by Coach Jackie Alvarenga
The squat is an exercise that has been performed for centuries in order to develop strength and overall power. There are myriad of effective ways to engage different key muscles to become more explosive and powerful in nature; the squat without a doubt has to be one of the most effective ways for younger participants to become fundamentally sound as they are developing as athletes. This beneficial and traditional exercise can literally be performed in any exercise program with experienced and non experienced participants. Squats, as a fundamental movement, can serve to improve mobility, stability, muscle imbalance, explosiveness, and overall strength. These factors tie into the success of the functional movements executed in any sports that require the participants to transfer loads from one movement to the next, i.e basketball, soccer, baseball, football, tennis, etc. Many “nay-sayers” tend to shy away from this exercise as it is really easy to perform incorrectly, resulting in injury and can easily form bad habits in variations and progressions of the exercise. In order to prevent any issues with this exercise, it is imperative that the athlete execute the movement with proper technique.
Starting with the most basic body weight squat, the feet should be maintained at least shoulder width apart, with the toes pointed slightly outward aligned with the natural articulation of popliteal (knee) joints. Primarily engaging hip flexors and then the knees allows for a proper seated position, with the femur aligned parallel with the floor. Maintaining your feet flat on the ground permits the ankles to achieve appropriate dorsiflexion in order to maintain foundational balance with rest of the body. The torso needs to be in balance as well, with the back flat and chest facing forward position engaging the core and other secondary stabilizing muscles in the upper body. As the body descends slowly downward in eccentric manner, all the muscles fire off in an almost chain reaction until you reached your desired depth. The concentric phase moving upward is just as important to maintain the proper body positioning, as it is here during this phase where many people experience fatigue or injury from improper form. Of course, there are so many other variations of the squat that biomechanically differ, but alas always end up engaging similar muscles. i.e front squat, dead lift, power clean, overhead squat, pistol squat, jump squats.
So, how does the squat actually help athletes become more powerful and Explosive? Simply knowing how to execute the squat wont make you as strong as effectively as you would want. Adding resistance, after your athlete has the technique down to a tee, is what will increase the neuromuscular activation of the synapses between motoneurons in the muscle. Loading up those muscle fibers is just a few of the physiological processes increase the overall power output of that muscle. Performing resisted squats can be effective but only up to certain point until that muscle can no longer benefit from those synapses. Luckily, to keep things more interesting, there are virtually endless variations and progressions of the squat that can keep your exercise program less monotonous. If you have the luxury of being able to work with a Vertimax platform, your athletes are sure to improve their ability to squat and produce more power. One basic drill used in jump training is the squat jump. This simple exercise can be complicated to execute but can be broken down into simpler movements for younger athletes to achieve the proper mobility through each “phase”. With appropriate resistance on a Vertimax platform, one can have the athlete perform a jump squat series also known as the “Superman Series”. The first phase of the drill would be the “squat phase”. Here the athlete simply drops down slowly into a squatted position and pushes explosively back up into a standing position (reset). The next phase would be the “toe off” phase. The athlete would still drop down into their squat and when they come up explosively now, they will achieve the triple extension of the hip, knees, and the ankle joints coming up on the balls of their feet. The upper body is now fully engaged and the athlete, using their momentum, swings the arms to reach up as powerfully as they can toward the ceiling. (This phase visually compares to what superman would look like during his take off, hence the term “Superman Series”). The last phase of this drill is the “take off” phase, where the athlete will now perform a resisted squat jump on the platform and land in their original squatted position. For younger athletes, this Superman Series can be highly beneficial and functionally transferred to a similar skill in any sport.
As athletes become stronger and more “fine-tuned” in their movements, it is still imperative that they practice proper technique of each of the exercises they use. The important part to note is that the exercise should be able to be broken down into simpler components of the overall skills if need be. This way the athlete will ultimately be able to progress into more advanced powerful movements.
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Sports Performance Specialist at Velocity Sports Performance – Frisco. Jackie studied at Texas Woman’s University in Denton Texas. She Graduated with a Bachelor degree in Sports of Science, majored in Kinesiology Pre-PT. Jackie has coached Soccer, basketball, and volleyball athletes of various age groups. She studied as intern at Velocity Sports Performance in Southlake TX. Attended Allen High School and played Varsity Basketball for 4 years. Jackie won Second-team All-District 2009, 2009 Team Captain. She played for Dallas All-Net AAU Select Team 2007-08 under retired Cleveland Cavalier, Carven Holcombe (SG).
playing indoor soccer and Recreational Basketball on the weekends.