Ah, the squat. It’s the holy grail of strength and conditioning. As a coach, I often catch myself thinking that teaching someone to squat is the great physical gift I can give a student.
In CrossFit, however, there are a variety of men and women who walk into your doors wanting to capture some fitness. Some of these folks are doing so for the very first time. Many of these folks have significant limitations when it comes to range of motion, strength and basic coordination.
I’d argue, however, that one of the beauties of functional fitness, especially as it’s delivered in the CrossFit context, is this idea that we can repair systems and grow fitness at the same time. If this wasn’t possible, 90% of the population would need physical therapy and 10,000 hours of Mobility WOD before their very first training session.
This concept in CrossFit that we are dealing with a lifestyle, and that both rehab and performance can be captured simultaneously in many cases, means that you coaches out there are working with a lot of new movers. Since the squat is so critical, I’m not one who believes one needs to have a perfect air squat before one bears a load in the squat. Heck, if that were the case, every affiliate would have between zero and one people who are allowed to have a barbell on their back.
Instead, we can train and improve position together. However, the tricky part comes when someone walks in your door and they’re so inflexible and/or so instable that squatting to depth in a sturdy position isn’t possible. I don’t know about all of your gyms, but mine has numerous students in this boat.
What do you do?
Let them squat poorly through short changed ranges of motion? Do you tell them they’re doing air squats until they get it right? “Hey, today is 5×5 back squat day. But since you’re new, let’s just do air squats instead…” That sounds rough to me.
In my opinion, one super beneficial tool that is very under used in my observation is squatting to a box. Don’t have stability? Squatting to a box does! Can’t train strength through large larges of motion? Squatting to a box can!
Squatting to a box is a laboratory for building ankle, knee, and hip function for beginners. You can augment the height of the box and incrementally wean people off of them, but almost everyone can train strength and stability squatting to a box. And you don’t need to wait until they’ve mobilized themselves out of 20 years of tight hips to teach them practical squatting mechanics.