Coaching the Bodyweight Squat

Coaching the Bodyweight Squat

As an online personal trainer or as an in-person personal trainer, the first few weeks of working with a new client are often the most difficult. Regardless of which online personal training platform you may be using, attempting to gauge your client’s mental and physical state inevitably presents a difficult challenge. One of the best programming strategies to employ when working with a new client is to stick with mostly bodyweight moves before adding resistance. Here, we focus on the bodyweight squat.

When most of us think about squats, we conjure images of heavy lifts accompanied by extreme exertion. However, often the best course of action is to focus on mastering one’s own bodyweight before advancing to increased resistance. Just as you would not have a client attempt a weighted pull-up prior to them having complete a body-weight pull-up, you should allow your clients to master the squat with only their bodyweight before adding even a bar.

  • Have your client begin by standing with their feet shoulder-width apart while keeping the natural arch in their back and hands to their sides.
  • Next, while keeping their head looking straight on, have them begin descending into a squat by simultaneously bending at the hips, knees, and ankles.
  • Cue your client to think as if they are sitting down in a chair that is behind them, and to focus on keeping their weight on their heels, rather than on the front of their feet. Sitting back will allow them to keep their back straight, which will prepare them for a future of weight on their back. Additionally, this keeps an appropriate emphasis of the exercise on the hamstrings and glutes, balancing the work that the quads will be handling, thus helping to prevent muscular imbalances that lead to injuries.
  • Once your client reaches parallel, or close to it, have them pause for a second to become accustomed to that position before they begin ascending back up. Allowing the squat to continue to parallel will aid in activating the glutes and hamstrings.
  • Once your client has paused at parallel, have them ascend back up by simultaneously extending at the ankles, knees, and hips.
  • Once they reach a standing position, your client has completed one rep.

Breathing is an aspect of movement that we as trainers often forget to que. Make sure your client is breathing throughout the bodyweight squat. Though many lifters employ the Valsalva maneuver when squatting, from a safety standpoint it is best to have your client inhale on the descent of the squat and exhale on the ascent.

Squatting is not easy and a habit of poor squat form can be extremely difficult to break out of (trust me, I’ve been battling the poor form that I learned in high school for ten years). However, squatting is one of the absolute best exercises to teach a new client in terms of efficiency. Squats burn more calories and help to build more muscle than any other exercise. If you're going to teach it, be sure to teach correct form.

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Matthew Johnson is a fitness writer, personal trainer, strength coach, as well as a former gym owner. Matthew holds an MBA from The University of Memphis and a Master’s in Exercise Science from Middle Tennessee State University. Matthew has also earned the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist credential from the NSCA. Matthew recently published his first book, 300 30 Minute Workouts for Busy People, and lives in Memphis, TN with his wife, Anna, and their dog Henderson, and cat, Sox.

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