Skills and Drills With Coach Rachel: Air Squats

Air Squats. They seem to be a simple movement, but at the same time, the reality is our form in the air squat forms the foundation for so many other movements and lifts in CrossFit–wall balls, box jumps, front, back, and overhead squats, and squat cleans–just to name a few.  It is easy to take the air squat for granted, but if we don’t have a strong, mobile, correct air squat, adding weight or repetition can break us down pretty quickly.  Fortunately, Coach Rachel has some drills we can do to assess and work on our squat form.

Testing Flexibility

Whether you are a new CrossFitter or a Veteran, it is good for you to know the strengths and weaknesses in your squat position so that you can work to correct them.  Many of us have deficiencies we just try to work around or don’t even know are causing us issues.  To test your flexibility in a full range-of-motion squat, set up in a squat stance in front of a rig pole.  Hold on to the poll and let yourself settle into the bottom of the squat–rear end to the floor, chest vertical, eyes straight ahead, and knees out.  The true test of flexibility here is if you can keep your entire foot, especially heels on the ground.  If you can get into this position, then your flexibility is okay.  If you struggle to maintain this position, while holding on to the rig pole, there are some drills you can do to work on this position.

Banded Squat Stretch

One drill Coach Rachel likes to use is a banded squat stretch drill.  Attach a jump stretch band to the rig at hip height and face the rig.  Step into the band with both feet so that the band is resting under your rear end.  Step back away from the rig so that there is some tension on the band.  From here, you will let your weight push back against the band and work down into the bottom of your squat.  Feet should be pointing straight ahead, with knees out and chest up nice and tall.  Go all the way to the bottom of your squat and relax.

In this position, drive your elbows into your knees, holding on to the band.  Drive your knees out into your elbows while keeping your chest tall and your back nice and flat.  No rounded spine in this position.  Maintain this position for about a minute, continuing to press your elbows into your knees and driving the knees out.

Pistol Squat Position

We can work flexibility even more by working a pistol squat position.  While still banded and in the bottom of your squat, you will shift your weight to one leg.  Be sure to continue to maintain good form and keep your heel and toe dug into the ground.  With your weight shifted to one leg, kick the other leg straight out to the side.  Only the heel on the extended foot will be touching the ground.  The knee will be completely straight.  Hold on to the band as you make this shift.  This position allows you to stretch the hip on the base leg while also stretching the groin and inner thigh of the extended leg.  It’s two for one! You will want to stay in this position for 30 seconds to a minute.  After this time, bring the extended leg back to a squat position, shift weight to this leg, and extend the other leg for a stretch on that side.

If these stretches are a struggle at first, do them every day.  If you hit each position for 30 seconds to a minute, you are looking at less than 3 minutes before class to increase your flexibility and strength in a foundational movement!

The Target Squat

Often, flexibility is not the only issue.  Range of motion can also be a struggle.  Many athletes actually don’t realize they are not going to full depth.  Some athletes have never gone to full depth, so their bodies don’t know what it feels like.  Target air squats are a great tool for athletes and coaches to find full depth and train athletes’ bodies to go to full depth through muscle memory.

Choose a Challenging Target

For this drill, choose a target that challenges you.  Whatever your comfortable squat depth is, find something a little shorter.  Many athletes might start squatting to a 20-inch box or a bench.  If we are comfortable lower, it might be a 12-inch box with a plate or two stacked on top.  For most athletes, a wall ball works as a full depth target.  Start with something that is challenging but doable and then work down to a full depth target.  After you find yourself consistently squatting comfortably to a full depth target, you can work on full depth squats without the target.

Maintain Good Form

Set yourself up in a good squat stance just in front of the target.  You want to be able to reach the target when you hinge back and squat down, but you do not want it to be unnatural to make it to the target.  Set up with your toes straight ahead and fee slightly outside hips.  Reach out with your arms in front of you for balance.  As you squat, drive your knees out and keep your chest up.  As soon as you feel the target, stand back up, pushing your feet through the floor. We want to avoid putting weight on the target or using the target as a tool to get out of the bottom of the squat.  The target is there to let us know how deep we are squatting, not to help us get out of the squat. If we have to sit down on the target to get up, it is too low.

Focus on a Vertical Chest

After doing the banded squat stretch described above, try to get in about 10 controlled target air squats.  Once a particular target is easy and comfortable, work down in targets. One particular issue to pay attention to while working this drill is the chest position.  If you cannot maintain a vertical chest all the way through the range of motion of the squat, raise your target height and work there until you can maintain a vertical chest.  Continuing to stretch in the squat position will also help you keep your chest nice and tall.

Whether you are new to CrossFit or have been doing it for years, taking a little time preclass to test, stretch, and drill your air squat position can benefit you in all squatting movements.  Try it out the next time you see squats in Wodify.  To see these drills in action, see Coach Rachel’s video on youtube here.  Happy Squatting!