The squat is such a critical movement for almost every sport as it works around the hip, knee and ankle joint. All three of these joints flex to lower your body down into a squat and all three extend to bring your body back out of a squat. It is this unique triple extension that has made the squat a staple of any good athletic program for strength and power development. It also teaches the athlete to transfer pwoer from the legs through the upper body and into objects E.g. basketball shot or javelin.
It is all too commonplace in the gym to find clients who are incapable of completing a squat. My theory is that there are a number of variables working together as the cause/s. The first is a decrease in the utilisation of a squat as a fundamental daily movement. Historically we had to squat to go to the bathroom, squat to sit, we worked and played more on the ground and we spent less time being supported by chairs, toilets and other useful devices.
The second is an increase in weight. The average adult weighs far more than their parents, let alone their older ancestors. To perform a squat with a heavier weight requires greater muscle development and the latter has fallen out of step with the former.
The third is a decrease in flexibility or range of motion. Due to long periods spent sitting, increased weight and lack of fundamental stretching through the hip and ankle joints in particular, the range of motion for many people, is too limited to allow for a comfortable squat even if their strength allowed for it.
Thus, the squat becomes a critically important tool as we age to maintain function. Despite the fact that we are not moving the same way we have in our human past, we still require the skills to get in and out of chairs, up and down off the ground, in and out of bed etc. We require range, strength and balance to make this a competent and reliable skill.
Despite pointing out the reasons why many people are incapable of a squat I am solidly of the belief that with appropriate, graded training this function can be restored to almost everyone and those who are capable of squatting should work hard to maintain and improve their function, protecting them further into their lives.
Here are my top tips for a healthy squat technique:
- Begin with body weight squats and increase your range of motion before loading yourself with weight. For particular clients, added weight can help improve form but this is the exception, not the rule. E.g. Very tall individuals, certain range of motion deficits.
- When loading with a bar, position it on the lower, muscular part of the upper trapezius with the shoulder blades retracted. This shouldl limit any direct pressure on the vertebrae.
- Position your hands comfortably wide and turn your elbows wide. If this feels slightly uncomfortable at the top of your movement but comfortable at the bottom of the squat you have probably got it right.
- Breathe in on the way down, out on the way up.
- Use a bench for support whilst you are improving your range or when attempting a new weight. As you improve and gain confidence, you can remove this safety net.
- Concentrate on controlling the eccentric phase (lowering) and accelerating rapidly during the concentric phase (lifting). This is of particular use for athletic training but is of benefit to all levels.
- Fully extend your hip/knee/ankle joints to a fully upright position. Achieving this position under load is critical to your biomechanics and can dramatically affect performance in all running/jumping sports.
- Your anatomical structure, co-ordination, experience, injury history, goals and strength will determine your foot, knee and hip positioning. It will also determine an appropriate depth. This is a general guide only. Ask an expert for a more thorough assessment to develop your specific squat technique.
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