Boring title, I know, but I wanted to be succinct. Being a strength coach and a lover of squats, I have read Mark Rippetoe’s book Starting Strength (and a couple others…). If you haven’t read this, and you’re interested in being a stronger, more efficient lifter, read it. Anyway, Rippetoe breaks down the squat, very well I might add, into it’s parts so that when done all together, you have a pretty good lookin’ squat. The bit I want to focus on today is keeping the barbell over the mid foot while squatting. (this also applies to front squatting and squatting with a dumbbell in a goblet position)
The first figure is front squatting and the second is squatting with a high bar position and the third with a low bar position. Ryan posted about the difference here. Regardless of where the bar is on the body, the bar path is always directly above the mid foot. Why do you care?
Lifter + Barbell = Lifter-Barbell complex (the total weight of you and the barbell)
When the weight is light, you will be the larger precentaage of the total weight but as the weight on the bar increases, the barbell becomes more of the total weight and thus the center of mass now becomes the barbell. (still with me?)
Therefore, keeping the barbell over your mid foot (and thus over the mid line of your body) a) the weight is distributed over the whole foot so it makes sense to that it would be balanced in the middle part of your foot. This prevents you from plunging forward or toppling backwards. And b) the barbell travels in a straight line and we know from geometry that the quickest ways between two points is a straight line. Thus your skeleton and muscles can be the most efficient in moving the weight up and down.
When on the quest to get stronger and pick up progressively heavier things, proper biomechanics help a lot (read: A LOT). Take a look at Lisa’s squat; watch how her lower back/butt tucks under (hyena butt) at the bottom of the squat:
Now, this could be a function of tight hamstrings, weak erectors or poor bracing. I know Lisa; she doesn’t have tight hamstrings, she can deadlift 300 pounds (pretty sure her erectors are strong and she knows how to brace), so what’s going on? We’ve tried numerous cues/tactics from changing her stance, to bar postion, to tucking elbows more… you name it! But it wasn’t until we filmed her squat and I was able to see that the bar was in not over her mid foot. So Lisa and I had a pow-wow and this was the result:
No hyena butt! Yay! My theory is that now that the weight was more evenly distributed, she didn’t have to resort to the compensatory patterns of tucking under to remain balanced. Notice too, that in an effort to keep the bar over her mid foot, she had to lean forward more in her torso. That’s ok!! That’s probably what helped with the stability part. If you look at the picture above, the back-squatters have quite a bit of forward lean to the torso. Embrace the lean!
Parting thought: Pretend that the weight, barbell or dumbbell, is on a vertical track directly above the middle of your foot. Your job is to keep it in that track as you squat up and down.