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How to squat properly: a guide for cyclists

Goblet squat
Cyclist magazine
29 Oct 2020

It’s the exercise we all know we should do, but remarkably few people can do it properly. Luckily, we know someone who can

'I used to work for British Cycling and we once had a workshop about human movement patterns. My entire department was in there and I think there was one guy who could squat. Everyone else had a version of a squat that wasn’t really a squat.’

Will Newton is an endurance sports coach who says his focus is to get people to move well, with a view to making them more effective human beings rather than just faster cyclists or triathletes. This is why, in his opinion, the squat is so important for anyone who rides a bike.

‘Most people look at the squat and think, “This is going to make me cycle faster.” I look at it and think this is going to make me a better human machine. It will actually help me to overcome some of the negative things that cycling does to my body.

‘Cycling isn’t a natural human activity. The cycling position isn’t one we have evolved to be in, so people who cycle a lot often end up with a typical cyclist’s posture – short hip flexors, waddling like a duck.

‘Squatting uses fundamental human movement patterns. If you have small kids you’ll see this is a normal position for them, and they’ll happily play with toys in the squat position for hours.

‘The aim is to retain that ability, rather than lose it from cycling or too much time sitting in chairs. Squatting reduces the chance of getting injured.’

For a wider guide to leg exercises tailored for cyclists, see our guide here.

How to get started

To get started, Newton recommends the goblet squat, which involves holding a weight such as kettlebell or dumbbell close to your chest (if you don’t have those weights, a small rucksack full of books will do).

‘The guy who invented goblet squats is called Dan John and he developed them not as a strength exercise but as a way to teach his students how to do a squat correctly,’ Newton says. ‘The weight really is a counterbalance to prevent you from toppling backwards.’

Get it right and the goblet squat will target glutes, hamstrings, quads and, to a degree, calf muscles. It will help improve mobility in your ankles and hips, and can even relieve knee pain. It’s an efficient muscle builder and it offers a good cardio and calorie-burning workout.

 ‘It will also strengthen your lower back and give you the ability to activate your core properly,’ Newton says. ‘It’s pretty much a whole-body exercise.’

To find out more about training by Will Newton go to limitlessfitness.com

A head to toe guide on how to perform squats properly

Head Keep your chin tucked in and eyes looking forward to maintain a neutral spine through your neck. Don’t be tempted to look up as this can result in hyperextension of the back.
Shoulders Shoulders down and pulled back to help stabilise your spine.
Kettlebell Hold the weight close to your chest to start with and move it away from you as necessary during the squat to maintain balance and an upright posture.
Chest Chest up. Some cyclists may struggle with this from being frequently hunched over the bike, so exercises to loosen the thoracic spine are a good idea.
Elbows In the lowest position, aim to have your elbows just touching the muscles on the inside of your knees.
Hips From standing, initiate the move by first ‘breaking’ at the hips, followed immediately by the knees.
Glutes Squeeze your glutes as you begin the squat. Aim to go as low as you can, so that your glutes are essentially resting on your calves in the lowest position.
Back  Keep your back upright with your spine in its natural alignment. Use the weight to prevent you from having to lean too far forward.
Knees As you squat, track your knees in line with the second toe of each foot. Don’t let your knees collapse inwards as you stand up.
Core Brace your core throughout the squat. Don’t pull your belly button in towards your spine, as is often suggested. Instead imagine you’re wearing a belt and you are squeezing your abs out against that belt.
Feet Feet flat on the floor. Aim to have your weight evenly distributed across your heels and the joints at the base of your big toe and little toe – almost like a tripod. Don’t tilt forwards onto your toes. Maintain the natural arch in your foot; don’t let your feet collapse inwards.

Ideally your feet should face straight forward, however it’s fine to point them outwards slightly if it feels more natural and takes stress off your knees. Stand with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart. You’re aiming to fit your hips between your ankles at the bottom of the squat so you may need to widen your stance a bit to accommodate this.

Top tips for squatting

Pay homage to the king of exercises

• Work on your flexibility: Deep squats require good ankle and hip mobility and flexibility in the calves, so be sure to include stretching in your regular routines.

• Warm up properly: Before squatting, raise your temperature with some light exercise and perform some active stretches for your glutes and hips.

• Raise your heels: If you struggle to squat with feet flat on the floor (most likely you have tight calves), raise your heels slightly by placing them on a shallow block of wood.

• Watch your breathing: Breathe in before you start the movement, then hold your breath during the squat and breathe out as you return to standing.

• Time your tempo: Aim to lower into the squat for around two seconds, hold for a moment at the bottom, then stand up powerfully.

• Sets and reps: Perform squats every two or three days. Start with three sets of 15 reps, with a minute’s rest between sets.

• Progression: As you get stronger, increase the weight while keeping the sets and reps the same. Eventually you can move on to more advanced squats

Illustrations: manglemike.com

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