Why Squatting Correctly Matters
Good form in squatting, and most other exercises, can be found on a list of continuously debated topics amongst lifters everywhere. While it is true that squatting does not have a “one size fits all” answer, there are some widely agreed upon points of performance that we will discuss in this post. These points of performance, in combination with my own personal squatting journey, can hopefully give you the tools you need to assess your own squat and make some improvements.
1. Start with your feet placed just outside of where your hips are.
When we’re going to be lowering our body into a squat, we want to have enough room for our pelvis as we lower down, and most people can’t do that in a narrow, shoulder width stance. Placing your feet just outside of your hips can help create a sturdy and comfortable base for your squat.
2. Keep those knees steady and in alignment with your toes.
When I was first learning to squat, I didn’t have the strength or body awareness to keep my knees from caving inward. This lead to a lot of pain and inflammation in my knees. Ideally, we want the knees to stay aligned with your toes on both the descent and the ascent portions of the squat. Certified Massage Therapist of Dynamic Mobility Sports Massage, Monika Argueta, says this caving inward knee motion called “valgus movement” is when “your knees adduct past the point of neutral and cause a greater risk for injury.” She also says an additional cause of this knees caving in can be from “weak or tight hip and glute muscles, most specifically in your gluteus medius.” Whether it’s muscle tightness or lack of strength or mobility, finding the reason your knees cave inward in your squat can make a huge difference in improving your performance.
3. Aim to get your hip crease past your knee, while maintaining tension in your core. CrossFit defines the full range of motion for squat depth as “hip crease is below the kneecap”. A common term for this depth is “past parallel”, which refers to the parallel line your quad makes as you squat down. As a young athlete with good flexibility, I made the mistake of squatting to the correct depth, but without keeping tension throughout my core and leg muscles. I got fairly strong squatting this way, but I would often find myself struggling to breath with high rep, light weight squats such as wallballs. I made a commitment to myself to work towards perfect squat form, and it was far from easy. I found that after building muscle memory of doing a movement one way for so long, it was quite difficult to retrain my brain. I felt so sore. I was extremely sore after my first few training sessions of squatting with tension in my hamstrings and midline. After retraining my body to stay active and tight in my squat, I saw an immediate increase in strength, performance, and aesthetic. I was able to do bigger sets of wallballs without getting as tired, my heavy squats got easier, and my legs seemed to have more muscle in them than before.
4. Last but not least, keep your chest up and spine in a neutral position.
The best way to keep your spine in a safe and neutral position is to think about keeping your chest upright. Think of a “neutral” spine as meaning that it is not exaggerated in either direction. We don’t want a curved hunchback and we also don’t want a craned neck with eyes looking at the ceiling. Keeping our vertebra stacked and aligned is the best way to prevent injury, and the strongest position to move weight in. Looking forward throughout the entire squat, keeping your chest up, allows the barbell or dumbbells to be supported by your full body.
Focus on perfecting these key points and see how much your strength, performance, and even aesthetic improves. If you have an issue in your squat, find what it is keeping you from getting into positions so you can start working on it to train your body in the proper movements. You won’t regret it!