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The full squat from the trainer's perspective

Danny O'Dell, in his second article on the squat, provides advice that will enable you to monitor the athlete's execution of the Squat exercise to ensure that it is performed correctly and safely.

We dissected the technique of performing a full squat in Successful Coaching Issue 21- The King of exercises: The Squat. In this issue, we are going to describe what the coach should be looking at while the lifter is under the bar. The task of the coach is to be constantly aware of the proper mechanics of the squat and then 'cueing' the lifter to perform them in the right manner to make progress and to avoid injury.


To be 'technically' correct and successful, the athlete has to develop engram patterns very precisely during the early developmental stages of the learning curve. By definition, an engram is a neuromuscular, subconscious pathway of performing a physical movement. Superior exercise adeptness occurs from repeating this training process. At the top level of training, the mind no longer consciously dwells on the exercise movement; instead, the elite lifter can focus on the sheer muscle energy necessary to move the weight. Thus, the move is ingrained in the subconscious and automatic. Can you envision yourself stepping out from the rack with a six-hundred-pound barbell and then having to decide if you needed first to move your hips back or bend your knees to begin the lift?

A well-trained coach will effectively assist the athlete performing the exercise by providing both verbal and visual cues as to how best to perform the move. Improvements in technique will be seen in most lifters if the coach pays attention to the details of the lift and provides meaningful feedback. This means the coach has to observe the athlete from a 360-degree perspective. Videotape is an excellent motivator, as the lifter will recognize errors of form, especially with the coach reviewing the tape with them.

The coach must always keep in mind one important aspect:

  • Is the movement under total control?

If the load is not entirely under control, all attending spotters must take prompt action to protect the lifter from harm. The coach will have to pay close attention to these three major safety points:

  • Telling the spotters to assist in re-racking the bar if they are not aware of the lifter's predicament
  • Lowering the weight on the bar so the exercise may be completed correctly on the next repetition
  • Making certain the athlete gets additional rest time before trying the next set

Coaching points

Observation from the front vantage point at the beginning of the lift:

  • Has the lifter centred the bar firmly on the back and shoulders?
  • Is the lifter in an upright standing position and not leaning over - the bar placement will dictate this portion of the stance? The low bar position causes the athlete to bend forward to keep the bar centred over the balance point of their body?
  • Is the chest held high at the beginning of the lift?
  • Is the head flexed forward or extended slightly upward, but not looking at the ceiling?
  • Is the bar properly situated and secure on the back, i.e. not dropping downward?
  • Is the back neutral to slightly arched and in a braced position?
  • Is the lifter standing straight and tall and not tilted to either one side or the other?
  • Remind the lifter to abdominal brace?

Start of the lift from the rear observation point

  • Is the bar symmetrically loaded with the correct weight on both ends?
  • Are the collars securely attached to both sides?
  • Is the bar correctly positioned, spaced and resting on the shoulders/upper back at the correct height for the athlete?
  • Are the lifters hands positioned properly and placed evenly on the bar?
  • Has the lifter placed their body under the bar and are they in the correct position to lift the bar off the hooks?
  • Has the head remained correctly in line with the back and not flexed forward?
  • Is the back rigid, slightly arched and braced?

Start of the lift as seen from the right side

  • Are the feet aligned evenly and not forward or backward relative to one another?
  • Is the athlete standing tall?
  • Have the hips started the rearward movement, or have the knees started bending first?
  • Is the back staying straight and stable?
  • Has the head stayed in line with the back in a neutral position, or is it slightly extended?

The two-three steps back and the initial set up as observed from the front of the lifter

  • Is the chest still kept high?
  • Have the two to three steps to the rear been small enough to clear the rack pins?
  • Is the body still vertically aligned, or has it twisted off to either side?
  • Is there movement in the hips when the bar set up has completed?
  • Has the movement been stabilized and did it stop?
  • Are the feet spaced at least shoulder width or wider?
  • Are the toes angled outward and remaining in line with the knees?

The back out and set up as seen from the rear

  • Is the movement still under control by the lifter?
  • Is the back still solid and in a slightly arched position?
  • Are the hips starting to move from side to side in a continuing effort to balance the weight load?
  • Are the feet moving around, or are they steady and sticking to one place on the platform?
  • Is the bar steady on the shoulders, or is it moving around instead of being held firmly in place?

The back out and set up as viewed from the athlete's side

  • Is the back out steps under control?
  • Is the athlete standing tall under the load?
  • Are the feet correctly positioned in relative to one another and front to rear?
  • Is the back solid, slightly arched and braced?

The descent as observed directly in front of the lifter

  • Is the head lined up with the back?
  • Is the head positioned correctly and not tipped off to one side?
  • Are the hips even or are they moving to the side?
  • Are the feet in the correct position and in line with one another?
  • Did the hips move back before the knees started to flex?

The descent as seen from the rear

  • Are the hips coming back towards you before movement is seen or felt anywhere else?
  • Is the back staying braced, solid and slightly arched?
  • Are the lower legs remaining perpendicular to the floor?
  • Is the head still in the upright position and not tilted to one side?

The descent observed from the sides

  • Did the hips move back before any other movement was started?
  • Is the back staying braced, solid and slightly arched?
  • Is the head being kept in line with the back or slightly angled 10 to 20 degrees upward?
  • Is the load centred in the middle and slightly to the rear of the feet?
  • Is the body tilting forward to any great extent?
  • Does the bar move downward in a straight line: there should be very little movement fore and aft of this imaginary vertical line?
  • Is this imaginary bar path appearing to go from down the ears to the middle of the feet?
  • Has the lifter accelerated the bar toward the bottom of the move?
  • Is the upper body angle to the floor remaining the same throughout the descent phase of the lift?
  • Are the heels firmly in contact with the floor?

The bottom position as seen from the front

  • Is the head in line with the rest of the body?
  • Is the bar still placed evenly on the shoulders?
  • Has the body remained square with the lifting platform or has the athlete started to tip toward one side?
  • Has the body continued to face the front of the rack or lifting platform, or have they twisted to one side?
  • Are the knees still aligned over the feet?

The bottom position viewed from behind the athlete

  • Is the back remaining tight, slightly arched and braced or has it flexed at the bottom?
  • Is the bar even on the body from side to side, or has it shifted to one side?
  • Has the body tilted to one side?
  • Is the athlete twisting to one side or the other?

The bottom position-viewed from the sides of the athlete

  • Is the back rigid, slightly arched and braced?
  • Is the chest still out?
  • Is the head parallel to the floor or extended slightly to 10 to 20 degrees?
  • Are the lower legs close to perpendicular with the floor?
  • Are the angles of the back and joint hip similar to those of the knees/lower legs?
  • Is the body slanted to one side or the other?
  • Has the body twisted to one side?
  • Are the heels remaining in contact with the floor?

The ascent as seen from the front

  • Did the initial upward move begin with the head and chest starting upward?
  • Did you notice the hands beginning with an upward push on the bar?
  • Is the torso angle staying the same throughout the upward phase?
  • Is the body positioned straight to the front?
  • Has it tipped to one side?
  • Has it twisted on the long axis?
  • Did the body tilt forward?
  • Is the head still stable and at the correct angle?
  • Were the legs and body moving from side to side?
  • VERY IMPORTANT POSITIONAL NOTE: have the knees remained over the feet or did they move into a valgus position (knees move in an inward direction from the midline of the body). A Valgus position may be dangerous and harmful to the Anterior Cruciate ligament. It must be avoided during the lift.

Viewing the ascent from the rear

  • Did the first upward move start with the chest, head and arms?
  • Did the body shift backwards during the first move up?
  • Did the buttocks rise before the head, chest and arms moved upward?
  • Did the buttocks move laterally?
  • Is the bar moving evenly upward without a windmill side to side sway?
  • Is the loaded bar staying in line with the rack and not twisting to one side or the other?

The ascent from the sides

  • Did the buttocks begin to rise before the bar moved upward?
  • Did the knees cave into the valgus position?
  • Did the head and chest remain upright at the beginning of the ascent?
  • Did the back remain solid, slightly arched and braced?
  • Are the knees remaining in line with the feet and not going into valgus or varus (knees move in an outward direction from the midline of the body) positions?
  • Did the body torque to either side?


This is just a small checklist of many of the obvious cues and clues that all professional coaches should have either in a written form or in firmly planted in their minds as they coach their athletes. Dr Stuart McGill once stated, 'Practice makes permanent'. Make sure your athlete's practice time is well spent, technically perfect and constantly re-enforcing and perfecting their individual and correct neuromuscular engram patterns.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • O'DELL, D. (2005) The full squat from the trainer's perspective. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 23 / June), p. 5-6

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • O'DELL, D. (2005) The full squat from the trainer's perspective [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Danny O`Dell is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning coach from the USA. He is the author of several training manuals including The Ultimate Bench Press Manual, Wilderness Basics, Strength training Secrets, Composite training and Power up your Driving Muscles. Danny has published articles in national and international magazines describing the benefits of living a healthy fitness lifestyle.