Most of us have blind spots: areas we do not propriocept well. These blind spots hide in the movements we never do, but also live in the movements we do all the time. Sometimes it pays to take a fresh look at some movements we know well to see if we can discover these blind spots. I have a few exercises that I do for squats and lunges to help me break out of my routines. I find these are extremely useful in targeting imbalances and in strengthening my core. I learned these from Raphael Ruiz and am passing them on to you.
I will start with the squat variations which progressively get more challenging and then show you the lunge variations. I recommend you video yourself doing these and watch them back to see how your body reacts to the uneven loading (just from watching these videos I see some areas that need improvement in my squat), also video your regular squat before and after doing these to see if there is a noticeable change in your squat. Perform the squats slowly enough to feel where you lose balance or integrity and can reclaim it. Roughly a 2 to 4 second descent with a 1 to 2 second pause in the bottom is good to get the most out of these squats.
Off-axis back squat. Take a barbell place it on your back as far to one side as you can manage. Try to stand symmetrically and keep the bar horizontal. Perform 5 back squats trying to remain symmetrical. Shift the bar to the other side and repeat.
The stimulus varies depending on how upright or “mature” your squat is. For a vertical squat, the challenge is to avoid side-bending. What you find is that your obliques work extra hard trying to keep you balanced. For an immature squat, the stimulus is rotational in nature and you will be using your lower back muscles and obliques to counter rotate and keep yourself squared.
Barbell tip drops. Use the same off-axis barbell position. Perform a squat and hold the bottom position. Now slowly bend sideways and touch the long end of the barbell to the floor and come back up to neutral before standing. Perform 5 reps on each side.
This variation requires you to surrender your good squat position into a very unstable, off-balance position and then reclaim good position. It will definitely work your core very hard as well as increase your strength and confidence in the bottom of the squat.
Unilateral, Posterior to Anterior Banded Squats. Tie a band to your squat rack and loop the end over one side of your barbell. Walk out until you feel the tension is strong but not pulling you out of alignment. Do a set of 5 squats. Repeat on the other side.
Now instead of gravity’s usual pull down, you are contending with a rotational torque trying to spin you around as you squat. This unusual force will cause many new sensations and cause you to focus on many muscles that you often do not focus on when squatting. Screwing your feet into the ground and driving your knees out becomes the best strategy for stabilizing against this force. Also the pull from back to front will encourage you to lift your chest and cultivate a more upright posture in your squat. I found this to be a great corrective exercise for people that squat unevenly.
You should always be striving to master the basics. Using variations like this to challenge yourself is a great way to build confidence in your mechanics, to uncover imbalances and to correct them. Give these a try and let me know what you think.