Sitting Back vs. Down in the Squat: Much Ado About Very Little

Cuing sitting back vs. down in the squat may change how the squat looks, but muscular demands are pretty similar through the range of motion that overlaps.
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Sitting Back vs. Down in the Squat

What you’re getting yourself into

1,800 words, 6-12 minute read time

Key points

  1. Cuing “sit down” vs. “sit back” may change how the squat looks visually, but muscular demands are pretty similar through the range of motion that overlaps.
  2. Having people “sit down” and not restricting their forward knee travel will generally let them squat deeper.
  3. Most people are fine just using whichever cue makes the squat feel the most comfortable for them, while powerlifters may be better off (in general) cuing “sit back” and weightlifters are better off cuing “sit down.”

Right now, I’m working diligently on a very thorough article about squatting.  There are a lot of individual articles on this site that have looked at bits and pieces of the squat, but I think they’re occasionally misunderstood because it’s hard to place a particular detail in the bigger picture unless everyone also sees the bigger picture.  It should be done by the middle of next week.

Edit:  That article’s all finished up.  If you haven’t read How to Squat: The Definitive Guide yet, make sure you check it out.

I realized when I was looking over my outline that I wasn’t planning on saying too much about how you should sit into a squat.  That’s intentional.  I think that’s primarily a matter of personal preference.  Some people strongly prefer sitting back into a squat, pushing their butt back as they come down.  Other people strongly prefer sitting down into a squat; I see (and use) the cue, “drop your butt between your ankles” a lot to describe this technique.

That being said, a new study was published this week that sheds some light on the “debate” (it really shouldn’t be a debate, but people turn it into one) from Loren Chiu’s lab at the University of Alberta.  The methodology was very similar to a previous study by Swinton, but it looked at some new variables.

Both studies were performed on fairly well-trained lifters.  Chiu’s study included both men and women, and the men squatted about 1.65x their body weight (146kg squat at 90kg), while the women squatted about 1.25x their body weight (84kg squat at 66.5kg).  Swinton’s study was performed on competitive male powerlifters who squatted about 220kg at a bodyweight of about 100kg on average.

Both studies compared two different types of squats:  Chiu compared squats with and without restrictions in forward knee travel using the same stance width in each condition, and Swinton compared “traditional” squats (close to moderate stance squats, sitting down with a lot of forward knee travel) to “powerlifting-style” squats (no artificial restrictions on forward knee travel, but sitting back with a wide stance to purposefully reduce forward knee travel).  Swinton’s study also included box squats, but that’s another topic for another day.

Restricted vs. unrestricted squats in Chiu's study.
Unrestricted vs. Restricted Squats in Chiu’s Study.
Sitting down vs. back Swinton
Traditional vs. Powerlifting Squats in Swinton’s Study.

Both of them had the lifters work up to 70% 1rm loads, using the same load for both squat variations.  In Chiu’s study, it was 70% of the unrestricted squat’s 1rm, and for Swinton’s study, it was 70% of the powerlifting-style squat’s 1rm.  Both Chiu and Swinton looked at joint moments, and Swinton looked at other kinetic variables like force output and power, while Chiu also measured muscle activation via EMG.

There’s a lot of data presented in both studies, so rather than bog you down with all of it, I’m only going to present the most relevant measures, primarily for the concentric part of the lift.  I’m assuming, after all, that people are concerned about how they squat down because of how it potentially impacts how they’d squat the weight back up.

For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to refer to the restricted group in Chiu’s study and the “powerlifting-style” group in Swinton’s study as the “sitting back” groups, and the unrestricted group in Chiu’s study and the “traditional” group in Swinton’s study as the “sitting down” groups

Joint and Segment Angles

In both studies, the sitting down groups achieved greater knee flexion, greater ankle dorsiflexion, and had more forward knee travel.

Only Swinton’s study measured forward lean of the torso, and found that maximum forward lean was actually similar in both groups.

Both studies measured maximal hip flexion, and Swinton’s found greater hip flexion in the sitting back group, while Chiu’s found greater hip flexion in the sitting down group.  This was probably due to differences in stance width (the group that sat back in Swinton’s study squatted with a wider stance, whereas stance width was the same for sitting down vs. sitting back in Chiu’s study).  In the real world, since most people who sit back into the squat do squat with a wider stance, Swinton’s finding (greater hip flexion at the bottom of the squat when sitting back) is probably more applicable.

Joint Moments

In Swinton’s study, peak lumbar extension moment was about 15% higher for the sitting down group, and peak hip extension moment was about 10% higher for the sitting back group.  There were a few other differences, but not in joints or planes that are likely to limit squatting performance.  It’s also worth pointing out that peak knee extension moment was essentially the same (no significant or practical differences) for both techniques.

Joint Moments Swinton
Sitting down on the left, and sitting back on the right.

Chiu’s study gives us a slightly more thorough breakdown of moments at the knee and hip.

When comparing knee and hip extensor moments at corresponding squat depths, there doesn’t seem to be a meaningful difference in knee extensor demands during the concentric where the depths overlap, though there is for the eccentric (meaning their knees tracked farther forward when sitting down, but shifted back a bit as they started coming out of the hole).  Hip extensor demands were quite a bit higher for the sitting back group through the range of motion where the depths overlapped.

Moments at different squat depths Chiu
Knee and Hip Extensor Moments at Varying Squat Depths

Peak knee and hip extensor moments tell a somewhat different story, however.  Knee and hip extensor demands peaked at the bottom of the squat for both groups.  The sitting down group (without restricted knee travel) was able to squat a lot deeper than the sitting back group.  So, when comparing knee and hip extensor demands at full depth with each technique, knee extensor demands were roughly twice as high for the sitting down group, while hip extensor demands were pretty similar (not statistically or practically different).

Peak knee and hip extensor demands Chiu
Knee and hip extensor demands at the bottom of the squat.

Performance-Related Variables

Only Swinton’s study looked at performance-related variables like force, velocity, power, and rate of force development.

There were no significant differences in any of those variables.

Performance Variables Swinton
Sitting down on the left, and sitting back on the right. No significant differences.

I’m sure someone will ask since it certainly looks like there may be differences in peak power (favoring sitting down) or rate of force development (favoring sitting back), but I checked the statistics and neither of the differences were particularly close to significance.

Muscle Activation

Only Chiu’s study looked at muscle activation.

There weren’t any meaningful differences in muscle activation.  A couple show up during the eccentric, and the biceps femoris (a hamstrings muscle) had slightly higher activation right around parallel – 119-105 degrees of knee flexion – during the concentric for the sitting down group (not the sitting back group, as you may expect).

In these images, full depth is in the middle, the eccentric is on the left side of the graph, and the concentric is on the right side of the graph.

Chui EMG
Muscle activation with and without restricted forward knee travel (sitting down vs. back).

One other interesting thing from this data worth pointing out: Biceps femoris activity was considerably higher at full depth for the sitting down group (149-135 degrees of knee flexion) than it was for the sitting back group (119-105 degrees of knee flexion).

So no (in response to a common position), you probably don’t need to purposefully sit back further or limit your depth for the sake of hamstrings activation in the squat.  The sitting back group in this study cut their squats right around parallel, and sat way back so their knees couldn’t go past their toes, but had lower hamstrings activation at the bottom of their squats, and similar hamstrings activation to the sitting down group the whole way up during the concentric.

However, to reiterate, the differences in muscle activation are quite small and probably unimportant.

Final Thoughts

The biggest difference between the two techniques is simply displacement: how deep you can get.  When you sit back and restrict forward knee travel (either consciously as in Swinton’s study, or artificially as in Chiu’s study), you can’t get as deep.  You’ll probably be able to go through just as long of a range of motion for your hips (perhaps longer) when sitting back, especially with a wider stance, but range of motion at the knee will be compromised, along with total range of motion for the lift.

There may be some small differences in peak demands at each joint, or demands at each joint through a given range of motion, but those differences don’t really show up when looking at muscle activation.  If you understand how biarticular muscles (like the hamstrings and rectus femoris) can distribute forces between the knee and hip in the squat, that shouldn’t be overly surprising.

The one thing that surprised me slightly were the higher peak lumbar extension demands when sitting down in Swinton’s study.  I do think that differences in spinal extension demands help explain a lot of the difference in 1rm strength when comparing front squats, high bar squats, and low bar squats, but my hunch has always been that the difference would primarily show up when looking at thoracic erector demands, not lumbar.  I think bar position was the same between both conditions in Swinton’s study (but that wasn’t explicitly stated), though.  However, differences in stance width could help explain the differences in lumbar extension demands.  With a wider stance, your femurs are “shorter” front to back, so if your hips kick back with both a narrow and a wide stance, they can kick back more (meaning higher lumbar extension demands) with a closer stance.  I wouldn’t assume that 70%1rm loads would be heavy enough to make that happen, however.  At the end of the day, I think that difference is substantive and important, but I’m not entirely sure what to do with it.

Ultimately, when asking the question, “is it better to sit down or to sit back in the squat,” I think the right answer is, “it depends.”

Powerlifters are probably better off sitting back, especially when training for a competition.  There are no obvious mechanical disadvantages, and it lets you limit your range of motion so you can hit depth and bottom out in the squat, benefitting from your stretch reflex without having to squat unnecessarily deep.

Weightlifters are probably better off sitting down.  They get deeper, and the positions better mimic the recovery of the clean and snatch.

General trainees just trying to get stronger or more jacked are fine doing whichever feels more comfortable for them.  My general recommendation would probably be to sit down to take advantage of the longer range of motion, but if you feel better sitting back, I doubt you’re really missing out on a meaningful amount of extra muscle or strength.

Want to learn more about squatting?  If so, check out How to Squat:  The Definitive Guide.

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41 thoughts on “Sitting Back vs. Down in the Squat: Much Ado About Very Little”

  1. Great read Greg. Thanks. I am into powerlifting but unfortunately feel uncomfortable sitting back (and have issues hitting depth by 2-3cm), so I’m stuck sitting straight down hitting way below depth with the longer range of motion (which limits how much I can lift). Woe is me!

  2. Heya!

    Some questions:

    Back angle: The back angle on the photos is visibly more acute with less knee travel – biomechanically it has to in order to keep the weight over midfoot. The results show less knee travel, less knee and ankle flexion – there simply must be more forward lean else he falls on his back! I cant understand how the data couldnt show this (possible explanation: different depth, see below)? In the same vein: Both subjects on the photo have the same bar position (high bar). If you do want to have markedly different squat styles its probably better to allow them to switch their bar positioning between high bar and low bar bc you can only so much alter your movement with one bar position without moving the bar out of over midfoot. You can see that in Chiu´s participant on the right that the bar already travels to the front of the foot bc high bar doesnt allow him to sit back that much artificially (and bend forward-down in compensation). Granted that further complicates calculations introducing a new variable.
    And by allowing them to use different stance widths – I hope they used different models then for calculating the torques and forces, . arent you thus practically comparing apples to oranges in your calculations “sit back” vs “sit down”?

    Lumbar extension force differences also caught me with surprise – because the general opinion is that low bar squats tax your lumbar spine more. In the Chiu photo on the left it shows a slight butt wink in the hole position – maybe thats where lumbar extension force came into play, because the participants didnt have enough flexibility to squat that deep without lumbar spine rounding and thus more extension demands to prevent this? Btw, strange to see an “experienced lifter” squatting in running shoes, always subtracts – maybe unjustified – some points on the ability scale 🙂 .

    Second surprise is the hamstring activity in the deepest position for the sit back: Again, general opinion is that in this position, the hamstrings reach passive insufficiency – thats why the glutes have to work harder with hip extension. For example, lots of lifters report about greater glute involvement in the front squat allegedly due to this.

    Your thoughts?

    1. “The results show less knee travel, less knee and ankle flexion – there simply must be more forward lean else he falls on his back!”

      One thing worth noting was that it reported maximal forward lean. What you’re seeing in the picture is likely not the maximal forward lean for both sitting down groups (which would probably occur at or just above parallel).

      “If you do want to have markedly different squat styles its probably better to allow them to switch their bar positioning between high bar and low bar bc you can only so much alter your movement with one bar position without moving the bar out of over midfoot. You can see that in Chiu´s participant on the right that the bar already travels to the front of the foot bc high bar doesnt allow him to sit back that much artificially (and bend forward-down in compensation). Granted that further complicates calculations introducing a new variable.”

      I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. There’s no reason the bar would need to be over mid-foot. If it DID stay over mid foot, that would likely cause the sitting back groups to lose their balance and fall backward. Center of pressure needs to stay over mid foot, but body mass is factored into that as well. The farther someone sits back, the further their body’s center of mass shifts back, so the farther forward the bar will need to go to compensate to keep center of pressure over mid foot.

      “And by allowing them to use different stance widths – I hope they used different models then for calculating the torques and forces, . arent you thus practically comparing apples to oranges in your calculations “sit back” vs “sit down”?”

      Nope. Same model, and still apples to apples. Both of them used three dimensional quasi-static analysis, which accounts for changes in stance width just fine.

      “Lumbar extension force differences also caught me with surprise – because the general opinion is that low bar squats tax your lumbar spine more.”

      I’m working on a way to model that, and I’m really not sure that it’s true. I’m not sure that’s an overly important distinction, though, especially if you DL more than you squat (because lumbar extension moment would obviously be higher for a DL with a heavier load). I don’t think that would be a limiting factor.

      “Second surprise is the hamstring activity in the deepest position for the sit back: Again, general opinion is that in this position, the hamstrings reach passive insufficiency – thats why the glutes have to work harder with hip extension.”

      I’m not sure passive insufficiency is in play here, because since they’re knee flexion along with the hip flexion, the change in length of the hamstrings isn’t that large regardless (around 10% of resting length at most; passive insufficiency doesn’t start coming into play until 15-20% iirc). Another thing to keep in mind is that a muscle’s maximal EMG varies with muscle length. i.e. at a given length, you may have a low EMG amplitude relative to MVIC, but it still may be near maximal EMG for that muscle length given the joint angle you measured it at.

      1. Thx for the answers!

        Only a few points left.

        Bar over midfoot: Hmm, thats interesting. Ive always believed Rippetoe´s mantra that the body mass in front of and behind the bar – at least in a low bar squat – is almost equal and if there are differences they dont matter much anyway bc in heavy squats barbell weight > body weight, so the barbell represents much of the system COM. In fact, in video coaching they tell ppl to keep the bar directly over midfoot. Would be interesting to have a series of weight/powerlifters´ squats and look for that point.

        Lumbar extension: Puzzling thing is that Bret Contreras talked about squats having more lumbar erectors activation (as per EMG) than deadlifts, but DL having more thoracic erectors activation than squats! As for high bar vs low bar: At the same depth, back angle should be more acute in low bar than in high bar, however high bar has a longer moment arm to the hip – maybe that evens out. You probably have a more sophisticated calculation than that, though 🙂 .

        1. This site actually does a really good job of showing you how far forward you should expect the bar to travel with a given load and bodyweight, if you want to play around with it: By around 3x bodyweight, the bar essentially approximates the COM of the system, but especially with lighter loads (<2x bodyweight), you should expect the bar to move forward quite a bit to keep COM over mid foot.

          Do you remember what data Bret was drawing from? I'd be interested in checking that out.

          1. Thx for the link. As I habitually squat well beyond 3xBW, that was the reason bar over midfoot is all right for me. JK 😛 Wow, that was a real eye-opener for me and I guess I gotta look into my squat again. 🙂 Now also the “weight over back of the foot” in the Low-Barians makes more sense: its the automatic result of not allowing the bar travelling much forward beyond midfoot.

            Bret mentioned that lumbar vs thoracic spine finding a couple of times, not in a dedicated article though, more in passing discussing related topics on his site or FB. So I dont know about the data, but it wasnt a misunderstanding. I guess youre better connected to the glute guy than me and Id be interested in his data as well.

            Thx Greg (and btw sorry for my English as a non-native speaker)

  3. Great article –

    What I wondered was, there are obvious differences in general hip/femur anatomy throughout different population groups.

    So, just from the pictures, I notice in the restricted squat position, that the hips were forced into a posterior tilt, due to bone to bone contact between the femur and the hip, causing a flexion/extension cycle in the lumbar region. I’d imagine, especially under high load, that this is something best avoided?

    I have noticed through experience, those of a genetic disposition of the far east, can generally squat seriously low, narrow stance, without any posterior pelvic tilt, on the other hand, those of us in the west. Generally we need to widen our stances in order to allow for better travel and minimise posterior pelvic tilt, due to our hip anatomy being markedly different.

    What are your thoughts on this?

    1. Definitely agree. I don’t think one technique or the other is better in any general sense, but one or the other will almost certainly be better on a person by person basis.

  4. Is it possible that the training history of the participants could have affected the results? For instance, I know I can generate more force and power sitting back just because I haven’t trained sitting down very much–I’ve developed the neurological pathways for sitting back much more.

    1. That’s certainly possible, but I think it’s unlikely. If anything, in the Swinton study you’d expect sitting back to be meaningfully better since all the participants were powerlifters and (presumably) generally squatted sitting back. Conversely, this wasn’t said directly in the article, but I know Chiu is a weightlifter and a lot of the studies in his lab are done on weightlifters, so you’d expect sitting down to be meaningfully different/better than sitting back. Neither of those things came out.

  5. Unrelated question: Do hamstring curls have carryover to deadlifts if one’s hamstrings are weak? Doing assistance lifts like RDLs isn’t an option in my programming due to recovery limitations, but I’d like to add something. Is it true that they are worthless due to knee flexion being a different neural pattern than hip extension of is that broscience?

    1. I have absolutely zero evidence to support this, but I personally think they’re helpful. Sure, they don’t directly translate to a bigger deadlift on their own, but if you’re still deadlifting and your hamstrings are bigger, I can’t see how your DL wouldn’t be higher.

  6. Couple questions;

    Add Knee wraps to this scenario. I am new to the sitting back technique and have found reaching depth in knee wraps difficult. Thoughts?

    From previous articles on squats and hamstring involvement I would surmise then that even if you are reaching back your hamstrings are not going to be the prime movers. So the idea of sitting back and “loading” the hamstrings is incorrect? It’s a matter of glutes and quads? Squatting down or squatting back doesn’t change that?

    1. Wraps certainly complicate things. What works best for me in wraps is breaking at the hips first, but then trying to push my knees forward into the wraps. If I just sit back the whole time with the wraps resisting knee flexion, I’ve noticed the same thing – hard to hit depth, and then the wraps extend my knees too early and put me in a horrible position driving out of the hole.

      “So the idea of sitting back and “loading” the hamstrings is incorrect? It’s a matter of glutes and quads? Squatting down or squatting back doesn’t change that?”

      That’s certainly how it seems. Let me know if you’d like full text for this, but if you look at Hawkins and Hull’s data on changes in muscle length at different joint angles, it makes sense. People think that sitting back is going to stretch their hamstrings more to get them more actively involved in the lift. However, you’re looking at differences in joint angles of about 5-10 degrees. When you run the numbers though the model, the total difference in hamstrings length in the hole is around 3%, which is negligible.

  7. Great Article Greg! I just noticed that sitting back allows the stretch in the glutes more, as they seem more tense with the forceful back motion, compared to sitting down which my low back might start to come in during the squat up, and also seems to feel less around the glute area. Any advice on trying to have more glute activation? I believe your article mentioned unrestricted allows more depth and ROM.

    1. Derrick Blanton

      Donald, Greg, the band around the knees technique is great. As are cues to spread the floor, etc.

      Here’s another tactile cueing strategy that can be done on your lightweight warm up ramp, which can be done standalone, or in conjunction with the band RNT stuff.

      Barefoot squat with small plates (2.5# are great for this) underneath the outside of the lateral heel. In other words position the plates to the outside, splitting the heel in half vertically.

      Perform your normal squat, while consciously focusing your attention on smashing the plates as hard as you can, all the way through the squat; eccentric, reversal and concentric.

      Groove it, then lose the bands and the plates, put on some shoes, and your CNS should better “remember” how to fire the glutes.

      Another way is to superset your warm ups with single leg hip thrust holds, or donkey kick exercises, holding contractions hard, and then moving immediately into the squat. Worth a try, a lot of different things can work here.

      Greg, you’re killing it lately, btw. Thanks for you work.

  8. What about other cues than either “sitting down” or “sitting back”. Personally I have been taught to squat in a official weightlifting facility in Belarus. They cued neither back nor down. They said to focus on keeping the torso angle the same (slightly inclined) and think about bringing your knees to your delts or slightly outside them (sort of, it’s hard to describe rather than show) and focus on pushing the floor away and behind you as you rise from the hole. They said it doesn’t make the squat look significantly different, but the cue sets a better motor pathway for weightlifting and even more jumping. It is also supposedly better for glute activation and bar speed at less maximal weights. Now I know I might have explained that poorly but they had some bug squats and incredibly impressive verticals and broads.
    Also I have been introduced to this cue during my brief training period in China. They focused even more on keeping the torso the same throughout the whole lift and cued pushing the floor away and behind whilst pressing your upper back into the bar, sort of like “pushing away the ceiling”.
    Just my two cents on the topic of cueing. Don’t know how and if it even applies to powerlifting.

    1. huh. I’ll need to put some thought into this. I’ve heard “push the floor away” but never to also push it behind you. That seems like it would make people shift their weight forward to their toes, but I think it may also help people get their hip through coming out of the hole. I’ll definitely give it a shot!

      1. That Long Winded Guy

        Great post, Danish Dynamite! I like your cues!

        Greg, you called it. “Push the floor behind you” = Nuckols cue to “get the hips under the bar” at the sticking point. Bringing the hips forwards is akin to pushing the floor backwards. (“Pulling the floor backwards” might be a better way to describe it).

        Could also be cued as a “standing hip thrust”; it’s a glute driven maneuver.

        This can also be observed in many an OLY lifter when their legs twitch valgus out of the hole, (floor away), and then bow wide at the sticking point (floor behind you, hips under bar, hip thrust).

        All the same process of maximizing leverages at every point in the lift.

        Also, “bring the knees to the delts” = “pull yourself down into the hole” = engage the psoas, It’s an active negative, stay tight mindset.

        Danish Dynamite, if you have a blog or Facebook, or something, I would love, LOVE to hear about your training in China. Because those guys do know SQUAT. (American wordplay.:)

        1. Danish Dynamite

          Hi, I never thought to blog about that or anything.
          Figured that either:
          a) noone would care to read.
          b) there is already enough content online on that topic since plenty of people been there and cared to blog their experience.
          From what I found, though, there are a lot of subtle differences in experiences with Chinese Weightlifiting, depending on the coach and region. But I guess it’s probably the same in most countries. As my coach said, there are no two coaches that think nor two lifters that lift .
          the same.
          If you would like to ask my something about that, I’d be happy to answer, but admittedly my experience with weightlifting in China or Russia was much shorter than in Belarus or Poland.

          1. That Long Winded Guy

            Hopefully, Greg doesn’t mind a little discussion on his comment board, but since you offered, I would ask about a few things..

            A few years ago, there was an American physio that became very popular very fast, and made a lot of waves with some very sweeping and aggressive “knees out” type cues. Being America, this was all peppered with jargon and buzzspeak, and marketed as product.

            From what I was able to pick up, the Chinese mindset at the time was more along a “knees in’, or more accurately, a “knees not out’, approach. This to better use the quads to power out of the hole. American PL Dan Green also did a video echoing some of these thoughts.

            Sort of related, Dan was one of the first that I remember who started calling into question the sit back, relatively vertical tibia squat, which was drilled heavily in America, esp. amongst the geared PL crew. Dan realized this following a trip to Russia, and saw the enormous quads of many Russian lifters. And he started doing FSQs and other quad dominant work, to great result.

            Finally, how did the Chinese cue the shoulder when the bar went overhead on the snatch?

            Thoughts on any of the above is appreciated, Danish Dynamite! And thank you Greg, for taking lifting science to the next level!

        2. Danish Dynamite

          Well, from what I heard and saw over there, they didn’t cue either knees in or out. Some angled the toes slightly out, some didn’t, but all tried to track the knees straight along the feet. Focus was always on keeping the torso angle the same. Now for some athletes, at some point in their careers it became hard to stand up from the squat without bringing the knees in. As long as torso angle was the same and rhythym was fine they allowed that. However, I remember my coach saying that he didn’t think it was optimal. It allowed some to push their squat numbers up, yet that didn’t transfer all that well to classic lifts. He said it meant that the lifters back and glutes are overpowering his quads, which isn’t best for weightlifting as quads are priority number one. He mentioned for example Lu Xiaojun, who’s a rare example of that. His increasing squat didn’t transfer all that well. If you watch him squat here: you will notice he brings his femurs in to have a stronger drive from the glutes. The more forward the femurs are, the more powerful the hip extension and less demand on knee extension. He is often brought up as an example of Chinese teaching that, which isn’t true. Some coaches allow it., but only with very close squatting stances. The preferred approach is the way Liao Hui or Chen Lijun squat / stand up from their cleans, which is pushing the knees forward, but keeping them out over the feet:
 – Chen
 – Liao
          A fantastic example of chinese squatting is Tian, although he too brings his knees in a little at really heavy weights. Though I suppose they don’t care much if he can keep form at 270×6:

          Generally, they advise to keep the torso stable, rhythym the same and load the quads on your way down. They believe quads primary role is to break the descent and absorb the load, what happens next though is where their opinions differ somewhat.

          They didn’t cue shoulders much either, some focus on rotating the shoulders so that your elbows face somewhat behind you. They said it allows one to bring the bar further back and load it more on the traps and erectors, which is supposedly better for stability and long-term shoulder health. Personally I think it is more stable, but I the found excessive rotation a bit hard on the elbows (forces them to lock somewhat harder) and that it makes completing a jerk slightly slower. Liao Hui really exxagerates that technique:

          Sorry for the wall of text :p

          1. That Long Winded Guy

            Please don’t apologize! That wall of text was amazing, and highly informative, ha ha.. 🙂

            The last squat by Tian is instructive. I think it’s a perfect, if perhaps, unintentional use of leverages I have seen this discussed many a time as to whether this slight inner movement of the knees is a hip extension advantage, or a quad advantage though.

            (Greg, maybe a future topic for an article? )

            The elbows pointing behind you on overhead lifts/trap engagement, (Liao Hui)? That appears to be an “elbow flare”, internal rotation with active upper trap contraction.

            Which interestingly is directly contradictory to certain schools of thought which cue pointing the elbows forwards.

            I find opposing schools of thought as to technique, both apparently working for different populations, extremely fascinating. And this is why I try to always keep an open mind as to different approaches.

            Thanks, DD.!

          2. That Long Winded Guy

            Just watched that Tian video a few more times.

            It’s got to be adductors as hip extensors, yeah? Not quad, or glute advantage, but adductors.

            Adductors! (I don’t know!)

        3. Danish Dynamite

          Well, I ain’t sure. I never bothered to learn which muscle does exactly what and neither did the Chinese. They either got their own words for it, mistranslate or just have an idea of where you should feel the movement, but they ain’t exactly sure which muscle it really is. For example, whenever they cue sth with “lats” they more often than not mean something else, usually thoracic erectors, traps or rhomboids

          As for Tian, he only slightly does that knees in motion. As I said, the preferred approach is the way Liao/Chen squat.
          If you are going to use that technique I highly recommend going to China or to one of their Weightlifting Seminars they keep having around EU/US. I say that, because odds are, you probably won’t do it correctly / as intended. Also this tech is really meant more for closer stances / toes more forward.

      2. Danish Dynamite

        Well, I might have mistranslated that a bit so maybe some of what I said needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Both the Belarussians and the Chinese stressed the utmost importance of keeping the weight centered (mid-foot). They said that if you feel that the weight shifts along the foot, either towards the heel or the toes it means that you’re probably:
        a) dive-bombing, not loading the quads properly
        b) not keeping the torso tense and torso angle the same
        c) using too much weight than u can handle, obviously
        They emphasized proper unracking and finding your center before descending. Some cues for that were “grabbing” the floor with your feet and raising your scapula. Now the latter one didn’t mean shrugging or raising the shoulders, it meant raising the ribcage up but not tilting excessively back (like in the cue “chest up”). U should feel the tension in your thoracic spine, sort of like the whole weight of the bar is suspended on it, and then centering that point/weight over the mid-foot.
        That’s all I remember and unfortunately I ain’t fluent in Belarussian, Russian or Chinese so it’s probably impossible to convey what they meant by that.

        P.S. I have also come across you mentioning thoracic strength as the limiting factor in the squat and that is exactly what they thought as well. They said that a weightlifter should devote a lot of time and effort to strengthening that, cause even though in ideal conditions a lifter should be strong enought to keep torso rigid and just be unable to straighten the legs, that almost never happens. They said quads just get strong too damn fast and the lifter has to compromise. I remember even hearing that a lot of the elite-level Belarussian and Russian lifters where forbidden from increasing their squats further, so as not to mess up their positioning in the classic lifts. Unfortunately I never had a coach tell me to just stop piling plates on the bar cause my squat is too damn big ;p

  9. Thank you for this article! I’m starting strength training again after some time off, and I was so confused because a famous website exercise database now has the cue “refraining from moving the hips back,” but I thought I remembered the cue being to sit back. I also heard for years “don’t let your knee go past your toe” (because you’ll hurt your knee if it does), and I have a (mostly healed) knee overuse injury, so I was scared to let my knees go forward as I would have to, to “sit down” per the ‘new’ cue, rather than “sitting back”. But I guess going past the toe (remaining aligned over the toe, not caving inward!) is not necessarily going to kill my knee either. Haha I just wanted to quickly refresh my memory on good form and it turned into a “whaaaat???” situation but now you have me ready to go again.

  10. Hi Greg: You said,
    “For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to refer to the restricted group in Chiu’s study and the “powerlifting-style” group in Swinton’s study as the “sitting back” groups, and the unrestricted group in Chiu’s study and the “traditional” group in Swinton’s study as the “sitting down” groups.”

    Was that a minor error? To me the figures look like the “unrestricted” looks like the “powerlifting” group, while the “restricted” matches the the “traditional” figures. Or, are the figure legends switched.

    1. Oh, yeah. I see why you thought that. For the pictures from the Chiu study, I figured it would be obvious which technique was restricted and which was unrestricted, but the order of the terms in the caption didn’t match the order of the pictures. I’ve edited the caption.

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