Setting Up For A Big Squat

Zach Homol

Let’s go over a few cues on setting up for a BIG SQUAT! Actually, let’s take these cues and practice them not only on your max attempts, but every attempt! I am a firm believer we play on game day, how we prepared in practice. It is extremely important to set up the EXACT same way, every single time we go to squat. From getting our air, taking the same steps back into position, feet placement, so on and so forth.

One of the things I really want to discuss in this article is the importance of breathing. As the years go on and I’m able to work with more & more people, I am finding 1 major, yet easy to correct mistake made by a high percentage of athletes that I’m working with. Putting a rough percentage on it, I would say over 90% of athletes I work with do not have the proper breathing techniques to execute a big squat. Yes, I’m saying to you if you do not master your breathing techniques you will be leaving a substantial amount of weight on the bar.

Before diving into the proper breathing techniques, I want to share a success story from this past week. A friend of mine, who is also the 3rd ranked 145lbs powerlifter in the world, David paid a visit to my gym this past week as he was in town from Atlanta for the holidays. David is already an accomplished lifter just after 1 year of serious powerlifting training. Eager to learn he asked if I would give a hand as he was working up to his last 1 rep max before his next meet. At the time David’s previous PR (Personal Record) was a 445 squat. After a few adjustments he hit a 455 squat that looked like only the bar was on his back. A few adjustments and small, but specific breathing techniques David progressed to a 475lbs Squat. You heard it, a 30lb PR in 1 training session. It wasn’t that he became 30lbs stronger in 1 workout, but he was able to use his body more efficiently to execute with bigger weight. Sometimes, there is only 1 small adjustment between YOU and a 30, 40 or 50lbs PR!

Here’s the cues I gave to David. I noticed prior to unracking the weight he was taking several breaths in, which is common. After his last breath, he held his air inside his belly and un-racked the weight and started to walk back. BOOM!! Right there, the first problem I picked up. He walked to far back. There is no reason to walk out of the gym when you are setting up. Take just enough SHORT steps back to clear the rack. Once you are clear, STOP and settle the weight. The next problem was letting all his air out of the belly. Once all of the air is out you will notice the core caves, the chest will come forward. Not only is this taking you out of position putting the bar over top of your knees but it is breaking your brace leaving your lower back venerable for injury. Not matter how many breaths you try to take back in, it will be nearly, if not impossible to have the same tightness because you will be load barring. Let me explain how we corrected his set up, and breathing techniques.

We started by shortening the distance of his walk out immediately, he was conserving energy not having to walk back as far. Next and most important, I went over the proper breathing cues: As the bar is racked and you are getting tight and into position. Take a DEEP breath in through your nose filling your belly up with as much air as possible. Once you cannot suck any more air in SQUEEZE your core in, hence “Bracing” do not let any air out as you brace! NEXT, now that you have your air, un-rack the bar taking 2-4 SMALL steps setting up in position. Now that we are set up, let ½ of your air out but IMMEDIATELY suck it right back in. Letting some air out is important so you don’t pass out. Be careful as letting all of your air out will break your brace, leaving you vulnerable for injury. Once you have let out ½ your air and sucked it back in, you are prepped and ready to start descending into the squat. It’s important to note that at NO TIME during the descent or standing of the movement will you let that air out. If you breathe half way though the standing up portion of the squat expect your core to break form which will cause the bar to go over your knees. Hold air the entire lift until completed in the lockout position. Once your knees are locked, re-gather your air by letting ½ out and breathing immediately back in to start into you next rep as needed!


Powerlifting is very similar to life, it’s the smallest things done day in and day out that make a world of a difference in the long haul!


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