Desert Barbell Strength Coach and Personal Trainer, Olga, talks us through her top three exercises to improve squat technique.

Before we study the exercises, we should first start by understanding the common failures in the squat and the cause of these failures. We will then look at the exercises that can address these issues and help you progress your squat.


The first issue we look at is the lack of stability in your hips. The most telling sign that you have a lack of stability in the hips will show as:

  • Knee valgus, otherwise known as knee caving, when the knees shoot in towards each other especially on the way back up, even under lighter loads. While this is generally not dangerous under certain conditions, and under certain acceptable parameters, it can lead to injuries over time. Additionally, it also means there is diminishing efficiency in the movement the movement and that will slow and even prevent progress long term.
  • Rolling ankles, which will show as side-to-side movement of the feet. While this can be taken as a mobility issue, and in some cases, it may be just that, this is after driven from a lack of stability the hips.
  • Move feet back and forwards. A sometimes slightly more subtle issue, but an issue not the less, is forward and backward movements of the feet during the squat, showing a general lack of stability. 

The second common failure is poor bracing in the squat. Bracing is taught in so many ways and is important as is connects two ends of the system so if it is not done right this will cause a lot of problems. Poor bracing for the squat will present itself as:

  • Butt-wink, or posterior pelvic tilt, which will be rounding of the lower back at the bottom of the squat.
  • Arching of the lower back, or anterior pelvic tilt. This shows that the brace has not been set properly at the start and will also cause issues in hitting depth in the squat.

The third most common failure in the squat is shoulder instability and thoracic spine mobility. The main driver of this is the inability, or awareness, of setting and maintaining the upper back brace before and during the squat. This will present itself as:

  • Rounding of the back during the squat. It will feel as though the barbell is trying to bend you over and the lifter often ends up with the chest facing the floor. While you may here the cue ‘chest up’ this often does not directly address the issue and will cause you to flare the chest and loose the brace. This will also lead to the collapsing of the torso.



Now that we understand the common failures in the squat, we will now look at three exercises you can incorporate in your gym routine or program to help address these issues. We always maintain that if you really do struggle with some of the above issues that it is worth consulting with a specialized strength coach will be the best starting point.

Exercise 1: Pause squat

Pause squats are one of the best variations to assist your squat. The length of the pause is typically 2-4 seconds and done in the bottom of your squat. Focus on setting and maintaining your brace from the start and in the bottom of the squat. Think about twisting your quads away at the start and keep that position throughout. Manage the loads – don’t go to heavy. The focus here is on the brace and hips. Those who found it hard getting out of the bottom position of the squat or experience the most form break down trying to come back up will benefit the most by adding pause squat to their workout program.

Exercise 2: Pin squat

If hitting depth is an issue, then pin squats are a must movement to improve your squat. This movement will really help to build stability in your hips, so you get that explosive feeling. It will also guide and train you to get the depth you want and hit that depth consistently. Really concentrate on your upper back bracing throughout.

Exercise 3: Tempo squat

This is a great variation for those who is really struggle with general technique. The idea is to slow down the movement so that you can focus on and dial in each stage of the squat.  The tempo refers to the speed at which you move and when we refer to a tempo squat, we usually refer to a slow movement down, a pause in the bottom and then normal speed back up. Normal tempo squats will be done with a count of 3-2-1or 5-2-1 meaning count to 3 going down, 2 count in the bottom, regular speed back up, or 5 count down for the latter.

Here is a simple protocol that you can use to incorporate these movements into your workout.

For pause squat:

  • 1 X 1 @ RPE 7
  • 3 X 5 @ 75% of 1 rep max

For pin squat:

  • 1x4 @ RPE 7
  • 3x4 @ 10% load drop from top set 

For tempo squat

  • 1 X 3 @ RPE 7
  • 3 X 5 @ 75% of estimated 1 rep max
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