Ask Greg: Issue 124
Greg Everett

Dillon Asks: A few questions for you… I was reading the superhero complex article and got to thinking about some past questions that no one was able to answer for me. First is related to the loss of lumbar curve in the back squat. With depth back squats I lose the arch but with front squats I can maintain a tight, upright back with a good natural arch. I would think it is mobility related but can't seem to find any specific stretches or exercises to help with this. Any tips and is this common?

Also as far as Oly shoes go, I have a pair of DoWins with a 1/2inch heel. As i am 6'1” with moderate to low flexibility in the ankles, is a larger heel more common? Would going a bit higher with it be helpful or should I be looking more towards flexibility?

Thanks for your time and the wealth of knowledge you give to those of us out here looking to better ourselves.

Greg Says: Let’s tackle the shoes first. At 6’1”, you probably have pretty big feet, meaning that the angle of your foot at a give heel height will be less than someone with a smaller foot, so to get a similar angle to a smaller person, you would need a higher heel. Try sliding ¼” mat or something under your heels and squatting and doing some pulls and see if it feels any better.

Regarding the ability to maintain your back arch in the front squat and not the back squat, I can tell you that it’s not entirely uncommon, particularly among taller lifters. Think of the hip angle of each squat: In the front squat, your torso is nearing vertical, whereas in the back squat, it’s inclined forward more. This is true based solely on the bar placement, even for very flexible athletes (i.e. if the bar is in front, the torso has to be behind it and therefore more upright; if the bar is behind, the torso has to be in front of it and therefore inclined forward more). This difference can be more or less significant among individuals. In any case, this means that the hip has to close more in the back squat than in the front squat, consequently demanding more range of motion in the hips—if that range isn’t there, the difference will be made up by the lower back, hence the rounding.

Ankle and hip mobility improvements both will help—in the former case, this would help by allowing the knees to move farther forward, opening the hip angle; in the latter, it would increase the hip range of motion, allowing the legs to move into the necessary position while the pelvis maintains the same relationship with the lumbar spine.

David Asks:
Hello Greg! Glad to see that you indeed have not died, as I have not heard your sarcastic voice on a certain podcast in 5 months, but anyways... I'm writing you because my squat is pathetic, like really pathetic. I'm 32 y/o male, 5'8" on a tall day, 165 lbs, maybe 12% body fat. With about 3 weeks of minor preparation, I can deadlift 445 x 2. However, my best back squat ever is 265 x 3. Right now if I could do 235 x 3, I'd be shocked. Squatting is so ungodly uncomfortable for me. I have large traps however my spineous processes at C6-T1 stick out quite far and it is a miracle if I can get comfortable under the bar without sharp pain, a towel or neck pad reduces pain from a 9 out of 10, to a 5 out of 10. With some well-timed Slayer, I can ignore it, but in the hole, my body crumbles. Is this a flexibility issue? I can pretty much raise my ass up and "good-morning" the weight up, but somehow I think that’s a terrible idea. My hands cannot get within 6 inches of my shoulders on the bar, I do have some significant butt wink, but ankle flexibility is good thanks to Gymnastic Bodies. What can I do to start seeing some improvements?

Greg Says: At least temporarily, you can use a safety squat bar—this will put more of the pressure on your traps instead of behind your neck, plus it will pad whatever pressure is behind your neck. Then you can at least squat regularly and build some strength while you’re figuring out what exactly is going on. You can also try placing the bar a bit lower, although I suspect you’ve probably tried this already.

The other approach, which you can use instead of the safety squat bar, or in addition to it, is to front squat. Based on your good morning comment and your much greater deadlift than squat, it’s a good bet you need some more quad strength anyway. Front squats will focus on that and eliminate the neck pain as a convenient bonus. If your ankles are mobile and your hips not quite as mobile, it’s likely you’ll be able to get into a better bottom position in the front squat than in the back squat anyway.

Keep the weights as light as necessary to perform your squats without leaning forward—force yourself to maintain your upright posture. Do a lot of volume—this will help the strength, but primarily it will train the skill that will later transfer over to all your squatting. Do sets of 3-6 reps, and up to 10 sets. Again, this doesn’t have to be tough weight—and shouldn’t be so tough that you lose your position—but make it a bit challenging.

During this time, work on hip flexibility and practice back squats with just the empty bar to work on the position.

Jake Asks:
I am 25 years old and have been weightlifting for about 9 months now and have a very serious issue that I need help with. When I snatch, I bruise the bat piss out of my pelvis! The only way I find I can avoid doing this is by not finishing as hard as I would like to, and obviously you cant break your PRs if you don't finish harder than your previous PR. My best snatch is 93kg. I started weightlifting after coaching and being a crosfitter for a couple years. I switched to weightlifting after realizing how little attention to detail and perfection crossfit had, and also was told by other coaches when I brought up technique "who cares, just go hard." I'm dead serious when I say I was told that... WOW...

I have always tried to master everything I put my time and effort into and I am absolutely infatuated with weightlifting and did my first comp about a month and a half ago making 6 for 6 and taking 3rd overall in my class. (shankle was there too which was surprising and epic!) Anyways, I am an aspiring strength and conditioning coach (not an aspiring crossfit coach) and really could use some advice on how to fix this bruised pelvis issue. Currently I snatch using a calf compression sleeve right on my pelvis to lessen the impact a little and it helps but I don’t know if other people really use this or if it is even legal in the sport of weightlifting. I am really hoping you can help me out. If you can, you wouldn’t only be helping me, but my brother and a friend of mine. We are our own coaches because there are no coaches here in Hawaii that are knowledgeable, especially not here on the big island. And the ones I have met that claim to be coaches are idiots. Anyways your help would be much appreciated. I have several of your books and read tons of your articles and listen to you and Robb Wolf on the paleo solution, but the pelvic bruising issue never comes up. If you could help that would be incredible and would make a huge impact on my life because as of right now, being in college (KES major), lifting is what I’m doing and want to make it a lifestyle/career/hobby.

Greg Says
: There are three basic elements in the bat piss pelvis bruising issue. First is the location where the bar contacts your body. If it hurts that badly, it’s probably contacting your pubic bone, which is going to hurt no matter what else you do. The bar should ideally contact you just above the pubic bone—when standing tall with the bar at arms’ length in your snatch grip, if it’s hitting your pubic bone, widen your grip a tiny bit to get it slightly higher.

The second part of the issue is what the bar is doing prior to the contact with your hips. The more space between the bar and your body prior to this contact, the more it’s going to hurt. The closer you keep the bar to your body on its way up, the less it will hurt, even with the same aggressiveness of hip extension. If you’re struggling with this, segment snatch deadlifts and halting snatch deadlifts can help, as well as slow pull snatches, and snatch pull + snatch.

The final element is adequate leg drive in the pull—that is, continuing to drive aggressively against the floor for the entirety of your hip extension. This will help control the bar and your hips in a way that will minimize the collision between the two and maximize the bar’s upward travel. Dip snatches are a good exercise to work on this, as is the snatch pull + snatch complex.

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