In the years I've been a personal trainer and coach, the squat is the number one exercise I see done INCORRECTLY.
If you're someone who begins squatting and experiences knee pain, hip pain or lower back pain - it could be your squat technique screaming for help!
We spend a lot of time correcting muscle imbalances and correcting posture BEFORE allowing our clients to perform even a basic barbell or dumbbell squat.
I'm not saying you should avoid the squat all together. It's a crucial part of any fitness routine and is extremely beneficial for developing lower body and core strength, hip mobility, and knee and ankle stability.
What I'm saying is...before you throw a bar on your back and start squatting, analyze your squat form, identify your imbalances and fix them before you squat.
Perfect Squat Stance
feet shoulder width apart
toes slightly turned out
keep weight in heels and heels on ground
maintain a straight line from your head to heels
keep stomach braces and glutes squeezed
initiative movement by bending at the hips and knees
think about sitting back into a chair
knees should push out and track your 2nd and 3rd toes
keep weight back in heels throughout the entire movement
you should feel the weight back in your hips, not in your knees
go as low as possible with your heels down while maintaining a a neutral neck, spine and hip position
SQUAT MISTAKE #1 - HEELS OFF THE GROUND
We see this one A LOT, especially in our youth athletes. In an ideal squat world, you want to push THROUGH your heels, pushing your butt back while keeping your heels on the ground.
HOW TO FIX THE ISSUE:
1. Warm up properly and stretch daily - In MOST cases, the heels coming off the ground is simply because your hips, glutes, hamstrings and calves are tight. Getting in a dynamic warm up that includes some foam rolling can be extremely beneficial. Overall increasing your flexibility will be beneficial. Don't rush this, developing flexibility takes time and doesn't happen overnight. Once you may your flexibility a priority - your squat form will improve.
2. Try box squats - These are great to teach your body to sit back into a squat and help keep your heels on the ground
3. Try a plate under your heels - if your heels coming off the ground is due to a lack in ankle mobility, putting a small plate under each heel when you squat. Keep in mind that this is a temporary fix and you should take the proper steps to increase your ankle mobility
Suggested Exercises: FOAM ROLL, FOAM ROLL, FOAM ROLL, MORE FOAM ROLL, box squats, heel elevated squats, calf raises, dorsi flexion with resistance band
SQUAT MISTAKE #2 - KNEE COLLAPSE
Knees bowing in when squatting is common and can have a disastrous effect if not corrected. When squatting, your knees should track your toes throughout the entire range of motion.
NOT ALWAYS but a lot of times when this happens it's because weak hips, lack in ankle mobility, impaired quad function and/or impaired hamstring function (ultimately causing an unstable knee joint)
Note: this is more common in females than males due to the increased Q Angle at the hips and is important to watch in athletes as it can lead to knee injuries in sports
HOW TO FIX THE ISSUE:
1. Focus on hip strength and activation using resistance bands - if your glutes are weak and/or under active it's going to be difficult for your knee to track your toes. Using a resistance band placed below the knee joint will help activate the glutes and hips. Do these slow and controlled, focusing on the knees tracking the right plane.
2. Perform ankle mobility drills
3. Foam Roll - this is important when trying to improve overall squat mobility but is extremely beneficial to roll out any overactive muscles and ultimately correcting imbalances
Suggested exercises: resistance band squats, hip abductions, hip adduction, glute bridge, lateral box step up, band resisted reverse lunge, clamshell, x band walks or monster walks, heel drops, calf raises
SQUAT MISTAKE #3 - ROUNDED BACK
If you find yourself rounding your back and unable to maintain a tall posture (CHEST UP!) while squatting, it's time for some posterior and core work!
1. Think 'chest up, low back tight' - Its important to remember that as soon as your back rounds and shoulders roll forward, ALL the pressure goes right to your low back. OUCH! Before you squat, really work to 'puff' the chest out and elevate the rib cage. Not only will this help you keep your chest up throughout the set, it'll help you keep a nice flat back.
2. Focus on posterior chain muscles once per week - the posterior chain is the most influential muscle group in the body. The upper back, lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back tremendously effect your overall squat technique and mobility.
3. Focus on core exercises - if you core is weak, your lower back muscles will take the load instead, putting your back under serious strain. This can be curving or rounding the back at the bottom of a squat. A strong core helps maintain an upright position in the eccentric portion of the squat to support the load on the spine.
4. Use a mirror - using a mirror to watch your overall posture is essential and GREAT for making sure your shoulders are up and chest is out throughout the full range of motion.
Suggested exercises: lat pull down, cable seated row, dumbbell bent over row, hamstring curl, barbell or dumbbell glute bridge, crunches, reverse crunches, supermans, back extensions, morning risers, russian twist, planks, side planks
SQUAT MISTAKE #4 : LOWER BACK ROUNDING AKA: THE BUTT WINK
The deeper the squat, the better...right??
WRONG! Not always, especially if you see lower back rounding at the bottom - also known as a butt wink.
This is the posterior tilting of the pelvis as you lower yourself into the squat position. While a little bit of posterior tilting is generally okay and necessary for deapth...the main thing to look for here is a posterior pelvic tilt that causes the back to round. In this case, it can be harmful to the lower back.
HOW TO FIX THE ISSUE:
1. Increase hip flexibility - focus on exercises that involve a full range of motion and improving hip mobility. When proper form is performed, the hips are trained to drop more downward than backward which will in turn improve overall mobility
2. Perform squat variations - there is no law that you HAVE to perform a barbell back squat. Including different variations of squat will help improve your overall strength and mobility
3. Foam roll - if your hip flexors and lower back are tight, it can cause your pelvis to tilt when squatting for depth. Foam rolling and proper warm up helps prep your body for the workout
4. Find your neutral 'normal' hip position and keep it there throughout the entire range of motion. In fact, aim to maintain a neutral position in every exercise you do or even while standing in line at the grocery store.
Suggested exercises: goblet squats, overhead squats, bodyweight squats for depth, bulgarian split squats, supermans, leg press or hip sled (light weight for mobility), walking lunges, glute bridges, fire hydrants, glute kickbacks, FOAM ROLL!
At the end of the day, squats are awesome and extremely beneficial - BUT for the sake of your back, knees and hips.... BE SURE YOU ARE PERFORMING THEM CORRECTLY!
If you are looking for a program to fix your imbalances, see our custom training options!
Or email us for help
Written by: Brittany Schrempp ACSM Health & Fitness Specialist
NASM Nutrition Specialist