The Squat and the Hamstring

By Mark Rippetoe

In Powerlifting, Videos

August 20, 2009

Video Article

Assisted by a mini-skeleton he calls Mr. Thrifty who “has seen better days” Mark Rippetoe discusses the importance of the squat and the hamstring. This footage is taken from a Basic Barbell Certification Seminar held on February 14, 2009 at CrossFit Brand X in Ramona, CA.

Proper squats accomplish the exercise objective of moving more muscle over a greater range of motion, allowing athletes to lift more weight and get stronger. Hip drive engages the posterior chain. Correct stance and bar placement are essential. In the low bar back squat, the back angle is much more horizontal than in the front squat. The only way to do a front squat is with an almost vertical back.

The hamstring crosses two joints and serves two functions: knee flexion and hip extension. If the hamstring is already in a short position at the bottom of a squat, it cannot be a major contributor to further hip extension. But a more horizontal back and opening the knee will further stretch out the hamstring. The distance over which the hamstring can contract will be increased, provided squat requirements are met. The lumbar spine must stay in extension and the pelvis must stay locked with the lumbar spine.

15min 40sec

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21 Comments on “The Squat and the Hamstring”


Tom Seryak wrote …

Wow mr. thrifty is really struggling. What happened to his left arm below the elbow? On a serious note, I love the detail and explanation behind "why" that actually makes sense.


wrote …

Question...if a more upright torso puts LESS tension on the hamstring during a back squat, then why do the videos of Dave Tate coaching the box squat show him explaining the he wants Rachel's torso more upright to engage the hamstrings more? What is the difference b/w quad dominance from leaning too far over and a good horizontal back squat position. Especially if according to Rip the more horizontal the torso is the tighter the hamstrings are?


Tate style uses a box allowing more hamstring engagement without having to keep the bar over the midfoot. If you removed the box in the box squat, you would fall over. Two different exercises really.


wrote …

you know Tom, that made sense to me, I had the same question as Jay


wrote …

I like, don't love, but like crossfit... with that said many of the angles of the knee are wrong.... Why would you allow that much ankle flexion on squats? It causes too much pressure on the patella...Plus it forces you to push from the toe which is incorrect... The force should drive up the leg from the mid foot.... This is why C.S.C.S. trainers should be checking biomechanics.


wrote …

The part at the end, the final culmination about hamstring shortening and the relative angles of the hip & knee, created a pretty keen sense of awareness about what I've been doing wrong in my own workouts. The squats are the movements for which I have the weakest form. Looking forward to implementing this knowledge.


wrote …

As usual, Coach Rip supports his concepts with clear and logical examples. Thanks for the explanation, Coach. I foresee attending a barbell seminar in the near future.


replied to comment from Bret Brovick

I don't know enough about anatomy to fully answer this but I would suggest reading Starting Strength by Rippetoe as that fully explains the reasoning and theory on why a Low Bar Back Squat (as rip advocates) is the safest and most anatomically natural way to squat.

"Plus it forces you to push from the toe which is incorrect"

I can respond to this. I low bar back squat as Rip advocates and have taken his certification and I can assure you that I (as well as anyone else who squats correctly) do not push from my toes. But instead push from a balanced position with the bar over my midfoot.

Perhaps someone else more anatomically minded could respond with your other views.


replied to comment from Bret Brovick

I agree with Philip: spend the money and take the time to read Starting Strength. At the very least, research Mr. Rippetoe's experience and background.

Using CSCS as your gold standard when arguing a lifting point with Mark Rippetoe is like telling an ER doctor of 30 years experience he's doing it all wrong while using your CPR/First-Aid manual as your gold standard reference.

His approach is protective of the knee: tensioning the hamstrings not only assists hip extension, it balances the shear forces at the knee.

I'm really not sure where you get the extreme ankle flexion from (I'm sure you mean dorsiflexion). It is not mentioned in the video and is not a necessary, or advocated, consequence of a low-bar approach to the squat. In fact, it does not happen if the low-bar lift is executed correctly. If you are dialed in with your stance, bar position, and mechanics as he describes, then the knee will, at most, move slightly past the toe. If the knee were to travel significantly past the toe then you have effectively slackened the hamstring and are negating precisely what the low-bar squat is aiming to do.


wrote …

As I understand it, Rip was in the 1st class certified with the CSCS certification. From every bit of guidance and education I've gotten from his videos and from my coworkers who have attended his cert, all his technical cues are firmly backed up with science and proper biomechanics.
hope this helps you out


replied to comment from Bret Brovick

I am a CSCS and I see no problem with the biomechanics that Rip teaches. He does an excellent job of teaching and backs it up with a wealth of experience.

What other knee angles are wrong? As said before, I see nothing wrong with Rip's teaching...if I'm missing something, please let me know.


wrote …

I will tell you this... Yes dorsiflexion... but watch agian the angles that he gives... You should teach the squat with no dorsiflexion at all... 3in behind the toes and if the client is not able to do that then he/she should not squat with weight... I love the banter though... Don't be bobbleheads for crossfit. There are many things we can challenge and a lot we can agree with. The goal for maximal increases on large mm groups is 4 min rest intervals... Yes this can be achieved with super sets, but to get force production back you need to rest... This is off topic... My backround is biology and physics.... Don't try to tell me that Rip is right... Just saying that the angles for teaching purposes have to be maticulous...


wrote …

Past the toe is unacceptable... Do it with body weight and feel the pressure of the patellar tendon!


wrote …

Man, I hope there is more where this came from!


replied to comment from Bret Brovick

I want to ask you something, how long have you been squatting? What's your best squat and at what bodyweight? As for me, I've been squatting for 32 years and my best squat has been 585 at a bodyweight of 178 lbs, and the was unequipped (no squat suit ) in competition. There is nothing wrong with anything that Mark Rippetoe has said. I only ask this and tell you what I've done because you you say your background is biology and physics but you don't mention your experience under the bar. As I trainer and powerlifting coach I come across people way too often claiming tons of book knowledge but with very little practical experience. Your incorrect belief that bringing the knee past the toe is somehow stressful on the patellar tendon is spewed about by to many people who have never done olympic weightlifting!


replied to comment from Danny Aguirre Danny Aguirre

okay boys and girls.... one more time... check out the front squat... If you have knees behind the fricken toes you can take 22% of the force off of the knees and add 1040% on the hip... its angles... its physics.... the mass dose not change and the force will go somewhere... where does it go? You cant dispute that it goes somewhere... You can talk all the crap you want... I really could care less about your bw or squat records... My sets are 25reps with 225... so maybe 450 and i weigh 195... doesnt matter.. where a weight belt to take pressure off the hip, knees back and do it.. I understand people have a hard time doing it... rep it with bw and watch your ballance improve...


wrote …

P.S. i love the banter....


replied to comment from Bret Brovick

Can you please submit a diagram showing how it is physically possible to do a front squat (which necessitates an upright torso) with the knee not coming forward of the toe? Maybe if you turned your feet out 90 degrees or something. There is no pressure on the pateller tendon if the load (bodyweight or not) is centered on the heel/midfoot. I've did Rippetoe style squats for most of last year and not once did I have any knee issues (squatting 3x a week heavy), I've also done lots of front squats and high bar olympic style squats and never felt pressure in my knees as long as the load is in the right place.


wrote …

Improper mechanics, under load, over time, all tissues fail.
-Kelly Starrett

I've got patellar tendonosis right now, I can't front squat, I can't do anything where my knee tracks over my toe. All I can do is box squat and keep the shin totally vertical, it's the only way to get the pressure off the patellar tendon. 6 months ago I would have told Bret he was nuts. But with the frustration I'm currently experiencing everything he says is valid.

I thought my knees were bulletproof before this happenned.


replied to comment from jake buchanan

Sorry to hear that, but if it were the case that any squat where the knees go forward of the toes is bound to cause issues like tendonosis, then every single weightlifter ever would not be able to compete in the sport for more than a year or two given the loads/volumes they squat in that those styles.


wrote …

Yeah, I think my case was too much load too fast, getting greedy.

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