Written by: Kevin Cann
I will admit that that title is quite a bit of clickbait. I just did not know what to title it and wanted to get started. To be honest, I read a lot of the research. However, I am selective on what I read.
I really do not give a shit about EMG studies. I had a discussion on IG, with someone that was referencing studies showing that the quads and adductors are the main movers out of the hole in the squat.
My post was in regard to pitching forward in the squat when the lifter comes out of the hole. It is easy to look at that EMG study and chalk it up to weak quads and/or adductors. However, this is not the case in the real world.
When I started lifting, I was coached by Boris Sheiko. I had this technical error. Sheiko told me this was due to weak hamstrings and glutes. I got lots of good mornings and hyperextensions to build up the hamstrings and hips. My squat went up 200lbs over the next 3 years. I was a beginner so maybe this is just beginner gains, right?
I definitely did not have weak quads. I played soccer through college, a very quad dominant sport, followed by over 10 years of mma, again very quad heavy sport. In spite of all of this, I was too smart for my own good.
I read those studies and began to really hammer the quads for those pitching forward in the squat. Improvements occurred, but it wasn’t as great as I expected. I started shifting my focus to more skill acquisition research. This is research I actually care about.
I decided to treat the pitching forward as a skill issue and utilize positions that disallow it. I also decided to utilize a position that would target the hamstrings and hips more. This would help give me some answers in the real world to what muscles are being used. I was confused with the contradictory information out there.
We utilized wide stance squats here, which are less quads and more hips, and it punishes a pitching technical fault as the lifter will not stand up if they pitch. We would do this only for a period of time and then bring the feet back in. Big surprise, the pitching improved immensely, and the squats went through the roof.
This goes against those EMG studies but supports what Sheiko and what Louie Simmons say about the role of the hamstrings and glutes in the squats. In fact, those studies showed almost no hamstring activity in the squats at all, leading to the conclusion that the hamstrings do not play a major role.
The 2 coaches I mentioned above have over 80 years of coaching world record holders and world champions. Do we just disregard what they say because of some EMG study? I did that once and will not do that again.
In my post I was explaining a typical cause of pitching forward. Many lifters will drive the knees forward hard to initiate the squat. This loads the weight onto the quads. In fact, on my post, my lifter was doing box squats for a max effort exercise. She sat back well to initiate the squat, but halfway down she drove the knees forward hard.
This is a sign of weak hips, not weak quads. On this set, she had a little bit of pitching off of the box. If she had driven the knees forward hard from the start the pitching would be worse. Just like a deadlift, we need to load the hips, hamstrings, and back before the concentric.
If we do not do that for a deadlift, the lifter will pitch forward. Why would the squat be different? When my lifter pitched forward off of the box, the quads actually get it moving, and I believe the hips can’t handle the transfer of force. It is no surprise that these technical faults are shared between the squat and the deadlift.
I have read somewhere that perhaps on the way up, the glutes and hamstrings actually pull the hips down to counter the quads and give the erectors more leverage. This makes sense logically. Whether it is true or not I am not sure. What I witness in the gym seems to support that theory.
When we watch untrained lifters squat, they tend to drive the knees forward hard to initiate the lift. This is exactly what I am talking about. This EMG reading would make sense to be lots of quads and adductors in the bottom, and little to no hamstrings. Does this mean this study is the way to lift massive weights?
No, this study is showing what muscles are used by untrained lifters. Even the studies on trained lifters seem to be a little off. In a study I read the other day, the trained lifters average 1RM on the squat was 165kg. A weight that is below the squat of a 150lb female on PPS.
In Russia, they actually perform studies on their high level lifters. This is why I am so quick to take the word of Sheiko with these things. He actually performs a lot of these studies. They take a biomechanical analysis at Russian Nationals every year as well.
I think many lifters here forget about the role of the lats in the bench press. Most will argue they do not play a major role. This is why the bar path is always said to come back towards the face, to give the pecs and delts more leverage.
There are 17 different bar paths that Sheiko saw at Russian Nationals. Only 4 have ever produced world champions. In 2015, a study on Russian lifters looked at the lats role. All 4 had strong lat activation on the press. Lats shut off for the last.5 seconds to allow the delts to finish the lift.
There are certain things that lifters can get away with under lighter weights. The heavier the weights get, the less they will get away with. Instead of looking at what untrained or weaker lifters are lifting I would rather listen to the lifters that lift the largest absolute loads as well as the coaches that have coached lifters at the highest levels.
This does not mean that science is useless. I am big on the skill acquisition research. One study I mentioned above was about movement variability within the lifts. I love that stuff. I am also not advocating for everyone’s lifts to look the same.
Forward knee travel is going to be dependent on strengths of the lifter, their build, and stance width, and even choice of footwear. However, I choose to have the moment arm of the hips be greater than that of the knees during the squat. This puts more emphasis on the hips. This seems to be the best way to lift massive weights, and to keep progress moving up.
I know raw lifters are quick to shit on multiply lifters. I used to do the same thing. However, these guys and girls lift the highest absolute loads possible. I understand that technique is dictated by the gear, but there are some things to pay attention to. Also, the squat suit you need to sit back into to get the most out of it. This is basically like having super glutes. Maybe getting your hips strong as fuck is what the answer is here. This is an assumption based off of my confirmation bias though so take it for what it is worth.
As a coach, my job is to teach the technique that I feel the older lifters and coaches have figured out. This is why I appreciate the skill acquisition literature. It guides me on the best way to teach each lifter.
This is where I blend science with experiences of those that came before us. I have also had quite a bit of experience at this point as well. Enough time to mess with things and see what works. I will keep reading the literature on dynamic skill acquisition, and I will continue to disregard EMG studies done on untrained to intermediate lifters without seeing their technique.