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Setting up for a Stronger Squat [Tips for a Stronger Unrack]

Derrington Wright is a strength coach at Kabuki Strength and an elite powerlifter in the USAPL/IPF. He may be reached with comments and questions at [email protected]

Staying in the same vein of my last article I’ll be giving you some tips on things you could be doing to make your setup in the squat more efficient.

There is a lack of attention that is paid to how people bring the bar out of the rack. I am no exception to that and I used to be the same way.

My squat form has always been decent, but I’ve never paid a lot of attention to my squat-unrack. Then I came across the quote, “If it starts badly it’s probably going to end worse”. Then it clicked; if my setup is bad my squat is likely going to be bad too (or at least not as strong and efficient as it could be). I knew the importance of breathing, bracing, foot placement etc. during the actual movement, but when it came to unracking the bar, my only thought was to get the bar out of the rack without dying. Hopefully, I can save some of you from making the same mistakes I have.

Below I’m going to note a few things that I don’t think lifters focus enough on when unracking the bar:

1. Making sure the bar is set over mid foot- When people have their feet too far back, their weight tends to shift forward and over their toes. Conversely, when their feet are too far forward their weight tends to shift towards their heels. Both of these things, while seemingly subtle, and may not make you fall on your face when unracking or fall back onto the ground, will lead to unnecessary energy leakage as you are trying to stabilize yourself afterward.

2. Setting your brace before you unrack This is something that’s neglected the most in a setup. While people know they should brace before the squat, they tend to not think about it when unracking the bar; however, bracing before you unrack will make the overall unrack more stable and efficient. More importantly, if you don’t set your brace before unracking, it’ll be almost impossible to do so when already under load.

3. Engage lats. Depressing your lats and scapula, not just retracting – Hearing “engage your lats” isn’t uncommon when it comes to squats, but some people tend to focus more on retraction rather than depression. They bring their shoulders back to squeeze their shoulder blades together, it creates a nice shelf and they think they’re good from there. However, if you only focus on retraction rather than actually depression (bringing your shoulder back AND down) you’ll end up lacking a lot of that proper tension and stability that actually depressing your scapula creates.

4. Using your hips to unrack(and higher rack height) – Often with unracks people tend to waste a lot of energy getting the bar out of the rack. A big part of making this more efficient is making sure your rack height is set high enough so that all you have to do to unrack the bar is slightly thrust your hips forward, but not too high that you end up clipping the rack. If you set the rack height too low, you’re basically doing a partial squat before your actual squat, and why waste the energy? I would test this out with a moderate amount of weight and re-adjust the rack height accordingly.

5. The walkout- This especially is something that we want to make as subtle and efficient as possible. Every little bit that you’re moving or adjusting your feet is just costing you more and more unnecessary energy. The way that I personally like to do it is the 3-step walkout. Which is simply, dominant foot back, other foot back, then adjust if you need to. It can be a 2-step process but I find that I usually have to adjust my right foot a little. As a side note, I also try to keep my knees as locked as possible throughout this process so that I’m not having to lock and unlock my knees a lot when under load until I actually have to do so to squat (wasting more energy).

6. Reinforcing your IAP (Intra-Abdominal pressure) before squatting – So while you should already have and should still be holding the brace from before the unrack, I usually like to take another breath, then reinforce that brace (Squeezing harder) before I initiate my squat. If you’re not efficient at breathing and bracing separately and tend to release your brace upon exhaling this might be an issue, my only tip in that instance is to get better at it.

7. Root – Ever play Jenga? When playing this game, common sense says that if you start by taking the blocks from the bottom, the game will end really quick, as the blocks that they’re supporting at the top will come crashing down. This is the same for your body during a squat. If you’re not keeping your feet properly and actively rooted, it’s going to cause a whole lot of issues upstream. So, making sure to ACTIVELY root your feet beforehand and keep them rooted will play a MAJOR factor in how well you’re able to express your full strength in the squat. And also, it’ll go a long way in helping you avoid many issues that will undoubtedly come with not having a solid base (your feet).

 

Before we get to #8, below is a video demonstration of all of these things put into practice. I want to emphasize that I’m not saying that there’s one set way to set up. This sequence is just one that we here at Kabuki have found to be very easily repeatable. And while we won’t all necessarily set up the same, there are some very fundamental things WE ALL need to have down before we initiate the squat.

 

8. SQUAT! Or don’t…You could also just go take a nap. I personally think push-pull meets should be the standard. However, I have gotten a lot better at squats over time once I started focusing on these tips. They have made me hate squatting less and I hope it will do the same for you. Bye!!!!

 

If you aren’t already a member of the kabuki.ms video library, here is a code to access all of the videos in this post for free. Go here and use code ‘onemonthfree’ for instant access.