loose hand grip (we will push for a full hand grip over time to help promote safer overhead presses).

The Overhead Squat

Points of Performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RD_vUnqwqqI

Once you are a stud at Front Squatting, the next logical progression from the perspective of the L1 handbook is to perform the overhead squat. This movement is used as a screen for us and is an excellent indicator of where an athlete is truly tight!

I’m sure by the fact that you’re reading this that you have experiences first hand how this movement can expose you! Primarily in your mid-back (thoracic) mobility!

Having your arms bend can mean that your biceps are tight.

Arms rotating forward? Chest/anterior shoulders are tight.

Bar falling forward but no rotation? Traps and Lats are tight.

Everything overhead find it is harder to hit depth in the squat? Hips are tight.

Hitting depth but the heels are coming up? Calves and ankles are tight.

Any combination of these? Chances are we a gonna work the squat first, then the upper body as the base is usually the best place to start when dealing with mobility issues!

The other benefit of performing the Overhead Squat is promoting balance and building a strong base for the Snatch! After all, if an athlete has a hard time overhead squatting, a squat snatch is going to be much more difficult!

If you can do this movement without fault, you are going to have much less tightness than your peers in every day life and if you fight to keep this mobility, you shouldn’t have nearly as much trouble playing with your grandkids on the floor and going to see those national parks as your peers who didn’t work their mobility!

What’s Next?

whoever you are reading this, the lesson to take away from these movements is that we are always on a path to create better movement. Each time we add weight or try to move faster, something in these movements crumble, and all of us probably thought “I can’t squat without my heels coming up!!”

Fitness is a life long journey. We can crush some movements and not others. Every time we add weight to a lift, it’s like learning it all over again! The point is to always be humble and allow your coaches to look at you objectively. The cues they give are to promote your health and are meant to meet these points of performance (with some slight changes depending on your physical make up, I.e. the length of your bones)!

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