Table of Contents
The Olympic squat is a very different animal from the powerlifting squat, or the glute-heavy squat that many trainers teach.
What's The Difference?
A power squat typically has a wide stance, with the toes pointing out and the bar low on the back, level with the rhomboids. The lifter leans forward at the hips, loading up the glutes, and squats only to parallel or a little lower. By contrast the Oly squat is usually full depth.The torso will be more or less erect with the bar high on the upper traps and the feet hip to shoulder width apart, far closer than the power squat.
The Olympic squat is the way it is because of the shape of the Olympic lifts. The purpose of the powerlifting squat is to shift as much weight as possible in a squat. Most powerlifting federations don;t demand that you go deeper than parallel, so the powerlifting squat is quite high. It's tweaked to give more of a role to the glutes and hamstrings and less to the quads because the glutes are more powerful. And it's a competition lift.
You probably could snatch into a powerlifting squat, but for most lifters it's suboptimal because it's too high. The lower your Olympic squat is the more weight you're shifting with your legs and the lower you have to pull the bar to get under it, so Olympic lifters tend to have rock-bottom squats. A snatch pull or clean involves fast activation of the posterior chain, so you're catching mostly on your quads, partly because of the mechanics of a movement that's designed to allow you to get as deep under the bar as possible as fast as possible and partly because you just used your posterior chain to get the bar off the floor. So the Oly squat is quad dominant. O-lifters are hitting their posterior chains when they clean. As a result, Oly lifters tend to have pretty impressive thighs. Just look at a lifter like Pyrros Dimas step up to the bar: he looks like he's wearing jhodurs, but those are just his legs. The same lifter will be able to shift more weight with the power squat than the Oly squat, at least in theory, but the Oly squat is better for building legs. If you're squatting as a leg exercise, you want the Oly squat, hands down.
The Olympic squat is also the natural squat. When you watch people from third world countries squat to eat or talk, or babies squat, what you're seeing looks way more like the Oly squat than it does like the power squat or the half-and-half 'gym squat' that most reainers teach.
The Oly squat is actually beyond most people's flexibility and most people want to work out, not prepare to work out. If you're a fairly fit person with a year or so of recreational weightlifting behind you, learning to do an O-squat might take you six or eight weeks. But trainers know people normally don't want to learn and a hybrid squat reduces the chance of a trainee getting injured and still gives an acceptable level of training result. So those trainers are making the right choice, but at the same time, if you're willing to go beyond that there is a better way.