by: Anthony Campo
Are Squats right for you? YES. If you can sit down and stand up, this means you can squat. Since you do this multiple times per day, it would be in everyone’s best interest to develop a proper motor plan for this movement. If you are not healthy or strong enough to stand up, then you must be put on a plan or program than works on properly progressing you to be able to perform this movement. The ability to get up and down has been shown to be directly correlated with a person’s quality of life as they get older.
It doesn’t matter who you are, squats can positively impact every aspect of your training. Whether you are trying to lose weight, pack on the muscle, or maintain your quality of life while performing daily functions through better fitness, improving your squat will be highly beneficial. The problem is for some reason; most people, including physicians and therapists could not identify, let alone teach correct squat form. In part I of this article I will identify the proper form for performing a squat. In part II I will offer proper progression for an individual who is not strong enough or healthy enough to perform a full bodyweight squat.
First let’s identify what I mean by a “full squat.” A full squat is being able to drop your hips so that the point of your hip (Iliac Crest) is below the knee. This usually results in the thighs being at least parallel to the ground. Proper depth needs to be reached in order to successfully be able to get up off the ground with proper form. A proper squat involves going to this depth with no prominent break in posture. Maintaining correct posture throughout the entire range of motion is the key for developing functional strength.
Proper Squat Posture
Thoracic Spine (Upper Back) – Shoulder blades must be squeezed together in order to stabilize the lumbar spine (lower back), and keep the back in proper alignment. There should be no movement of the spine itself during a squat. Pinching shoulder blades together and staying tight will maintain this.
Hips – This is where mobility should take place during the squat. Maintaining the proper curvature of the spine while you drive the hips back will allow you to descend properly. You want to open the hips up by pushing the legs apart (like you are trying to spread the floor,) and keep sitting back while maintaining a stable back. You should have the legs spaced apart a distance that allows you to open the hips up and sit back the best. This will allow you to properly engage the glutes, hamstrings and quads to perform the movement. This will also get the muscles of the back to fire and maintain proper stability. Depending on your levers, pushing the butt back properly might results in leaning forward. This is fine as long as you maintain the proper curvature in the back, because leaning forward will just result in a hinge of the lower back/hip area, and not place any additional stresses like shearing on the back. If you are tall, and have very long levers, you will have to bend forward more than the average person in order to maintain proper form down the chain of movement. It is important for this individual to really focus on keep their chest up (thoracic extension,) in order to compensate for this.
Knees – This is where a lot of mistakes are made. Due to an inability to properly use the hips, a lot of people with translate too much mobility into the back, and the knees. This is usually the cause of injury in association with the squatting movement. The idea is to keep the knees stable with no excess movement that usually results in shearing forces on the knee. Basically this means the knees should not protrude forward past the feet. If you are maintaining stability in the back, sitting back with your hips in order to achieve depth, there should be next to no movement with the knee itself at all. The key is to never stop pushing the butt back, and opening the hips up by “spreading the floor (as discussed earlier).” The second you stop pushing your butt back and opening the hips up, you will translate the energy into your knees, and the knees will protrude forward. The translation into the knee results in shearing forces that could potentially be damaging. The tracking of the knees is very important as well. The knees should track directly over the toes throughout the movement. If the knees track out (genu varum,) or track in (genu valgum,) this will once again result into translation of energy into damaging shearing forces onto the knee. If you have perfectly healthy knees this might not be as much of an issue and you probably can get away with some forward protruding knees. It might even help you get better quad development and strength. However, if avoiding injury is your primary focus, you will want to work on driving those hips back, with little to no movement in the spine and knees.
Ankles – Ankle mobility is an often forgot about component of proper squat form. Similar to the hip, the ankle needs to be actively mobile to facilitate proper function in the movement. If there is not enough ankle mobility the energy will again usually translate into excess movement of the knees. Proper ankle stretching might be indicated to help with proper squat form. Also similar to the hip, the feet should be spaced far enough apart in order to keep the heel of the foot on the ground. This is extremely important because the movement should be driven through the heels of the foot in order to maintain optimal movement up the chain. Typically proper feet spacing in slightly wider than shoulder with, with the feet slightly pointed outward.
Everyone has a unique body structure that will in some way hinder us from “perfect” squat form. The key is to identify these weaknesses and continue to progress forward. Things like the stretching of tight hips and ankles, and stabilizing and strengthening the core will help. However, from my experience simply focusing on the correct form by training and getting stronger at the movement, along with developing an efficient motor plan will help to correct many of the issues that are there initially. As an individual continues to get stronger, a lot of these problems such as “tight hips,” will start to dissipate. If the problems persist then a specialization program should be instituted to fix these issues.