Lifters' Corner: Looking Down in the Squat
When we teach the squat, we teach people to look at a point on the floor about 3-6 feet in front of them. In other words, we look down (and forward, but I digress). But why?
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If you lifted in high school, you probably heard some “coach” tell you to look up when squatting. “You gotta look up to go up!” is the loud refrain heard throughout high school weight rooms and powerlifting meets ‘round the world. Rarely is any type of rationale given for this advice, but if pressed for a reason, people might offer something like “ . . . your body follows your head, so to stand up, you should look up.”
This might sound reasonable at first, but let’s think about it. Do you look at the ceiling when you get up out of bed in the morning? What about when you get up out of a chair? I’m going to guess your answer is no. Considering this, we can see that the body doesn’t necessarily follow the head, but it is true that your chest typically does.
Therein lies the major problem with lifting the head while squatting - lifting the head typically causes the lifter to lift the chest. When the chest comes up (i.e., the torso becomes more vertical), the knees shift forward. When the knees shift forward, so do the hips (since the hips and knees are connected by the femurs), and in this “knees forward/hips forward” position, we have now asked the knees to do more and the hips to do less, which is rather silly of us since the hips are the larger of the two joints and are surrounded by more muscle mass than the knees. Without diving too deeply into the physics and anatomy of the situation, we use both the hips and the knees when squatting, and since we want to use them in the most efficient manner possible, that means asking the larger joint (i.e., the hips) to do it’s fair share of the work.
With this in mind, you look down when you squat since it’s an effective way to keep your hips (and knees) right where they are supposed to be, and this allows you drive upward efficiently with your hips.