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I've been doing Crossfit full-time (5-6 days/week) for a year now, and I have a really, stubbornly weak squat. It's so weak that it's always my limiting factor on compound movements like thrusters, cleans & jerks (not my upper body). I have very long limbs in general and especially long femurs, but it would surprise me if that's the only problem.

My stats and 1RMs

Body weight: 135 lb
Sex: Female
Back squat: 103 lb
Front squat: 93 lb
Deadlift: 183 lb
Squat snatch: 68 lb (the limiting factor is the squat)
Power clean: 103 lb (better than my squat clean because no squat)
Strict press: 68 lb
Strict pullups: 5

Here are some hypotheses I have considered and ultimately dismissed (but correct me if I should reconsider):

Hypothesis #1: I should do Starting Strength.

Counter-evidence: I did SS assiduously(*) for 9 months before starting Crossfit. It worked moderately well for most of my lifts except my squat, which plateaued extremely fast. Now that I'm doing Crossfit, my other lifts are again improving, while my squat rarely budges.

Hypothesis #2: I should eat more.

Counter-evidence: I eat around 2400 calories/day with a lot of protein, and my squat is the only lift that's so stubborn, so I assume this isn't the problem.

Hypothesis #3: I have a mobility problem.

Counter-evidence: If anything, the coaches at my gym comment that my mobility is unusually good. I can sit in an ass-to-grass squat with my knees touching my chest and my butt touching the ground, for example.

Hypothesis #4: I have a squatting form problem.

Counter-evidence: I'm lucky that my Crossfit gym has a strong emphasis on lifting technique, and the coaches think my squat form is reasonable. Their main comment is that I have a hard time keeping my torso upright (especially in back squats, but also front squats). I've tried to work on this, but it seems partly like a necessarily evil given the extreme length of my femurs compared to my upper body.

So what should I do to suck less at squatting? Are there diagnostics I can use to figure out what the problem is?

(*) Pun intended. Not going to lie.

  • 1
    Please add a video of you squatting, shot from the side. – Gunge Jan 9 '17 at 8:42
  • These form check guidelines are a good summary of how to get the best help from video. – Dave Liepmann Jan 9 '17 at 10:05
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    I appreciate your "SS assiduously" pun. ;-) – Christian Conti-Vock Jan 9 '17 at 16:53
  • I strongly recommend you to watch this video How to Squat and apply those techniques on your training. – wdika Jan 17 '17 at 7:31
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    Appreciate the comments re: uploading a video. I'm a bit wary of uploading videos to a public forum, but I've been specifically asking multiple experienced weightlifters to look at my form in person (hence also the slow response here). They all have the same comment about my torso folding forward too much. – half-pass Feb 12 '17 at 13:27
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I have a hybrid hypothesis: your squat form is wrong and has been wrong for close to two years, you're not working on fixing it, and you're spending your recovery budget on WODs and other lifts. Conversely, your squat--like anyone's--will get better if you do it right and focus on it.

Here's the part where I say that we can't really know anything without seeing a form check. It's impossible to know what's wrong with your squat without seeing you squat. It's impossible to know what went wrong with your prior lifting experience without reading your hopefully detailed lifting-and-eating log. These facts should be self-evident.

So why do I suspect the problem is just bad form? Because ~100 pounds is right where otherwise relatively athletic women your size often see trouble in the squat. It's where the lift stops being a challenge that can be overcome by blindly pushing a little harder. The good-morning'd squat stops working. It's when you have to actually lift the weight correctly or it will not work.

You say your mobility is great because you have a deep squat, but how upright is your chest while you do that? Mobility for the squat is not limited to what you describe. Is your back properly arched in its natural curve at the bottom, or do you have to hunch forward? In your loaded squats, maybe you're losing tightness with an extreme butt wink in the bottom, or you're unable to maintain an upright torso. You even hint that this is the problem, but try to get off the hook on grounds of anthropometric idiosyncrasy. I have long femurs too--the solution was more of a focus on impeccably upright front squats and chest-upped high-bar back squats. Weird dimensions often mean one benefits from unusual focus in another area, like ankle mobility, hip flexor flexibility, or mid-back strength.

Regardless of what the problem is, I bet that front or high-bar back squats before each CrossFit workout would solve the problem. Doing 3 to 5 heavy sets of 5 at least twice a week and 70-80% of that on the other days would probably suffice.

  • The man speaks truth. +1 – JohnP Jan 8 '17 at 19:30
  • My answer would pretty much be the same as this. I'm 6' 6", with long legs and used to struggle with squats a lot, until I decided to squat every day (in the gym with weights as well as outside the gym). Consequently, my squat form improved dramatically and more importantly for me, my confidence at the bottom of the squat (or the catch position in the Olympic lifts) got a lot better – Dark Hippo Jan 9 '17 at 9:03
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    @G_H It stops working when it stops working. I've noticed that guys roughly my size (5'10'', 170-180) encounter it circa 220lbs, maybe 250-260 if they really push. It's different for everybody but doing it wrong stops working with heavier weight. For you, if your hips rise faster than your shoulders, that's bad, and your deadlift doesn't excuse your posterior chain. For me a similar hips-first problem was fixed by a stronger back—low, mid, and upper—achieved with heavy front squats and insisting on "chest up" for a rep to count during high-bar back squats. – Dave Liepmann Jan 10 '17 at 16:35
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    @G_H Switching to high-bar squats can help, as well as programming in front squats for 5x8-10 at a lower weight. I personally found my good morning occurring near my max and if my weight shifted towards the front of my feet. Filming yourself does help, use your warm-up to do slow squats with careful form to train your balance. – Gunge Jan 17 '17 at 7:59
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    Sorry for the slow acceptance of this answer, but thanks -- very helpful, and I'm going to give this a serious try. – half-pass Feb 12 '17 at 13:24
-1

Having done Crossfit myself, there wasn't nearly enough back squat work to get good at back squatting. Perhaps your body requires more volume that SS can't give you. Once your form is locked in, I would try a squat specific program like Smolov.

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    Depends on the box. My gym does lifting cycles where they focus on improving specific lifts be using %1RM-style programming. With weightlifting classes I hit back squat 3 times a week and have managed to increase my 1RM from 120k to 130k. – Gunge Jan 17 '17 at 7:55
  • @JJosaur True but at your box is squatting the focus of the WOD or is a precursor to the metcon for the day? At the three boxes I have been to it was the latter. If the OP really wants to improve the squat, she needs to squat...alot. – salisboss Jan 17 '17 at 10:29
  • @salisboss Programming strength exercises before WODs is one of the best versions of CrossFit. It's the opposite—only squatting in the WOD—that I expect to help little. – Dave Liepmann Jan 17 '17 at 10:40
  • @DaveLiepmann We are starting to have a Crossfit debate but I would agree that squatting in the WOD would have little help on a 1RM squat (IME back squats don't show up in the WOD all that much if at all, more front squats). Plus the rep ranges in a WOD do not lend themselves to maximal strength. – salisboss Jan 17 '17 at 11:52

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