Benefits Of Pause Squats That Are Overlooked

Benefits Of Pause Squats That Are Overlooked

Probably everyone reading this right now has done a pause squat at some point. And most likely you are understanding of the typical benefits of pause squats which can include improving bracing and control in the bottom position, improving depth, self limiting the competition squat, or acceleration during the initiation of the concentric. While all these are true, I believe that are some other overlooked benefits that many people do not realize. In my opinion, pause squats may be the king of squat variations. Almost everyone can benefit from them in some way and they have very little cons but many pros. In particular, I find they can reduce the negative impact of a mis-grooved rebound, they can help with foot and ankle strengthening, and are easier on the knees. Let’s dive into each one of these points further.

1.) I consider rebounding out of the bottom of the squat a technique. The better we can control that position and maintain tightness, the more we can be consistent with that technique. But the more we rely on a fast eccentric and large rebound affect, the more we put ourselves in danger of mis-grooving. This used to be me. I used to rely so much on that rebound that if I got out of position just slightly, my strength would drop 10% or more. I had to hit that rebound perfect or it was a night and day difference. I find pause squats as a way to reduce this issue though. And not because it helps with creating control and stability at the bottom, but because it increases our ability to squat out of an isometric position rather than a quick eccentric to concentric rebound. My athlete’s who have strong pause squats in relation to their competition squat 1RM have less of a distinct strength drop off when they slightly misgroove the rebound. They are able to recover easier from this because they can squat almost the same from an isometric hold at the bottom. So when they find themselves just slightly out of position they can quickly recover and still accelerate out of the bottom without a large rebound effect.

2.) A fairly common technique for improving ankle mobility is taking one of your lighter warm-ups and just holding that bottom position to stretch into deep ankle dorsiflexion. While I don’t prepose intentionally doing this with heavy pause squats, at the same time you are involuntarily getting this effect. This is especially true when we perform legitimate pause squats, not the ones that look like you are rolling through a stop sign, but rather strong isometric pauses at the bottom. And we can further this on technique or tertiary squat days with long pause work of 3 second holds at the bottom. I typically would program something like this for the reasoning of improving bracing and control in the bottom, specifically thinking of the core and hips, but the inadvertent benefit is it also can help to strengthen the foot and ankle. We have to hold a solid arch and ankle position while pausing, and this helps to create improved strength and control at the most flexed position of our squat.

3.) This final reason will have opposition, but I believe from experience and analytical breakdown that pause squats are easier on the knees. Find anyone with chronic patellar tendonitis, and I would put money on there is a direct correlation to high competition squat specificity and frequency, ex: “The DUP” from 2014-15. Now I am not saying everyone that does high specificity squatting will have knee issues, just that there is a correlation. The more we rely on a hard rebound in the squat, the higher the compressive forces are on our knees. I don’t have exact numbers for these, but the greater the elastic rebound effect, the more force those tissues have to absorb to decelerate and reverse the direction of your movement. When we pause, those forces decrease. If throughout our training year we can decrease force on the knee while still doing a variation that can have a direct strength impact on our competition squat, there is reason to believe we can sustain higher intensities and training volumes doing so. Injuries are caused by the overloading of a tissue past its tolerable limit. If we can reduce that overload on the knee joint through variations like pauses, analytically I can come to the conclusion that it may be easier on our knees in the long term when used at the appropriate times within our training.

How To Determine Your Optimal Squat Stance

How To Determine Your Optimal Squat Stance

Stance width is very individual, as our leg vs. torso lengths and hip anatomy all will determine what is going to be most optimal for each lifter. A lifter needs to find a stance that they can consistently hit depth based on their hip mobility, is pain free, creates the most efficient force production, and suits their individual leverages and mechanics. But there are a couple general rules that hold true, with the main being that we want our stance width to be a happy medium between our internal/external rotators. When this is achieved we should find that our knees track directly with our feet, we are able to maintain optimal foot pressure and position, and during the eccentric and concentric portion of the squat we do not see a bias in tracking inside or outside of this position (see the 4th video, (CLICK HERE), for a good example of what this should look like). The old school setup and cue though was to have a wide stance and drive the knees out as far as you can, and while that may have application within equipped lifting, there is downfalls in the application to raw athletes.

Both our internal and external rotators have a role in hip extension, and when we over-rely on one or the other we see an overcompensation to return to that happy medium. For instance we see Payton (CLICK HERE) in a wide stance with his knees driving far out versus a narrower stance. When he is overly wide and driving his knees out, his adductors are lengthening and being put in a less advantageous position to play their role in hip extension out of the hole. So what happens? As soon as he initiates the ascent we can see his femurs internally rotate so that the adductors in short can do their job. This isn’t a case of knee valgus, its a case of overly biasing towards hip abduction, and then having to compensate with the adductors when they are needed to be the primary mover of hip extension.

So how do we find this happy medium? For the most part it is a bit of experimentation, but looking at Payton’s video (CLICK HERE), the position his knees internally rotate to gives us a good idea of exactly where they need to be. If you scroll over to the second picture, you’ll see a breakdown of where he knees stacked vertically over, and then the outcome of that once he narrowed his stance to that position. Now even with the narrower stance he has some slight internal rotation of the left leg, but thats where it gets tricky and the issue actually lies more within his feet, which is another topic altogether. But the main thing you can see is now instead of both femurs internally rotating equally together, the right knee stays directly stacked over the foot and for the most part the left does as well. The sign that the wide stance was not optimal was that both legs internally rotated to the same degree. When we are seeing this, it’s typically telling us one of two things. Either our stance is too wide, or something is going on with our foot pressure that is creating internal rotation up the chain on both sides. We need to address both of these issues to see what is the cause, but if you find just simply bringing in your stance a bit changes that movement dramatically, this is probably your body telling you that anatomically your optimal stance should be narrower.

Scroll to the 3rd picture/video though (CLICK HERE) and we can see the opposite issue with Shane. He tends to bias towards a narrower stance and dramatically drives his knees out for two reasons. First, he needs room to be able to hit depth, so when he is too narrow he has to create room for depth my driving his knees out. The second reason is because he lacks the needed hip mobility/control and wants to greatly bias towards this narrow stance with high degrees of external rotation and abduction. Based on where his knees want to naturally track, you can see where his feet should be aligned, but he tends to find trouble with range of motion when he actually has his feet in that position. But he only has trouble finding that range of motion when he continues to bias back to a narrower stance. In the instances that he has been able to stick with the slightly wider stance, his body has adapted and started to feel more naturally comfortable in the position.

You might ask though if he just feels more comfortable narrow, why not continue letting him do what feels comfortable if it’s working? In his case, his squat is fine with that narrower stance, but his lower back is not. The extreme bias towards abduction tends to lead to extending the low back as well, which low back pain has been an on and off issue for Shane. If we can develop better adductor and pelvic control within his squat, we can reduce his over reliance of wanting to extend his lower back and anteriorly rotate his pelvis.

Wide Stance Squats To Improve Hip Mobility and Control

Wide Stance Squats To Improve Hip Mobility and Control

Brandi has been struggling with a shift in her squat for a long time, and we’ve tried a lot of different things that seemed to help at times, but never fixed the issue. Ankle mobility, foot pressure, bracing, tempo, pelvic position, and more, and nothing really seemed to be the true fix. Recently I thought more into how it might relate into the internal rotation of her femurs, and had her do a couple drills that kind of helped, but the fact is that it did not create any lasting affect. So fast forward to this block and I decided to implement the idea of wide stance tempo squats. I don’t think this is revolutionary to implement wide stance squat to fix knee valgus and a hip shift, but I think the reasoning of why I did it is much different than most. Many would prescribe wide stance squats to improve glute and the external rotators strength, similar to putting a band around your knees or doing lateral walks. I’ve covered this before, but I doubt most people truly have weak glutes or hip external rotators in their squat. Whereas with Brandi, I had her implement wide stance squats to create a loaded internal rotation stretch to hopefully transfer to more range of motion in her normal competition stance and greater control at higher degrees of IR. The wider a squat is, the more internal rotation of the femur that is needed, so loading this position was going to allow a more long standing affect than some simple drills or stretches during her warm-up. As can be seen (CLICK HERE), we have a video of 250lb. single from last training block versus a 245lb. pause squat single from this block, with a pretty dramatic difference in the level of shift. And if you scroll over to the 2nd video, you can see the week 1 wide stance squat versus week 4. Not only has she completely eliminated the shift on the wide stance, notice how inadvertently she has widened her stance even more, probably unbeknownst to her.

For how this was programmed, I implemented this on her tertiary day as it wasn’t about how much weight we can lift wide stance, as it was more about a loaded stretch and learning to control her position better at greater degrees internal rotation. Taking that we see the application back to her normal stance and greatly improved control of her femurs in that bottom position with basically the same weight, yet with a self limited variation that typically in the past would exacerbate the issue from going even higher on the relative intensity scale. Since then, I have implemented this on a couple other athlete’s tertiary squat days and all have come back stating how much more comfortable and controlled their primary stance then feels, so when it comes to needing to improve femur control and internal rotation, this has been added to my go to list as a great option for a fix.

The Roll Technique for Deadlift

The Roll Technique for Deadlift

Justin will be competing at the 2019 USS Kansas Strongest Man in two weeks, and his deadlift is coming together at the right time for the Wessel rules deadlift event that will be part of the competition! As can be seen (CLICK HERE), Justin uses a roll technique, and we’ve been focusing the last month or so on cleaning up his transition from the roll to pull. Justin’s issue previously is that he would try to meet the bar halfway, resulting in a forward weight bias and typically a pattern of his hips shooting up and having to almost stiff leg deadlift it at times. The two videos above are just 2 weeks apart, with 540lbs. on the left versus 550lbs. on the right. The main difference that can be seen is how on the right he leverages against the bar better with an initial bias back with the hips as he initiates the roll, as well as he has a faster roll so that when his shins meet the bar it lines up directly over his midfoot (2nd video is a slo-mo comparison to make this easier to see).

Justin does a fairly extreme version of a roll, but for another idea of how this can be implemented I included a 3rd video of Patrick as well (CLICK HERE) to show his mini roll technique. I’ll start off by saying I typically would not recommend using a roll technique, as its hard to master and is a more advanced technique (and definitely a conventional only technique). But the benefit comes from the natural tightness it creates in the lats. Because these lifters are basically doing a mini lat pullover with the bar, it is cueing them to depress their shoulders and leverage against the bar to create tension off the floor, creating almost an eccentric like action. You’ll commonly see heavier weight class lifters performing the roll technique as it can help to achieve a better lumbar position when girth is limiting hip flexion range of motion, which is why it tends to be fairly popular in Strongman. Timing is everything though, and Justin was able to make that 10lb. jump and move that weight faster than before because the timing of his roll position his optimally to create force immediately through the floor.

Head Position In The Sumo Deadlift

Head Position In The Sumo Deadlift

Where the head leads the body will follow, and this may be most apparent in the sumo deadlift. Unless someone can show me an example otherwise, I honestly don’t know if there is a single highly proficient sumo deadlifter that doesn’t at minimum have their head and gaze at eye level, with most having a slight upward gaze. With conventional deadlift, you’ll see more variation with where someone looks, with some having a slight downward gaze. But with sumo deadlift head position is fairly consistent across the board and this is for good reason.

Maybe even more so than with conventional, sumo deadlift really relies on keeping very strict positions to help transfer force efficiently. Rounded lower backs, tucked pelvis, and hip shoot movement deficiencies are going to have a greater negative impact on a sumo pull than a conventional pull. Sumo tends to require more leverage into the bar where we are using are hip extensors to counter balance that forward weight bias of the bar being in front of us. So if lifters are not leading their torso with their head, they tend to get stuck out over the bar.

You can see in the videos (CLICK HERE) how Lorenzo and Abbee use their heads to create tightness and the feeling of extension in their upper backs to leverage themselves against the bar. While their backs aren’t actually pulling into extension, I’ll use this term and feeling to cue lifters to try to use their head position to try to pull their thoracic spine into extension. With the weight of the bar trying to pull you into thoracic flexion though, what occurs is more so a neutral back position, which is exactly what we want. The other key here is that their head position rises as they tension and bring their hips down. Too often lifters pull into to position and then raise their head, which defeats a lot of the purpose. When you wait until the last second to raise the head position, you are missing out on the extension based tension you want to create during the setup.

In the 2nd video (CLICK HERE), you can see the one week difference in Joe’s sumo deadlift. I simply had him put a chalk mark on the rack in front of him at just above eye level and told him to look directly at that the whole time. Without any other cues, he completely changed how his sumo deadlift looked. The head is a powerful tool and as I first mentioned, where the head leads the body follows, and this is very apparent in the change in Joe’s deadlift.