Squat Progression From a Beginner to an Advanced Client

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Written by Kim Leggett (Clean Health Online Master Coach)

There is almost no training program that does not include some variation of the squat. Although there may be varying opinions as to which variation is benefit, the reality is that this is going to depend on the client performing the movement. Whether performing a low bar back squat or a front squat – the most important consideration is technique and proper execution when looking to reap max benefits.

But how do we ensure our client is performing this correctly? We need to ensure intelligent progression when a client comes to us as a beginner!

When most people think of a ‘squat’ – they think of a barbell back squat. Unfortunately, this is not a forgiving lift as most people tend to really struggle at executing this correctly due to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. Poor external rotation, lack of core strength and tight hip flexors all result in bad execution however are commonplace. 

Make sure your client gets the basics right first and spend time perfection the regressed variations! Do not rush proper training as results will NOT improve by skipping ahead to harder variations. Poor execution ultimately yields less strength and increases the risk of injury. 

An example of a squat progression sequence:

  1. Wall Squat
  2. Body weight Squat 
  3. Goblet Squat
  4. Double Kettlebell Front Squat
  5. Barbell Front Squat
  6. Barbell Back Squat 

One of the best places to start with a beginner client is by getting them to squat using a wall. This will often expose mobility restrictions such as tight ankles. Get your clients to do 4-5 sets of a 3030 tempo – this may have no strength benefit, but it has a big payoff in neural patterning. We leave the harder progressions for patterning, strength and power. 

Once a client has mastered the wall and bodyweight squat, we get them to perform a goblet or plate squat. (Chih and Burkhardt, 2011). A common observation in clients performing either a front or back squat is inappropriate lumbar lordosis which affects the loading of the spine and results in excessive forward tilting. The plate squat aims to restrict the amount of forward lean by encouraging an upright torso position by distributing the load across the hip, knee and ankle joints. 

The back squat should only be taught after the individual is capable to properly performing the other variations with an appropriate load.

Once the client is able to maintain an upright torso position – the front squat can be introduced as it allows for more weight to be lifted. There may be different schools of thought on whether a barbell front squat is necessary for the client to master – as this will depend on the clients morale, training goal and/or sport (if applicable). The front squat is an effective exercise for developing dynamic strength in the lower body and postural stability in the core however recent studies suggest there is no greater strengthening benefit in performing the back squat over the front squat (Gullet et al, 2008). 

Some thoughts on troubleshooting your client’s squat:

  • Elevate heels = helps increase ROM for tight ankles. 
  • Band Knees = helps glute recruitment by promoting the knees to track outward. 
  • Slow Down = slow tempos and isometric holds develop stability and motor control that promote better quality movement.

To learn more about the different ways exercises can be modified to produce varying results through technique, click here to enrol into the Strength System International Certification online courses!

References:

  1. Chih, L (PhD) and Burkhardt, E. (MA). (2011). A teaching progression for squatting exercises. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 33(2), 46-54. Retrieved from: https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/fulltext/2011/04000/a_teaching_progression_for_squatting_exercises.7.aspx
  2. Trotter, S. ( Retrieved from: https://breakingmuscle.com/fitness/the-squat-progression-guide
  3. Gullet, J., Tillman, M.D., Gutierrez, G.M. And Chow, J.W. (2008) .A biomechanical comparison of back and front squats in healthy trained individualised. Journal of Strength and Conditioning. 23, 284-292. 
  4. Oreb, S. (2020. Strength Systems International Certification Level 1. Clean Health Fitness Institute. 

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