What I learned from Chad Wesley Smith On The Squat Part 2


Last week I wrote part 1 on some key takeaways from the Juggernaut Powerlifting Seminar in Boston, and this week, I wanted to share some pointers from Chad on the squat. 


The squat, just like many other Olympic lifts requires a great deal of strength throughout the entire body. Great squatters alike have massive legs( I think Chad said his measured 36 inches ). It is wise however to note that total body strength plus technique help develop the best squat.

If you are strong but your technique is not up to par, then your squat will suffer, and if you are not strong enough to hold proper technique, then that too will make your squat suffer.  As I said last week, if you want to get better at the squat, then you are going to have to squat.

Here are a few key pointers to setting up the squat

The Set-Up

Upper back strength carries over to a big squat. A lot of people fail with a squat right out of the rack. Here is what you can do to help with the setup.

When you approach the bar for grip, the closer your hands are together the more you will be able to maintain tightness in the upper back. This may be tough for those who lack mobility in the shoulders, so play around with the setup until you find a position that works best for you.

Try to keep your elbows inside of your hands. This position will allow you to maintain a rigid upper back.  Once you get your grip, the next thing you’ll want to do is squeeze your elbows as tight as possible together. ( think lat pulldown)

Performing a lat pulldown and squeezing the elbows together was a huge takeaway for me because I use to try and force my elbows forward rather than squeeze them together.  My squat has improved from 260 to 300 within a few weeks all by staying tight in the upper body.

Get Your Breathing Right 

The next thing to do after you get tight in the upper body is getting air into your diaphragm by taking a big breath in and creating 360 degrees of pressure throughout your diaphragm.  A stronger diaphragm will help support those heavy weights on your back.

To learn more about breathing check out this video with Bill Hartman and getting tight with a belt.

Taking It Out Of The Rack 

Once you get your air, the walkout should be between 2-3 steps. Chad showed us how to step back by moving your nondominant foot first, then the dominant foot, and make any adjustments as needed with your off foot once out of the rack.

After you get your feet set, you’ll want to get more air into your midsection by creating that 360 degrees of pressure, and squeezing your glutes hard while maintaining tightness in the upper torso.

Last but certainly not least and one of the most overlooked concepts when setting up for a proper squat is the foot position.  I’m not going to go into great detail about foot position while squatting as Tony Gentilcore did a great job in his post on Passive vs. Active Foot for squatting last week.  But I will mention how important maintaining 3 points of contact in your feet throughout the whole lift is for a good squat.

Tripod Foot

Previously, on my heavier lift, I found myself shifting my weight to the front of my foot. Rather than trying to constantly keep pushing my knees out to correct the position, I was taught to think about screwing my feet into the ground like a corkscrew.

The reason behind the corkscrew is that proper balance comes from maintaining pressure on your first metatarsal, your fifth metatarsal , and your heel.  ( 3-points of contact) This allows you to create tension from the ground up.

If you are not familiar with this concept, what you might find is that at first it will be harder to squat, and you may not even be able to go as low as you use to go, but over time your body will dapt, your numbers will start to improve, and depth will come right back.

Commit To The Lift

Assuming you have done everything right in the setup, you are now ready to squat.

Chad mentioned that too many people get caught up in numbers and that in order to be a good squatter, you have to move the bar with intent. Every set should move like your warmup set and you must learn to commit to the lift and move fast.

On the way down, in order to take advantage of the stretch reflex, it is important to drop down as fast as possible in order to avoid using any unnecessary energy.

Descend as quickly as your technique and body allow. While dropping, keeping your knees inline with the toes or slightly outside is valuable to create torque in the hips.  The use of tripod foot is extremely crucial to great squat.

After you drop, keep your chest and head up with your shoulders back into the bar.  On the way up, it should feel as if the bar was going to jump off your back, as you should focus on accelerating all the way through the movement. Move with intent and a purpose at all times.


I learned a lot at this awesome seminar, and I hope you did too. Remember, squatting is a skill and just like anything you have to take your time and make sure all of the fundamentals are down before you load up on heavyweights.

Want to learn more?

check out this great resource by Greg Robins and Eric Cressey. 

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