The squat is a multi-joint movement that works your entire body. It also happens to be one of my favourite exercises.
The nice thing about the bodyweight squat is that there are no prerequisites for doing it. In other words, as long as you don’t experience pain when you do it, it’s the perfect exercise for you.
If squatting does cause you pain, it is important to find out why. A full depth squat can be a natural movement pattern of the human body, but isn’t always the best choice for everyone. If this movement feels foreign, awkward or uncomfortable for you, I strongly suggest that you get assessed by a practicing kinesiologist (if no pain is present) or a physical therapist (if pain is present) to make sure there are no underlying injuries or movement dysfunctions that could be contributing to your discomfort.
If you’re new to the squat, you need to focus on becoming proficient in the movement before you start adding load. Once you have practiced the exercise, and gained some control and familiarity with it, you can start to add load. If you have been squatting for a while and still feel like you’re still struggling with it, you may need to look at some specific factors that could be affecting your ability to perform the movement with ease.
Here are some common issues that we see at BIM that cause people to compensate when they attempt to squat:
- A lack of ability to load the posterior chain (the muscles that run along the backside of your body) so that you’re able to sit back into a squat. Most people only perform a squatting action by shifting their weight onto their forefoot and lifting their heels. Squatting back into your heels will take some time and practice to get use to.
- A lack of hip rotation in conjunction with hip flexion. AKA, “tight hips”
- Rounded shoulders and a slouched posture. In other words, a lack of thoracic extension. Poor posture affects your resting position and will often limit the depth of your squat.
- Limited ankle mobility, specifically dorsiflexion. AKA bringing your feet towards your shin
If any of those common issues hit home for you, you’ll be happy to know that they’re all correctable.
What You Can Do To Improve Your Squat
If you want to get good at squatting, the first step is squatting MORE.
How do you do that?
Find a range of motion and position that you can squat well in and incorporate it into your regular warm up.
The Deep Squat Drill is one that we use all of the time here at BIM, and is a great place to start. Just make sure you tailor the exercises to the range you have available to complete this movement.
Here’s how to do it.
If your T-spine is tight, you have limited hip rotation, or you have no ankle mobility, then your body will stop you from going to full depth. As you work on improving the factors that are restricting your movement, you will notice an improvement in your range; which is why we use this drill to monitor/track progress in our clients squatting ability.
Common Issues That Will Keep You From Squatting Well and How To Fix Them
1. Problematic Hips
If your hip mobility is an issue than you need to address it by improving the tissue quality around your hips by introducing a proper stability program into your training regime.
At BIM, we often refer our clients to RMTs and physiotherapists, or recommend that they book-in for an active release appointment (in addition to some self-myofacial release drills) to address soft tissue restrictions affecting their hips. We use myofacial release techniques like mobility and activation drills to improve hip mobility and prepare our clients for squats.
Here are some drills that you can do to address problematic hips:
i. Trigger point your glutes.
ii. Trigger point your TFL and Psoas.
iii. Foam Roll your IT band and Quads.
iv. Stretch your hip flexors.
v. Properly pattern your hip flexion.
vi. Activate anterior your core
For the beginner
For the more advanced
vii. Activate your lateral core and hip stabilizers
viii. Activate your glutes
2. Posture Problems
I don’t care who you are, EVERYONE NEEDS TO WORK ON THEIR POSTURE. If you have great posture chances are you are doing something to maintain it. If you have poor posture chances are you are not doing enough, or anything, to improve it.
Here are a couple thoracic mobility drills that we prescribe prior to squatting that you can do to help improve your posture:
Note: Do all of the drills below then repeat the Deep Squat Drill to see if your movement has changed.
i. Foam roll your thoracic spine
ii. The T-spine Prayer Drill
iii. The Wall Sit with Shoulder Press
iv. Fix your breathing pattern
3. Ankle Issues
If you have poor ankle mobility I recommend seeing a qualified practitioner to properly address your soft tissue and/or manipulate the joint if needed.
Your can also perform the following exercises to help correct ankle issues:
Note: Reassess your squat after doing these exercises by performing the Deep Squat Drill. If all goes well you should be ready to add some weight!
i. Stick your calves… we find that this works better than foam rolling
ii. Wall Ankle Mobs
iii. Kneeling Ankle Mobs
Before you add load to your squat make sure that you pay attention to your foot position.
Foot position varies for everyone. A great trick I learned from our friends at Kettlebilty—to make sure that you’re feet are in the correct position for your body—is to jump a couple of times then look at the position of your feet when you land. Most often you will land with your feet in such a way that reflects a good starting position for your hips. In general, the distance of your feet should be between hip and shoulder width and turned out 10 to 20 degrees.
The best way to introduce load to your squat is to front load it. This will help keep your anterior core engaged, while ensuring that you maintain thoracic extension. We recommend that you start with the Goblet Squat.
Here’s how to perform a good Goblet Squat ⬇️
- Make sure that your elbows stay in (they should be between your knees)
- Make sure that your knees track over your toes on the downward movement
- Keep your chest up
- Ensure that your pelvis remains neutral (with minimal bum wink)
- Make sure that you have no valgus (inward) collapse at your feet
- Your weight should shift towards your heels
- Make sure that you use a proper bracing and intra-abominal pressure via your breath
If you have any questions about anything that I have gone into in this post, please don’t hesitate to bring it to my attention. You can email me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also book-in for a free assessment with us if you would like to find out if you have any imbalances and/or movement dysfunctions that could hinder your squatting ability.
CLICK HERE to schedule your assessment.