Grooving the Raw Squat – Spotting and Correcting Errors Part 1

In the last article in this series I discussed how to set up a perform a good unequipped high or low bar rep.  During this installment we will look at a few common problems with squatting and how to address them.  Since errors can be multifaceted there will be some overlap in correcting some issues.  For each error we will cover three different strategies to fix these errors namely – Coaching Cues, Drills and Stretches/Mobility.

Error Number 1Falling forward in the Squat.

Falling forward in the squat is a very common error and is usually present in taller lifters and especially in lifters who have a long torso in relation to their femur length.  

Coaching Cues

  1. Sit into your heelsSome novice lifters have a habit of pushing into the ball or front of their foot on the ascent this will have a knock on effect of throwing their weight displacement and torso forward.  This can also be due to ankle tightness which we will touch on shortly.
  2. Push Your Knees Forward and Out – Lifter who don’t achieve sufficient knee displacement to allow them to sit straight down under the bar will sit back which will have a knock on effect of putting them in a position at the bottom good morning the bar will seem like a good idea.  If you push on the back of their knee joint when you mention this drill it can hammer home the direction you want them to take.
  3. Sit DOWN – Coupled with the knee displacement cue telling your lifter to sit down rather than back will help them to visualise keeping their hips under the bar. 
  4. Push your hips forward – On the ascent phase some lifters can rise out of the hole upright but as they approach the sticking point they push their hips back against the weight which can cause them to good morning the weight.  If you emphasis rocking/kicking their hips forward at this point it can really help them to learn how to lock the weight out in the easiest manner possible. 
  5. Grip the bar lightly and push your elbows under on the way up – one cue that seems to have done the rounds is to “pull down on the bar” in an effort to keep the upper back tight, this is all well and good with a lifter that squats upright but with someone who kicks forwards it can have the accentuate the problem.  By gripping the bar lightly and pushing the elbows back under you are putting emphasis on pushing the chest back into the bar, exactly what we are trying to achieve.   
  6. Big Chest/Push Your Shoulders Back/Bite into the bar – related to our previous point if you emphasis the need to push the chest back into the bar while pushing the hips forward you will be pointing out the two most important movements in squatting upright. 


Frankenstein Squats/Superman Squats

Performing a front squat with the arms placed out in front like a zombie will really hammer home the motor patterns needed to keep the torso upright.  Doing this lift heavy and exclusively for a while can really help some lifters to work out themselves hows to squat upright.  Any time you can facilitate the lifter to learn themselves the easier life will be.

Pause Squats

Using a reasonably heavy weight and a reasonable pause (2-3 seconds) you can take away all of the bounce from the bottom and make standing up very difficult.  For these reasons this drill can really hammer home to the lifter the importance of standing up as upright as possible with a squat.  It can also be used as a stretch we will touch on this more during this article.
Goblet Squat/Zercher Squats


In the zercher or goblet squat the weight is placed out in front of the lifter this change in balance will really put home how important pushing back into the bar with the torso is in the back squat.  The goblet squat can be used in any warm up to great effect whilst the zercher squat with it’s greater potential for loading can be used as an accessory lift or as an alternative to back squatting as it is usually very easy for the lifter to pick up the correct technique.


Stretching and mobility are a whole other article onto themselves for the sake of brevity I will mention areas of interest for your attention.  For the areas of interest concentrate on mobility drills and light foam rolling in the warm up and give them some more attention with static stretching in the cool down/between sessions. 

Common Problem Areas/Areas of Interest – Inner Thighs, Ankles/Calfs, Hamstrings and Hip Flexors

Good Stretches

The Squat Stretch will target the inner thighs and calfs two big problem areas that can stop lifters from being able to sit into the squat properly.  The lifter should grab their toes and then descend into a deep squat keeping the back flat, pushing the knees out with their elbow.

The Bulgarian Squat Stretch will target the hip flexors very well an area that can be a difficult place to hip with an effective stretch.  Just perform the stretch like you would a very deep Bulgarian squat sitting back into the elevated leg and taking it down as is a good but reasonably comfortable stretch for the lifter.

Error Number 2 – Butt Wink.

Butt wink is a pretty common problem especially amongst people who have a job where they sit at a desk all day a problem most personal trainers will be more than familiar with.  It can be a problem with tight hamstrings or a lack of mobility in the hip or it can be a technical error by a lifter who hasn’t developed a good feel for “tightness” in the lower back.

Coaching Cues

  1. Stick out chest out/Stick your bum out – Overemphasising a lorordotic position in the back squat can help lifters who tuck achieve a better poition at the bottom of the squat.  As their pelvis starts to tilt from an overemphasised arch they will be able to achieve a deeper position with a neutral spine.
  2. Holding your thumbs on the lifters hips/lower back and telling them to hold it tight – by placing your hands on the area you wish for them to concentrate on as they perform the lift your will allow them to associate the coaching tips you are giving them with the area you want them to apply it to.  Tips like these can be very useful since some people are horrible at learning based of verbal cues.
  3. Cutting Depth – for lifters who can’t maintain a good position the benefits to cost ratio doesn’t really work out when you get them to go to depth regardless of their lower back position.  Whilst they are cutting depth you should be using drills and stretching to achieve the appropriate flexibility, to augment this the depth at which they cut their squats should be under constant review as such the coaches eye is the best tool.


Paused Squats – using the same drill mentioned in the last common squat error but emphasising the decent portion and really trying to get the lifter to account for position and feeling a stretch through out their lower body when performing this drill.  Using a deliberately slow decent and over emphasising displacing the knees, holding the lower back tight and sitting down can help lifter to get a better feel for a good bottom position in the squat.

Gradually Lowering Box Squats –  using a box as a marker for depth can help to make the cutting depth approach more repeatable.  The box squat’s shouldn’t be performed like traditional box squats where the lifter sits and overcomes from a static position it should just be used as a marker for depth and as such touch and go would be sufficient.      

Common Problem Areas/Areas of Interest – Hamstrings and Hip flexors.

Good Stretches
Lying Hamstring Band/Strap Stretch – Place the strap or band across the mid of your foot on the desired leg then lie back.  Pulling back with the band and keeping only a slight bend in the upright leg pull backwards until you feel a stretch on the hamstrings.  Hold for 15-20 seconds place the leg down and loosen off bring the leg back up and try get a deeper stretch perform this process for 3-4 reps on each leg.  During the stretch keep the down leg as flat as possible and keep a natural arch in the lumbar spine any flattening out of the spine is just increasing range of motion through lumbar flexion and not increasing the effect on the hamstrings.
End of Part one
I will continue this discussion in another installment in this article where we will cover more common faults in the back squat.  What is presented here is by no means an exhaustive list of strategies to fix faults however it should give you some new ideas or re-establish some old.  These problems are really opportunities that allow you to express your creativity as a coach and are the areas where good coaches excel and everyone else ignores.