Compound Movements 101: The Squat
This week’s topic – the squat. Knowing how to properly squat is crucial to long-term health and physical independence as we get older. So what is the right way to squat? Should we all strive for toes and legs pointed forward, or is a wider stance right for everyone? Read on to find out to the answer!
Squatting really is one of the best compound exercise you can do when you workout. The set up alone helps to improve our posture by teaching us to set the shoulder back, engage our core, and align the knees over the toes. We have to wake up those glutes we’ve been sitting on all day and ask all of those large-and-in-charge muscles in our legs to bring us safely to the floor – and stand us right back up. This is why having proper technique is so important because that will carry us through life in more ways than just helping us sit down and stand back up properly.
So what do you really need to care about when you squat? That’s a tricky question to answer, but for this article we are going to focus on where the weight is with respect to the muscles you want to work. Place it perfectly and you get a beautiful blend of quad and glute activation. Place it poorly and you risk feeling all the weight in your back. Instead of being afraid of the latter and missing out on an awesome exercise, we should strive to hit that perfect form.
Accomplishing the perfect positioning in the squat is dependent on a few things: femur length relative to torso and shin length, where the weight is, and how good your ankle mobility is. The easiest way to tie these all together is to get the weight lined up over the middle of the foot. How you get the weight there will be completely unique to your individual anatomy. When I cue a client to squat for the first time, I get them to start with feet hip width apart, and toes slightly pointed outwards. The next step is getting the shoulders over the middle of the foot. We accomplish this by tipping forward and pushing the hips back *slightly*. Once they’ve done this, it is now time to sit down. This is where we start to see the difference in people’s squat mechanics.
If the hip-width-toes-pointed-forward position is right for them, they will be able to maintain the shoulders over the middle of the foot, and the chest upright. If their torso dips over, and the shoulders move beyond the toes, then it is time to widen that stance.
Yes – opening up the stance and pointing out the toes will require greater activation of the adductor, or inner thigh, muscles, so it is important to make sure the client is not allowing the knees to fall in. This can be corrected by either adding a band around the lower thigh above the knee. If you don’t have a band, try “splitting the floor in half” with your feet. You obviously will not be able to actually split the floor in half, but attempting this will turn on your ABductors, or your outer thigh muscles, which will create a more balanced contraction throughout legs.
Getting the squat just right takes time, practice, and a good coach to see all of the things you may not be able to see when you are squatting. There are a number of videos out there explaining proper squat mechanics, squat warm-ups, and mobility drills to get a better squat. Here are just a few of those and we encourage you to check these out.
Take the time with your Free Form trainer to work on the squat and get the most out of this amazing exercise.