Moving well or moving weight is a balance point of every strength trainee in the world. That balance starts in our warm-up, continues through our work sets, and is part of cooling down, as well. Today, I’m going to share with you a movement exercise that can serve you in all three capacities, whether you’re preparing for a training session, a set, or to slow things back down at the end.
Let’s talk Squat.
Squatting is some important shit. Most of the developed world considers the bottom of a squat an entirely active position, but it simply ain’t so. There are nuances to the bottom of your squat, with degrees of movement and levels of tension. When there’s a bar on your back, stay stiff. We should agree on that.
When it comes to fluid movement though, we can use the bottom position of the squat as a base for other movement. This allows our body to take an expectedly stationary position, challenge it with expected instability, and develop and reinforce quality movement through that moment towards the future. How ’bout them apples?
Let’s think about “quality movement” for a moment. I’m not talking about an FMS or movement assessment. I’m talking about our innate ability as humans to think, “That looks good” or “That doesn’t look good.” We all have it.
Enter the Cook Squat with Reach.
The Cook Squat with Reach can be considered a hip mobility or stability drill while emphasizing thoracic mobility and shoulder flexion, abduction, and/or external rotation.
Start with the hips. If the bottom position of a squat is comfortable for you, then your hip musculature probably gets to hang out in a happy place. We’re not looking for more mobility. However if the bottom of the squat isn’t feeling the best, we’re actively pulling ourselves down there. In either case, we’re not focused on stability: Either reinforcing the range of motion that is already comfortable, or moving on top of the position we just created to make it “stick.”
Consider the cage. Fitness land has been focused on rotation and extension of the thoracic spine for years, and it’s a part of the picture… Just not the whole thing. We want mobility through our T-Spine, but we also want our scapulae, or shoulder blades, to smoothly slide across the ribs that they set on.
While there’s a degree of desirable T-Spine extension in our squat, in the Cook Squat w/ Reach, we’re really focused on making the most of the interaction between our shoulder blades and ribs, our scapulothoracic rhythm. Extension of our T-Spine is good, but if we’re missing appropriate movement of the shoulder blades, we’re missing out on optimizing movement.
If you really want to maximize the movements occurring in your upper back, integrate a breath with your reach. Our ribs drop down as we exhale, and if your hand stays high, the lowering ribs effectively creates a bigger reach. Furthermore, following your hand with your eyes and tongue (inside your mouth) while you reach tells your brain that it’s okay to allow that movement. Oral-facial drivers are a subtle yet significant way to remind your brain that movement is okay. Winning, amiright?!
Let’s hit the check list:
- Pull yourself down into a squat.
- Stare at your hand. Reach until you get stiff or stuck.
- Repeat on the other side.
The number of times you repeat this is solely based on what feels the best for you. I’m not sure you’ll realize many benefits from one reach at a time, or from doing 3 sets of 10 reps per side. If you’re warming up, it may be 4-6x per side. If you’re between sets, it may be 2-3x.
The first reach is your baseline. Every subsequent reach is an exploration in moving more fluidly. Continue, and when one reach feels the same as the other one, move on to the rest of your training session. Let me know how you like to get it done.