Can you perform a deep squat without your knees caving in, spine flexing, and feet pronating? What can you do if you are unable to perform a deep squat with perfect form? How do you get there? This article, the third and final in a series of three, I will guide you in your quest. In the two previous articles, I explained the factors influencing squat mechanics, and the myths surrounding the squat. Now it’s time to learn how to squat properly. However, if you are still unable, I will give you the lower body training on how to get there safely and effectively in the shortest amount of time.
Proper Squat Technique Tips
- Tripod foot connection to the ground – A proper foundation for the “perfect” squat starts with solid footing on the ground. If it’s not solid, your body will seek stability elsewhere, robbing you of the mobility you need to squat low with good form. Your 1st metatarsal (bone just behind big toe), 5th metatarsal (bone just behind little toe), and calcaneus (heel bone) must always remain in contact with the ground. Spread your toes apart (need a shoe with a wide toe box) and grip the floor the way you would grip a basketball with your fingers.
- Screw feet out – Create an external rotation force with your feet into the ground (right foot clockwise and left foot counterclockwise). This stabilizes the hips and engages the glutes.
- Tighten glutes – This should be done at the top of the squat to protect your lower back. Once you start your descent you don’t need to worry about it. You just need to focus on pushing your butt back and down.
- Brace abdominals – The amount of brace should be proportional to the amount of force needed to lift the weight.
- Pack shoulders down and back – During the low bar back squat you will want to bring your hands in as close as possible and lift your elbows up to create a shelf for the bar. For those with shoulder mobility issues, you may need to use a wider grip, but should continue to work on shoulder mobility, and working the hands in closer.
- Ideal bar placement for front and back squats – The bar should rest on the front of the shoulders during a front squat. Keep your elbows high, though many people don’t have the shoulder mobility to do this. The bar can be placed on the upper traps for a high bar back squat, or just above the spine of the scapula (on top of the rear delts) for low bar back squat. Use a “thumbless” grip while low bar squatting to keep pressure off the wrists. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and try to rip the bar apart to engage your lats (or just think about pulling the bar down into your shoulders).
- Initiate movement with hips – When I ask new clients to squat for the first time they inevitably initiate the squat movement at the ankle joint, and bend their knees first. This creates a tremendous amount of torque on the knees. It’s best to initiate the movement by sitting the hips back first.
- Knee tracking – Knees should track over the second toe.
- Maintain neutral spine – The curve of your spine should remain the same throughout the movement. Beware of overarching your back or tilting your pelvis under at the bottom of the squat, which is called a “butt wink”.
- Drive hips up and back – Come out of the bottom of the squat by driving your hips up and back.
- Proper breathing- For maximum efforts use the Valsalva maneuver by taking a deep breath at the top of the squat, and continuing to hold your breath until you move past the sticking point on the way up. For submaximal efforts and high reps, inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up. It’s okay to hold your breath momentarily at the bottom of the squat during the transition back up.
- Parallel depth – Try to get your thighs parallel to the floor at the bottom of the squat. Individuals with good mobility and no injuries can squat below parallel.
Many newbies who begin a lower body training program are unable to perform a full-depth bodyweight squat. At FAST, we like to progress these individuals slowly by starting with assisted squats, box squats, and/or goblet squats. Dumbbell or kettlebell goblet squats are great because the weight can actually help you to reach a deeper depth. We also like to have our clients just hang out at the bottom of the squat focusing on deep abdominal breathing, pushing the knees out, lifting the chest, and lengthening the spine. If you can get accustomed to holding the bottom position for a long time, it will become much easier to get there from the top of the squat. Be warned though, these can be brutally hard!
So, there you have it—a template to help you perform the best squat possible for your body type. Now you can choose the most efficient squatting style that will help you reach good depth with perfect form. If squatting still causes problems for you, there are plenty of other great exercises to strengthen the lower body including: single-leg squats, lunges, step-ups, hip thrusts, sled pushes, deadlifts, split squats, and single-leg deadlifts. If you would prefer guidance from a professional in your quest for the “perfect” squat, come to the FAST facility nearest you, and ask one of our strength and conditioning coaches for assistance.
Have you ever been told not to let your knees travel past your toes when squatting, or to never go past parallel with your upper thighs? Did you ever question your trainer’s instructions or did you simply comply? Quite often trainers give clients advice regarding squat technique without valid scientific research or facts to back their opinions. In this article, I will dispel the prevailing myths surrounding the squat. The following is a list of the most common myths you may have heard and probably never questioned.
Myth #1 – Never Squat Below Parallel
With the proper amount of mobility and stability, squats can be performed below parallel, so long as technique is not compromised. Research has shown that deep squatting does not harm the ligaments in the knee. As a matter of fact, deep squatting has been shown to increase the stability of the knee. However, if you have been previously injured and have a lack of mobility, please consult a fitness coach at Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy.
Myth #2 – Knees Should Never Go Past the Toes
Knees can naturally move past the toes if an individual has a more vertical torso. People with a vertical torso find that there is an angle decrease at the hip joint, and an angle increase at the ankle and knee joints, which can cause the knees to move past the toes. Research has shown that healthy individuals with adequate mobility are at little risk of knee injury if the knees move past the toes. Critically, this type of squatting is not recommended for individuals with knee problems; going past the toes can place too much torque on injured knees. It’s a similar situation for those who have lower back issues and want to low bar back squat, it’s not recommended for them because they can place too much torque on the lumbar vertebrae.
Myth #3 – Arch Your Back When You Squat
Many trainers will often coach their clients to stick their chest out and arch their back while descending into a squat. This will inevitably cause a “butt wink” or “hip tuck” near the bottom of the squat placing extreme compressive forces on the discs of the lumbar vertebrae. It is best to keep the abdominals tight and maintain a neutral spine throughout the full range of motion.
Myth #4 – Keep Your Feet Facing Forward
Having a slight toe turnout of no more than 30? is fine for most people. This allows the head of the femur to have more freedom of movement in the hip socket. It also allows those individuals with poor ankle dorsiflexion mobility to squat deeper.
Myth #5 – Anyone Can Squat Low
The truth is that not everyone has the right genetics to squat low in perfect form, it is all about what works for you. Also, anyone with a current or previous injury to his or her ankle, hip, or thoracic spine should seek advice from a fitness coach before attempting to deep squat.
Myth #6 – Looking Up When Ascending from the Bottom of a Squat
All exercises should be done with a neutral spine. When it comes to squatting, the chin should be tucked in, and the eyes should be focused forward. Looking up loads excessive weight on the cervical and thoracic spine, and should be avoided.
There are many opinions out there from trainers on how one should squat. Hopefully, I have debunked many of the myths you may have heard, and that this article has helped guide you to perform the squat in a safe and effective manner. In the third and final article of the squat series I will teach you how to squat correctly, and if you are still having difficulty getting parallel in good form, I will show you some effective progressions to help get you there. Alternatively, if you prefer one-on-one guidance from a fitness coach, come visit one of our FAST locations to work with one of our awesome strength & conditioning coaches.
Kendy (Left) has a long torso relative to his femurs, which creates a more upright posture. Teresa (Right) has long femurs relative to her torso, which causes her to lean forward excessively.
Have you ever wondered why no matter how hard you try, you just can’t squat below parallel and remain upright using perfect technique like the models in the fitness magazines or your friend at the gym? Is there only one way to perform a squat? Factors that affect squat mechanics include the following: the shape of your hip socket, body segment ratios, mobility, stability, motor control issues, and the type of squat being performed.
In this article, the first in a three-part series, I will explain the various reasons why your squat may look different than another’s squat. In the second article, I will dispel the myths and lies surrounding the squat. In the third and final article, I will give you tips on how to perform the squat and how to progress to the “perfect” squat.
Hip Anatomy: Determining the Shape of Your Acetabulum
The shape of your acetabulum is determined by genetics. Some of us are born with a shallow hip socket making it easier to squat to full depth. This is sometimes called the “Dalmatian hip” and is prevalent among Eastern Europeans. The “Scottish hip,” which is prevalent among Western Europeans, has a deeper hip socket. For these individuals, it is more difficult to squat to full depth. To determine the depth of your acetabulum you can have a FAST certified personal trainer or strength & conditioning coach perform a hip scour and hip impingement test.
Body Segment Ratios: Torso-to-Femur & Femur-to-Tibia Ratios
Individuals with long torsos relative to their femurs can squat more upright and to a deeper depth. Those with short torsos relative to their femurs are forced to lean forward while descending into the squat, and have more difficulty going deep (see pictures above). A tibia that’s longer than the femur produces a more upright stance, and a tibia shorter than the femur creates forward lean, which can be reduced by holding a wider stance and a 20-30? turnout of the toes.
Other Factors Influencing Squat Mechanics
Squat depth can be limited by a lack of mobility in the ankles, hips, thoracic spine, and tight hamstrings. Hip and core stability problems along with motor control issues (timing and coordination of all the muscles involved in the squat) can also lead to poor squat performance. To determine whether you have any of these issues, have a FAST strength & conditioning coach perform a Functional Movement Screen on you.
The following is a list of factors that can create a more upright squatting posture:
- Adequate ankle dorsiflexion mobility
- Elevated heels (Olympic lifting shoes)
- Wider than shoulder-width stance
- Longer relative torso length
- Pushing the knees out
- Bar positioned high on back
- Shorter relative femur length
- Type of squat (Front, goblet, sumo)
Factors that can create a more forward leaning squatting posture include the following:
- Inadequate ankle dorsiflexion mobility
- No heel elevation (flat-soled shoes)
- Narrow stance
- Longer relative femur length
- Shorter relative torso length
- Not pushing the knees out
- Bar positioned low on back
- Type of squat (Back, close stance)
Now that you have a thorough understanding of the factors that can influence the way you squat, you can start to see why one person’s squat might look very different from another. In the next article, I will explain the myths and lies surrounding the squat, and why you shouldn’t believe everything that you read or hear. In the meantime, come visit one of our FAST locations for a free fitness evaluation by a certified personal trainer, which includes a squat assessment.
Post Attributed to David Flanigan, BS, MA, CSCS and Surprise FAST location Manager & Performance Coach.
Michie Pitts was born August 25th, 1951 in Seui leau, Taiwan and moved to Arizona in 1972 at the age of twenty. Michie was a two pack a day cigarette smoker for seven years until suffering two consecutive bouts of pneumonia in 1983. She successfully quit smoking cold turkey but unfortunately began experiencing serious asthma problems a few years later. Her doctors advised her that she would need weekly allergy injections, three types of inhalers, and medication to keep her blood count normal and her lungs clear for breathing. They also told her that her problems could last a lifetime and that she should avoid any strenuous activity.
Michie didn’t like the idea of being dependent on injections and medication for the rest of her life, so she decided to start walking—because running was out of the question. Her asthma was so bad that she had to be hooked up to an oxygen tank just to walk any distance. After two months she was finally able to walk without the use of an oxygen tank and found her endurance increasing and her overall health improving. Once she conquered the first obstacle of walking, she soon became addicted to running.
In 1985, Michie decided to enter her first running event and ended up placing first in her age group. This was only six months after her diagnosis! A year later she ran her first marathon in Jacksonville, Florida and since then she has run in over 1000 races, including 25 marathons (four of them Boston marathons). Earlier this year, she trained hard for the 2016 Boston Marathon. Tragically, on the day before the race, her husband of 33 years, William, suffered a heart attack and passed away. Although she has endured some very difficult times, Michie is an inspiration to all of us here at FAST and we truly love the enthusiasm and positive energy she exudes on a daily basis.
Now 64 years old and still as dedicated and focused as ever, she is currently preparing to compete in the Boston Half Marathon on October 9th of this year, and the Boston Marathon in April of 2017. At last year’s 2015 Boston Marathon, she finished with a time of 4:12:24. She came to the Foothills Sports Medicine Surprise FAST location in July asking if I could help improve her time.
I took on the challenge and I’m now training Michie two times a week, focusing on running drills to lengthen her stride while keeping the same stride frequency. I added dynamic flexibility exercises to improve her mobility, and lower body strengthening exercises to maximize her leg drive. In an effort to limit her ground contact time while also increasing power production, I added agility training and plyometrics, which takes advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle.
We can’t wait to see her results—GO MICHIE!!!