Strength Exercise Instruction: Partial Squat

Athlete in the starting position of a partial squat.The partial squat that Wenzel Coaching includes in its lifting routine is intended to strengthen muscles and ligaments and improve flexibility in the lower body —particularly the hamstring, quadriceps and gluteus maximus muscles.

Cyclists tend to have underdeveloped hamstrings and overdeveloped quadriceps. While the squat is not primarily a hamstring exercise, it will help to balance those muscle groups. Squats are a particularly good all-around exercise to help you climb better and be able to push bigger gears.

Body position and activating the lower body are key for a successful partial or full squat. Core stabilization is the basis of everything when lifting. Here are tips and cues to prepare for and successfully complete the lift.

The Partial Squat Set Up

Use a squat rack as opposed to a Smith machine. This will encourage the engagement of your core, strengthen your balance and elicit proper movement patterns. If you’re unfamiliar with the squat rack or haven’t used one for a long time, start with a just a bar or a barbell. Olympic bars weigh 45 pounds.

An athlete demonstrates the partial squat descending position.

With all exercises, engaging your core muscles is key. Tighten or draw in your abdominal muscles. Think of drawing your belly button to your spine.

  1. Position the two bar supports at shoulder height. Place spotter bars at a level just below the intended low point of the lift or ask someone to spot you.
  2. Place the Olympic bar on the supports. If weight is added, add collars to keep the weight in place.
    Position the bar at the base of your neck and above your deltoids.
  3. Get your feet, knees and torso under the bar so that when you stand up, you simply lift the bar off the bar supports. Do not lean forward; rather, keep your spine neutral.
  4.  Step back one or two steps to begin, remembering to keep the spotter bars to your sides in case you need to exit from beneath the bar.
  5. Feet are between hip- and shoulder-distance apart, toes slightly out or facing the wall, depending comfort.
  6. Stand tall, draw your shoulder blades onto your back and imagine them going into your back pockets. Draw your chin to your neck just a few degrees to ensure your head is not tilting backward.

The Partial Squat Lift

  1. Bend knees forward while your hips move back. Keep your back straight and neutral. Do not round your back.

    An athlete demonstrates the lower position of the partial squat.

    Think about sitting back in a chair and pushing your bottom out, while firing your gluteus and hamstring muscles.

  2. Push through the middle and heels of your feet. Don’t get forward onto the balls of your feet.
  3. Use your upper body as a counterbalance. Don’t lean your hips forward; rather keep pushing your bottom back. Push your chest up and out.
  4. Descend until your thighs are about 30-45 degrees above horizontal to the floor. When you feel your gluteus begin to activate, you are deep enough for this exercise.
  5. Ascend until your hips and knees are fully extended but do not lock knees. Re-rack the bar and weight on the bar supports when reps are done.
  6. If you’re at or near the bottom of your lift and you either can’t lift the weight back up or your form is otherwise compromised, simply sit down and allow the bar to rest on the spotter bars.

    An athlete demonstrates the ascent during the partial squat lift

    Don’t hold your breath, especially when bearing down on an exercise. During the lift, exhale a whole breath through pursed lips to keep the core engaged. Exhale when you lift against gravity and inhale with gravity.

An athlete places the bar back in the rack after a partial squat.Talk to you coach if the weight, reps or sets don’t feel right or if you don’t have full range of motion in your muscles or joints. The number of reps and sets are meant to challenge you as you progress with the plan, but never should you feel pain during this lift.
Perfecting the technique for partial or full squats using the squat rack takes time. Keep at it, adjust your form, reread this article for form reminders and talk to your coach or a certified personal trainer at the gym. Do not rely on the person next to you to give you advice unless you’re confident the person is a trained professional.

Rhonda Morin, EMT, USAC Level 3 Coach, Wenzel Coaching Associate Coach, is a Cat 1 cyclocross rider and national bronze medalist for master women. She is currently studying for a certificate in corrective exercise.

Posted in Strength