Contrary to popular belief, the squat is a very functional movement and our bodies are designed to be able to comfortably sit at the bottom of a squat for an extended period of time. Take a two year old for example… he could play here for hours.
We are born with the ability to do a “perfect squat.” So, when do we begin to lose the, in my opinion, most functional movement we are innately born to do? We lose the muscle function required to squat and stand back up, we lose the flexibility to sit all the way in the bottom of the squat, we lose the joint mobility to comfortably sit in the natural position, and we have a significant reduction in core stabilization to keep the chest up while squatting. What is sad is that we HAVE to squat all day. We sit in fancy office chairs; get in and out of cars; have plush couches that contour to your curves, we have a porcelain hole so that we don’t have to ‘pop a squat,’ and with ALL of these modern items you have to squat in some form or fashion to get in and out of them. The problem is they all limit the range of motion required to sit, and give an advantage to the muscles so you can compensate without using the proper muscles and mechanics to stand up. Imagine a lady standing up with her feet too far apart and her knees touching together. She has no glut activation, she is probably leaning on one hip more than the other, her weight is shifted onto her toe which causes shearing through the knee cap, and the only thing active trying to get her up is her quads. I have mentioned this before; our joints are designed to last over 100 years. Let’s fix some mobility issues and reduce artificial joints my friends!!
I am going to analyze the most basic errors I see on a day to day basis and address SOME of the mechanical/mobility corrections needed for each major movement dysfunction.
THE DUCK FOOT SQUAT
Though he is doing many things correctly here, you can still see that his knees are significantly inside his toes. The main reason for this dysfunction in a squat is decreased ankle mobility. He lacks the dorsiflexion in the ankle to keep his toes facing forward (or at most 20-30 degrees out) and to keep the weight through the heels at the bottom of the squat. What this will do with repetitive motion is apply a significant amount of shear and tension through the inside of the knee. It will also make it very difficult to activate the gluts, our bodies LARGEST, STRONGEST, SEXIEST muscle whose action is hip extension (standing up), applying even more stress to the quads and knees. If this is you at the bottom of your squat, work on ankle mobility. I put weights on each side of an athlete’s toes while squatting the other day. He was not happy with me because he was unable to turn out like he was doing ballet and made his squats exceptionally difficult, but it also gave him the kinesthetic awareness of what he was doing wrong because he honestly thought he was squatting properly. I would rather him struggle to correct bad form now than worry about potential risks from sheared knee caps and collapsed ankles leading to bone spurs, instability through the outside ankle and a fallen arch.
TOES FORWARD / KNEES IN
This is the most commonly made error in the squat from a physical standpoint, a joint health perspective, and lastly for the poor gluts. If the knees come in AT ALL, that means there is limited to no glut activation and the LARGEST, STRONGEST, SEXIEST muscle is getting the shaft. Do this for me know; stand up; squeeze your butt; now try your hardest to pull your knees together. If your butt is tight, you CANNOT. This is a quad dominate squat meaning that the athlete begins the motion by shifting the weight forward onto the toes. It is very hard to activate the gluts mid-squat so after the initial move has started the health of the squat gets worse and worse. In order to try to get deep the athlete has to come way up onto the toes, is very off balance, and shoots the butt way back to stand up. To fix this squat: posterior chain work. Learn how to activate the gluts, back extensors, hamstrings, and abductors.
GOOD MORNING SQUAT
This squat is hard to analyze from a general perspective, but can vary from person to person as to why the hips stay so high as the chest drops down into the squat. Midline, core stabilization will be the main focus here as keeping the chest high is all core work. There will most likely be some mobility issues through the hips (front/back) and low back causing difficulty sitting down into the squat. Also ankle dorsiflexion comes into play, as athletes with decreased mobility through the ankle feel like they are going to fall backwards the deeper they go into the squat. Though this is not an ideal position, the fact that the weight stays back on the heels is crucial as this takes the load off of the knee and keeps it in the larger muscle groups of the posterior chain.
ON THE TOES (Typically accompanied by knees in)
This is by far the WORST squat and why squats have a bad rap today. There is such a dramatic increase in the shear of the knee cap into the grooves of the femur and tibia when squatting with all of the weight shifted forward onto the toes and sitting deep. The knee is about a foot in front of the toes and again there is no glut activation to keep the tension in the posterior chain and off of the quads and knees. It will be nearly impossible to do any type of loaded squat (front/back/overhead) with this type of squat and the cartilage in your knee will scream at you every time you bend down. If you have a job that requires a considerable amount of squatting, learn how to squat properly, until then kneel instead. It will add years to your knee joints and prevent any cartilage damage from progressively getting worse.
A GOOD SQUAT
So, what do we look for in a good squat?
Weight in the heels
Neutral head position
Toes slightly turned out
Knees pushed out (active gluts)
Hips below parallel
This squat should carry over into any form including the front squat and
overhead squat or picking a pen up from the ground. Practice each the same.