For those of you who are into the strength sports, you know that the International Powerlifting federation (IPF) just wrapped up their 2017 world championships. Each year when this happens, I like to take a look at what the best in the world are doing.
In this article I am going to be analyzing the squats from IPF worlds. It is important for us, as both coaches and athletes, to see what the best in the world are doing. This helps us to critically analyze our own training.
I have learned quite a lot from watching these athletes over time. It has made me both a better coach and a better athlete. Let us first analyze the technique of the squat from the world championships.
The commonalities of the squat fall right in line with what Boris Sheiko has instilled in me from my first day of training. The first thing that I noticed was that the majority of the lifters at the world championships squatted with their heads up.
Many times when I am in the gym, I see athletes squatting while looking at the ground.
The problem with that is twofold. For one, the body will follow the eyes.
This can lead to the athlete getting pitched forward out of the hole.
Second, it is easier to round our upper back with our head looking down. Keeping the head up helps to keep the athlete more upright and makes it easier for that athlete to keep their back muscles tight. They stay tight from extending their thoracic spine, making the erectors very important.
The next commonality among the majority of squats was that the bar started low on their backs and the hips go slightly back and then the athlete sits straight down while attempting to maintain as vertical a torso as possible. I believe the lower bar position makes it easier on the athlete to keep their back tight as the thoracic extension demands are decreased.
The biomechanical makeup of the athlete dictated how far the knees traveled forward. Some lifters had their knees even with their toes at competition depth. I did not see anyone squat with the knees in front of the toes however.
Seeing this type of squat from world class strength athletes made me question a few of the ways in which I was coaching the lift. I used to tell athletes and clients to keep their weight on their heels. There is a problem with this however.
Our heel is located behind our center of gravity as the heel sits behind the shin. This means that if we sit back onto our heels there will need to be compensations elsewhere in the squat. This is where we will see the chest cave forward out of the hole on the squat. Remember that we have seen world championship lifters attempt to remain as upright as possible in the lift. Sitting back on our heels would not allow this. This is simple biomechanics.
I would also use this cue because I thought that it would allow the athlete to utilize more of his or her posterior chain.
However, this is not true either. In the hole our adductors, glutes, and quads are very important for locking out the raw squat. The hamstrings are not as important as one might have been led to believe.
The body will choose to use monoarticulate, muscles that only cross one joint, first as opposed to biarticulate, muscles that cross two joints. There would be a cost associated with using the hamstrings out of the hole as the hamstrings also flex the knee. We cannot decide which action the hamstring performs. When it contracts it does both hip extension and knee flexion.
The problem with this is the quads need to extend the knee. If the hamstrings were firing at the start of the concentric (way up) action, the quads would have to fight the co-contraction of the hamstrings. The hamstrings don’t actually kick on in the squat until much later.
Many believe that a more positive shin angle leads to a more quad dominant squat. However, this is just not true (1).
Research has shown that the activity of the quads is the exact same no matter what the shin angle. Also, front squats and competition squats also have very similar muscular activity (2).
Understanding this, we can now understand why we see so many of the elite squatters in the world utilize this technique when they squat. This also means we need to have very strong quads, glutes, and thoracic extensors to squat big weights as these are the prime movers for the raw squat.
As for their training, it is difficult to get an exact program that they were running. However, this day and age everyone posts everything to the internet so it is easy to get a good idea of exercise selection. The problem I ran into when analyzing these programs was on the organizational structure of them.
There were a lot of similarities here as well. Rep ranges and intensities seemed to vary frequently, but again this was hard to put into an organizational context. Most of the lifters used slight variations of the lifts within their training. These variations included pauses, high bar squats, front squats, and a few used accommodating resistance.
The cases I saw with accommodating resistance used higher straight weight than what would be recommended in a dynamic effort day.
For example, Brett Gibbs from New Zealand squatted 290kg at 83kg. This was the biggest squat in this weight class at the world championships. He took a 245kg squat + 40kg of chain for singles in training. This was a 539lb squat with 88lbs of chain weight. The chain weight made up roughly 15% of the total weight on the bar.
This is for greater carryover into the competition lift. If the straight weight is too low and accommodating resistance is too high, the intensity of the exercise will be too low in the sticking points to carryover onto the main lift. This is exactly how Sheiko prescribes accommodating resistance for me as well.
It is never a bad thing to analyze what the best in the world are doing. From there do a little research and see why this tends to be the most successful way to do the competition lifts. This allows the coach to develop a plan to get his athletes to that level over time. This is how we have lessons learned from the best.
Written by: Kevin Cann