“Keep your weight in your heels!”
Man, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a trainer tell me that, I’d never have to work another day in my life. The cardinal sin in weightlifting, especially for the Almighty Squat, is using a forward leaning stance that puts your weight in your toes. Don’t believe me? Try it. Do a bunch of back squats or air squats with your weight in your toes, wait 24 to 48 hours, and then call me and tell me how your quads feel. And front squats? Forget it. You try to do front squats with your weight in your toes and you’ll either drop the weight or fall over. (Trust me. I learned this one the hard way.)
The reason trainers tell you to keep your weight in your heels is because it WORKS. You can’t lift properly, and you can’t increase the weight you can lift properly if your weight is in your toes. Note, when I am talking about lifting, I am not talking about the BS five pound pink vinyl-covered dumbbells that the suburban trophy wives at the Lifetime Fitness lift before they call it a day and go get their nails done . I am talking about barbells and plates and those dadgum spring clip thingies that can be such a pain in the ass. Furthermore, unless you started lifting when you were practically a toddler, keeping your weight in your heels doesn’t feel natural. It especially doesn’t feel natural if you spent your formative years in dance class, where keeping weight in your toes is part of the job description.
It took me over a *year* before squatting with my weight in my heels felt natural – no lie. I am pretty sure my trainer wanted to murder me with his bare hands more than a few times during this period because I Just.Didn’t.Get.It. During this time, I went through multiple cycles of working on air squats until he was satisfied with my form, then starting to add weight with back squats or occasionally front squats and doing somewhat OK, then screwing up so bad he made me go back to air squats. For a chick who likes to lift heavy things, being busted back to air squats is Not Fun. It’s discouraging and a little humiliating.
Fast forward to this summer. I started training at the CrossFit box, and I started really working hard on sitting in those freakin’ heels. I worked air squats, back squats, front squats, overhead squats, and I’m pretty sure somewhere along the line some people invented about twelve more kinds of squats but I sure can’t remember what they are. I spent a bunch of May and June busted back to air squats or working various lift techniques with PVC pipe.
And then one day, I felt like I finally got it. I was doing overhead squats, which are simultaneously a pain in the ass AND quickly becoming one of my favorite exercises. My overhead squat had always been my most tragic – my upper body is really weak compared to my lower body, the notion of an active shoulder was barely part of my vocabulary let alone my muscle memory, and every rep was a struggle. But one day, I finally connected with the overhead squat and really felt what it meant to be in my heels – and it was like angels began singing. I swear, if someone would have only asked me, I could probably have solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict AND cured cancer that day. All seemed right with the world for a few fleeting moments.
And then, I tried my front squat with a little more weight than I’d been doing, which isn’t saying much given the aforementioned quality time I’ve been spending with PVC pipe. It was a failure – and that day it wasn’t because I didn’t understand about putting my weight in my heels. It was because I *couldn’t*.
See, I was wearing the wrong shoes. I was wearing running shoes, which are brilliant for running, walking, going to the grocery store, and heading to the movies when you’re too lazy to dress up. They are even passable for a lot of non-running physical activities. The front squat, sadly, is not one among them. Most people would never think of running shoes as having a heel to them, but if you really take a good look at a lot of them, the heel is substantially higher than the toe – which makes it pretty hard to put your weight in your heels when squatting, especially when you are holding 45 pounds or so in front of you.
One of the great things about being a financially responsible grown-up is the ability to buy things you want. I want to be able to get better at fitness in general and lifting in particular, so I decided to buy some groovy new Reebok Nanos. All the cool kids are (caving in to the hype and) buying them because they are light, flat, trendy, and you can get them in colors so bright that Stevie Wonder can see them at midnight in a blackout. I went with the custom-designed option, because if I’m going to fall victim to a trend, I’m going all in. Also, I’m channeling my inner six year old girl, who would have LOVED the opportunity to design my own turquoise sneakers online, if Al Gore had invented the Internet yet when I was six years old.
They came in the mail today, and they are bee-yoo-tee-ful.
I don’t get my weight in my heels all the time when I lift. I’m sure there are people who cringe when they some of my feebler attempts. I also don’t believe my shiny new shoes are the be all and end all for improving my lifts. But by gum, I’m gonna try them out and if the flatter shoe helps, then I will be one happy camper.