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Looking Up or Down in a Squat: Why my athletes fix on a spot on the ground

A common cue I hear from a lot of coaches and trainers is to look up during a squat. 

Some arguments I hear for doing so: 

  • It keeps their chest up
  • Stops them from collapsing
  • Helps them stay vertical
  • Helps keep them in extension

All seem to be related to keeping the torso more upright during the squat but what’s really happening is that by keeping their head up they are cranking their cervical vertebrae into extension. 

However this has two major problems:

  1. It puts a lot of pressure through the neck causing forward head posture
  2. It has a ripple effect down the spine causing the lumbar vertebrae to wind up in excessive extension or hyperextension. 

When training someone to do a correct squat, the goal is to hold a neutral spine alignment and have the movement come from hinging the hips, knees and ankles. This means that at the bottom of the squat torso should be tipped slightly forward and the chest and head would be angled towards the floor. So instead of looking up your gaze should be down in line with your head position.

Some cues to help keep your neck neutral during squat:

  • Pick a spot on the ground a few metres in front of you and fix your eyes to that spot for the duration of the squat
  • Push your chin back into your throat (think of making a double chin)
  • A good physical cue is to place a dowel rod along your spine and ensure you have 3 points of contact; the back of your head, the middle of your shoulder blades and your tail bone. Flatten your back to the rod as much as possible.