SS 265 – How To Fix Imbalances In Your Back Squat

Episode 265 Show Notes


Grant and Heavey talk about how to fix imbalances in your back squat. Today, they will help you determine what it looks like if you’re leg-dominant or back-dominant in your squat and some accessory movements to improve imbalances.

Interested in having a coach? See if Heavey is a great fit for you (and your squat).

[02:00] The Problem with Having an Imbalanced Back Squat

Whether leg-dominant or back-dominant, this often holds people’s numbers back. Conventional wisdom says to squat more. Of course you have to work hard to be able to squat more. Some indiscriminately hammer away at posterior chain exercises as the secret to unlocking more squat strength.

Both things can be right under certain circumstances. However, people don’t have a way of diagnosing if those approaches would be beneficial to them. Otherwise, having muscle imbalances can set you up for injury. Plus, this can lead to poor or improper movement patterns. 

[05:45] Why Back Squat Is Fundamental

The squat is fundamental in most exercise programs because it involves using all of your muscles – quads, glutes, abs, hamstrings, hips, back, and a few other muscles.

This is an excellent exercise particularly when you’re pressed for time because you can hit a huge cross-section of the muscles of the body by squatting. As opposed to doing more isolated movements where you have to do a lot of exercises to cover all of those muscles.

That being said, it makes the movement highly susceptible to an imbalance that can hinder proper movement.

[07:15] Dissecting Muscle Progression Within the Squat

Leg-dominant and back dominant are the two most common imbalances within a squat. Just to give a better understanding of how to diagnose them, let’s take a look at the muscle progression within the squat.

As you lower into the squat, the quads start to take over.  And the hole on the squat is primarily quads and glutes.

If your quads are weaker than your glutes or your hamstrings or vice versa, it will manifest in different ways. 

[08:40] The Leg-Dominant Squatters

For leg-dominant squatters, they’re going to come out of the hole pretty quickly. They get typically hit a sticking point about halfway up or even a bit higher. Their knees are going to shift back at this point and can fail a lift because their body is transitioning weight into their back.

The problems tend to become more apparent as you go heavier. The weaknesses don’t really manifest when we’re doing an empty barbell. To better diagnose yourself, take a video of you working up to a heavy single. For instance, as you’re working up to that heavy one rep in your last few steps, you will see the most exaggerated version of this happening.

[10:24] The Back-Dominant Squatters

For back-dominant squatters, they fail straight away in the hole. They get pinned down in the bottom of the squat. What can happen alternatively, is they get the lift done but it ends up looking like a glorified Good Morning. They get up and have to transition their weight into the back, completely hinged over, and grinding out with their back as they come out.

The body knows where it can push things because when you have a heavy load on your back, your body does whatever it can to help lift the weight This means shifting your body into the position it feels strongest to lift the weight.

[11:30] What Causes the Imbalance

There can be a lot of factors responsible for the imbalance. For one, it could be the training program or the sports they played growing up. 

Maybe they were used to playing a hamstring-dominant sport so their quads are much weaker. Or maybe their backside is tight and they are not able to push those lifts as much as those that work their quads. 

The main thing is to start understanding that you are in that position. Recognize your balance and the pattern that you match. Then you’d know how to start developing a program that would allow you to course-correct.

[12:30] Which is the Most Common?

Based on the people he has seen, Heavey thinks the back-dominant squat is the more common. It’s actually unconventional because most people tell you to hammer on your hamstrings to make your squat go up. But from what he has seen, people tend to have a more back-dominant squat.

[13:00] How to Correct the Imbalance

Here are a handful of accessory movements to put into your program that will help you isolate your muscles to help correct the imbalance.

Back-dominant lifters, need to focus on accessory work that isolates their quads. Leg-dominant lifters need to focus on the backside with an emphasis on the lower back. 

Examples of exercises for leg-dominant squatters include back raises, RDL (Romanian deadlift), and Good Mornings.

[14:00] When Doing Your Deadlifts

Heavey says it’s important not to let your ego get in the way. Many lifters try to do more weight than they actually can. They have tight hamstrings and their knees end up bending a lot more than they’re supposed to. Ultimately, their quads end up doing more work than they should. 

Ideally, you push your hips back and keep your shins mostly straight and soft knees. If you’re not able to maintain that, back off on the weight until you can. 

[15:20] The Importance of Back Raises

Back raises focus the effort on the lower back. This is the movement you can do on one of those 45-degree angle machines. You’re facing 45 degrees off the ground. You hinge at the hips and come back up. Load that with a dumbbell or hold a plate against the chest.

Keep a neutral spine throughout the movement and make sure not to hyperextend at the top when you come back up.

[16:40] Easy on the Deadlifts Though

Some people would advise more deadlifting but the problem is with that imbalance, you might end up positioning your body in a way where you’re leveraging your quads more than you should be.

[17:10] For Back-Dominant Squatters

One exercise you can do is the leg press. But the best lift that’s quad-focused is the belt squat. There are machines that do this now but the usual way people do it is using a dip belt. You load the weight around your waist with the belt and stand on two boxes. As you squat down, the weight goes between those two boxes. 

This movement allows you to squat with the weight around your waist instead of weight around your back to allow for a more upright torso. This is also amazing for people with back injuries because you’re not loading the spine. 

The last movement is the hack squat. This looks like your deadlifting with a barbell behind you. This is to focus the weight on your front side. 

[19:53] How Much and How Often?

The frequency basically depends on where you are in the training cycle. If it’s a regular Joe looking to get fit, none of that matters. If you’re squatting one or two days a week, simply add in these movements after your squat sessions.

If you’re a lifter who’s more serious and competitive, you’re going to want to structure it differently. If you’re going through your atrophy phase in your program or outside of the competition phase, focus on your back squat and hack squat because you’re doing more volume. It’s hard to do a heavy one rep with a belt squat. The movement is not conducive to that. If you’re in a phase where you’re ramping things up for competition, just stick with a leg press where you can go heavy with it. 

Basically, it depends on what training phase you’re in or what access you have to different equipment. If you’re a regular guy looking to increase your squat, do your regular squat session and include a couple of these movements after it at higher reps. Try to do this for 4-8 weeks to see if the imbalances and the exaggerated movement pattern have improved. 

[24:00] Shoot the Shit: Celebrating Christmas Traditions

So far, Grant and Heavey have covered five regions, namely: Islay, Highlands, Islands, Speyside, Campbeltown. Their next feature is the Lowland. The two popular distilleries are the Auchentoshan and the Glenkinchie. 

Meanwhile, Grant and Heavey reminisce on some Christmas traditions including building sleepovers, gingerbread houses, Heavey dressing up as Santa for the kids and other fun memories centered around these traditions.


Interested in having a coach? See if Heavey and his team at Evidence Based Athlete are a great fit for you.

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