THE LOWLY AIR SQUAT
“I get no respect” isn’t just a popular quote from the late, great Rodney Dangerfield, but, I’d imagine, if the air squat could talk, it too would announce something eerily similar. I see air squats performed in the gym every day, and, for whatever reason, most people seem satisfied with merely achieving full depth. Never mind that proper depth is often accompanied by rounded backs and narrow knees. I’ve been called the “Squat Nazi” at the gym and, honestly, I don’t mind. The air squat isn’t like a pull-up or a sit-up. Both of those movements aren’t nearly as demanding in terms of technique. The air squat requires extra, special care, and, for the reasons you’ll read below, everyone can benefit greatly from channeling their own inner “squat Nazi”.
In my experience, the air squat never seems to get the respect it deserves. That’s a shame because if there is one movement in all of CrossFit I’d recommend people spend the most time on, it would have to be the air squat. Its practicality and contribution to elite athleticism is virtually unrivaled. It also happens to be a component piece of the weighted squats (back squat, front squat, overhead squat, etc), witch, themselves, are also important pieces of the Clean and the Snatch. You will not perform any of the weighted movements at full potential if your air squat form remains sketchy. Because of its inclusion in a myriad of more complex movements, and its presence in every day life, perfecting the air squat should be a top priority for elite athletes and motivated health seekers alike.
While this isn’t always the most popular way of thinking amongst super eager CrossFitters, it is certainly the most necessary. I know, I know, but you see other people in the gym back squatting/snatching ridiculous amounts of weight and you want to as well. Short answer? Don’t be that person. If you stop to think for just a second why it is they are able to move tremendous amounts of weight, you’ll quickly come to the realization that their air squat isn’t too shabby. It also probably took them a while to make it that way.
Every day we squat. We squat when we sit and stand from the couch, from a chair, and, yes, even from the toilet seat. We were born to squat! The above picture displays a perfectly executed air squat by a toddler. Yes, I said it, a toddler. If he can squat properly, shouldn’t you be able to as well? The truth, whether you remember it or not, is that you used to be able to. Life in an advanced, industrial society though, is such that not an awful lot of walking, standing, and squatting is super necessary. We have cars and trains that keep us from walking as much as possible. We have comfortable chairs and couches that encourage poor posture while sitting. As far as mobility goes, society has set us up to fail. We no longer know how to use our hips and knees properly. Diligently working on your air squat technique is the answer. Regain proper hip and knee function so that your body works the way it was intended. Be more like the toddler.
If you can’t sit/walk/run properly now, imagine life at 60/70+ years old. It probably won’t be very independent. A lack of proper hip and knee function means the use of canes/walkers, family supervision, and even the inability to reach down, pick up, and hold grandchildren. It may just be me, but that doesn’t sound like a very happy, productive life.
All basic athletic movement is derived from the hips. The ability to generate high power output via the hips contributes to proficient running, jumping, throwing, and punching. If you are having a difficult time getting high enough on the kipping pull-up, or picking up more weight on the clean/snatch, both of which require violent hip extension, the answer might be as simple as fixing your air squat. Get the hips and knees moving properly via the air squat, and watch your power output soar through the roof.
You can’t perform a proper squat without basic hip, ankle, and torso control. Diligently working on your squat will improve mobility and flexibility in each of these essential joints. It is important that your joints operate properly for basic health and fitness. Proper mobility will reduce the risk of injury in these areas and keep you independent well into your older years. Yes, you can use the other mobility practices we’ve shown you to improve these areas, but simply practicing the air squat slowly, making sure proper technique is adhered to, will do wonders for your mobility/flexibility.
Back squat. Front Squat. Overhead Squat. Thruster. Wall ball. Clean. Snatch. What do all of those movements have in common? That’s right, a squat. If you can’t air squat properly, you can forget about performing these movements at heavy loads. You’ll still progress in the gym, given proper nutrition and consistency, but it won’t be any where near your potential if air squat technique is lacking. It’s very similar to setting PRs while on a paleo-zone diet. Sure, you don’t need a great diet to set 10-30sec personal records, but if you’re looking for 1-2min PRs on a regular basis, nutrition must be dialed in. The same can be said about improving the air squat. A proper, efficient air squat will make everything seem a lot easier.
Outside of the gym:
Walk, jog, run, instead of drive, when you can. Stand and work, rather than sit, when you can. Mobilize, utilizing all of the techniques we’ve shown you, as often as possible.
Inside of the gym:
Take your time on your air squats during the warm-up. It is the one movement I’d recommend everyone slow down on. Emphasize quality over quantity.
Be like the toddler! Take advantage of this moment. It will probably be the only time I will ask any of you to act like children again.