Go to any gym and you’ll see people performing squats. Walk around anywhere really and you’ll see people squatting. That’s right, every time you sit down or stand up, you’re performing a squat. It is one of the fundamental human movements patterns, and as such needs to be trained for optimal strength and movement in everyday life.
Chances are when you do see people squatting, in the gym or outside of it, one squat looks vastly different from the next. This is a result of improper technique and teaching from the fitness industry and a poor understanding of what true mechanics should look like. "A proper squat including optimal range of motion and ideal joint angles will look almost identical from human to human if it’s performed correctly regardless of differences in anthropometrics."
Optimal Squat Technique
Keep your feet straight with your feet, knees, and hips in near alignment. Push your weight through the outsides of your feet while your toes grip the floor to maintain a proper arch in your foot. Tuck your hips and brace your abs to avoid excessive arching through the low back. Pull your shoulders back to keep the lats activated and the upper back from rounding. Finally, tuck your chin to maintain a neutral spine from top to bottom. Inhale before moving down into the squat and exhale when standing back up, all the while moving your hips and knees at the same speed. Your squat should be performed to a depth of 90 degrees in the knee, at which you should also see a 90-degree angle in your ankles and hips.
Clearly you can see that the squat is a very technical exercise with lots of different components to maintain proper form. Regardless of what variation of squat you’re performing all these cues are important. You’ll find that if you can control all the different aspects of the squat maintaining proper muscular tension and control, that they will translate into many other exercises and movement patterns.
Many people run into form issues because they are squatting to depths past 90 degrees. While some athletes are required to squat to lower depth in their sports (Olympic Lifting, Power Lifting), when we look at and integrate research of physiology, biomechanics, and functional anatomy, we find that an optimal depth for squats is approximately 90 degrees in the knees. Any lower than this and we begin to see changes in the force loading shifting from vertical to horizontal. It also allows for optimal tension and muscle activation because your muscles are forced to hold the load throughout the movement. If you go all the way into the bottom of the squat, the load is being held more by your tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues.
Basically, that’s a long-winded way of saying you don’t need to squat to parallel to the floor or to a closed knee position.
You can improve your squat mechanics by performing slow repetitions, pausing in the bottom of the movement. Your body is full of sensory nerves and other mechanoreceptors sending loads of information to your brain all the time. By slowing down and feeling every position you allow time to receive the feedback your body is giving you and make changes to your form.
You’ll find that if you perform each repetition slowly, mindfully, and to proper depth, that a majority of your form issues will clear up and each of your squats will begin to look uniform, regardless of variation.
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