The 3 Most Important Pieces of a Good Squat
The squat is an extremely valuable movement that EVERYONE should be incorporating in some fashion into their fitness routine regardless of age, injury, or activity level. However, squatting can be a daunting exercise for many and as with any movement, requires appropriate technique and sequencing to get the most of the squatting movement. Here are some of the most common questions and movement faults we see in the squatting pattern.
1: Appropriate Squat Depth
How deep should you go – Ass to grass? Parallel?
You should be able to maintain midline stabilization to minimize pelvic movement, especially at the bottom of a squat. “Ass to grass” is not usually a great cue (or goal to have) during a squat as we often see the natural curvature of the lumbar spine lost. Squatting deeper in this case does not necessarily facilitate increased muscular gains or make you any stronger. In fact, losing pelvic and lumbar spine control in the bottom of the squat (often called a ‘butt wink’) reduces the amount of tension in the glutes, hamstrings and quads, causing less muscular contraction and more joint stress especially on the spine and sacroiliac joints. Maintaining a braced, neutral spine, especially at the bottom of a squat is essential to optimize performance and continue moving pain free.
Depth is determined upon an individual’s anatomy, especially the orientation of their hips. The dreaded “butt wink” with your butt tucked under your spine at the bottom of a squat usually occurs when your stance, abdominal bracing, or depth is flawed.
Other determinants of squat depth include an individual’s unique joint structure & anatomy – specifically the ankle and hip joints. Without enough joint mobility, stiff ankles and hips wreak havoc on squat form and can often be a significant factor in causing injury.
Go as deep as you possibly can while being able to maintain a rigid spine, keeping abdominals tight/braced, and not allowing your pelvis to tuck under or ’butt wink’. Depth could be 8 inches or 20 inches and is completely unique to every individual. Don’t compare your squat mechanics or depth to someone else as each and every person has different anatomy causing different squat angles and depths.
Commonalities we see in good squat depth include-
- Slightly wider than shoulder width stance
- Toes slightly pointed out
- Adequate core bracing and spinal rigidity
- Full & pain-free hip joint mobility and range of motion
2: Knee Position
Are your knees out? Over your toes? Are they hurting?
Your knees should follow in the direction your toes are pointing – make sure to keep your knees driving out, avoiding them from collapsing together. This keeps your glutes and hips active through the entire movement while also reducing many common movement faults with reduced stress on the knees.
Your knees SHOULD go over your toes!
Contrary to what you might have heard, knees should be moving over toes during a squat. Utilizing your knees during squat allows for proper muscular recruitment while also reducing negative forces on the hips and low back—still don’t believe me? – try a deep squat without allowing your knees to go over your toes while maintaining a flatback.
Knee pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal conditions we see at Limitless Physical Therapy and Performance, and squats are ALWAYS in our prescription to get you moving pain free. There are literally thousands of different squat variations we can implement during rehab and/or training to provide maximal benefits of the movement while also being pain free.
Be Strong, Stable, & Safe
Too often, we see someone’s ego get in their way of moving at their best. Put your blinders on and focus on mastering a weight or squat variation you feel confident with. As your confidence grows, so will your performance.
It is critical to maintain tension throughout the body during ANY compound movement, especially the squat. This includes a braced, neutral core, “bending the bar” with both arms, and controlling the descent, while avoiding using momentum (especially in the bottom half of the movement).
If you lack confidence in your squat mechanics or movement and feel lost, reach out to your local physical therapist here at Limitless Physical Therapy and Performance and we would love to help you reach your squat-tober goals!
About the Author: Dr. Matthew Zoelling PT, DPT, CFL1
Dr. Matt is a full-time Doctor of Physical Therapy seeing patients at Limitless Physical Therapy & Performance in Rochester, Michigan. Matt practices what he preaches and is an avid weightlifter, coach, and athlete. He stands by the “Movement is Medicine” principles on which Limitless was founded.