Updated: Oct 3
The SQUAT is one of the most common staples in a typical strength training regimen. EVERYONE squats. Everyone wants to know how to squat better. Everyone wants to know how to squat lower. Everyone wants to load their squat more. Everyone also wants to "FIX" their squat and squat better. That is where we come in. We are movement experts. We are strength coaches. We work with athletes. And we ALL squat. SO....Let's talk about squats.
A squat is lower body movement pattern where your pelvis primarily moves in a vertical direction. It involves joint actions from almost your entire body including your foot, ankle, knee, hip, pelvis, spine and potentially your upper extremities depending on the variation. Squats are performed in the gym because people want STRONGER quads and BIGGER glutes. But when you think about this from a daily perspective, we squat ALL THE TIME. Squats are very functional.
- We squat when we sit and stand from a chair or toilet
- We squat when we garden
- We squat when we go up and down stairs
- We squat when preparing to jump
- We squat if we trip on something and we are trying to catch ourselves
Squats come in many shapes and forms. For that reason it is important to be strong and resilient with this movement pattern. But the question is...Are you squatting correctly?
As mentioned above, there are A LOT of joints involved with the squat. Our whole body works together like a team to accomplish the task at hand. So if one of those team members are not doing a great job, the productivity starts to fall apart. For the sake of time....we'll go over this from a joint by joint perspective.
JOINT BY JOINT:
- Ankle Joint: The ankle starts in a neutral position at the start and as you descend, goes into dorsiflexion
- Knee Joint: The knee flexes (bends) as you descend and extends (straightens) as you ascend. There are small rotations happening also but we won't get too deep into that.
- Hip Joint: The hip joint rotates and moves away from the midline of the body initially, reverses the action and rotates and pulls towards midline, and re-rotates away from midline at the very bottom of the squat.
- Sacroiliac Joint (SI Joint): The sacrum moves up and backwards initially, reveres the action and moves down and forward, then finishes the bottom of the squat by moving up and backwards again. This is one of the most important aspects of having a good squat and allows for the hip to move through the entire path without limitations. These are relative motions and should not be confused with what most people would call a posterior or anterior pelvic tilt.
- Spine: Maintains a relatively rigid orientation and keeps your center of gravity over the middle of your feet.
When one or more of these actions are not done optimally, compensations start to occur. For example, if we don't have enough dorsiflexion (ankle) mobility, we may compensate by increasing our hip flexion angle and lean more forward to prevent ourselves from falling backward. This can potentially lead to what we call a hip impingement due to running out of space between the pelvis bone and the thigh bone. Other things we see from squatting improperly are low back pain from weak glutes or too much lumbar flexion at the bottom of the squat, mid back pain from inability to get into a full front rack position with a front squat, and knee pain from weak glutes.
What can we do to make sure we squat correctly?
- Work on your Stability - The inability to achieve those joint motions may be due to a lack of strength in general to perform the movement. Your body is very good at compensating and will always find a way to accomplish the task at hand. If your quadriceps aren't strong enough, you will use your glutes. If your glutes are also not strong enough, you may end up using your back. Focusing on stability in your spine and keeping your torso rigid enough to descend through the entire motion without losing control will improve your squat significantly.
- Improve your Mobility - If you don't have access to the range of motion or inability to control the range of motion it can also prevent you from achieving a good squat without causing impingement. Work on gaining mobility in the hips, knees and ankles.
- Focus on Motor Control - squats might be difficult because you were not taught how to perform them properly. This means that you need to practice. Setting yourself up for the best chance of succeeding with the movement is the most important thing to work on when you first start strength training. If your squat looks like a deadlift and deadlift looks like a squat, we have a problem.
- Work on your Set Up Position - Many people have difficulty maintaining their balance when back squatting and feel like they are falling forward as they descend. It doesn't work 100% of the time, but putting a heel wedge/ramp under your feet takes care of this issue majority of the time by allowing more of the weight to be distributed evenly giving your body a sense of a heel reference and stability. Instead of starting to squat with a back squat (typically forces you to lean forward due to the weight position), starting with something like a heel elevated goblet squat might be a better option for similar reasons and using the front loaded position as means to keeping your torso more upright.
If you are struggling with your squat...try these things above. They are simple solutions you can try and incorporate right away. If you have tried these things and you are still struggling we recommend you get assessed by someone that understands these concepts. Each individual is different and we all move different. Getting one on one help will ensure that your squat gets individual attention. If you need out help we got you!
The PTSP Team
Dr. Brown, Dr. Daisuke, Dr. Sandoval, & Kristin