Inspiration

THE SQUAT - HOW LOW SHOULD YOU GO?

Laura Harman

Love for the squat…

If you’ve ever been to my S&C class, you will know that the the squat is one of my favourite exercises. It is an incredibly versatile exercise with gains beyond the classic Kim Kardashian booty. If performed correctly, it can be used to improve sporting performance, treat and prevent injury and improve mobility and strength for daily life tasks. It can also be used to improve fitness and aid weight loss due to its multi muscle recruitment which results in a high calorie burn.

We are designed to squat….

The squat is an essential and fundamental movement pattern that we use on a daily basis. We use it to pick things up off the floor, get in and out of the car, on and off a chair and even during childbirth and going to the loo. However, due to our modern lifestyle and advances in technology we are becoming more sedentary and spending a lot more time sitting (often in a bad posture). This has lead to a combination of weakness and poor mobility resulting in fewer people being able to squat properly.

How low should you go…

There are many different ways to do a squat (and quite a few ways not to do them). Examples of squat varIations include sumo squats, goblet squats, split squats and overhead squats but for the purpose of this article we are going to focus on the bodyweight squat. 

Most people are  familiar with the basics of the squat technique but there appears to be a lot of debate and uncertainty about how low we should be going. It is common belief amongst many people that the lower the squat the better the “gains” with some research showing better gluteus maximus recruitment when squatting below parallel. However with regards to biomechanics and injury prevention, deep squatting may be causing you more harm than good. Whilst glutes gains may be at the top of your agenda, it may be worth assessing your squat in more detail to prevent any issues further down the line.

The science…

As the squat is a multi joint/muscle movement, it requires adequate movement and strength at all joints involved in order to be performed correctly and safely. The two most important joints are the hip and ankle and reduced movement and control at these joints can lead to injury. More specifically, to be able to perform a full squat, the lower leg must be able to flex and internally rotate sufficiently underneath you. This internal rotation movement should come from the hips and ankles, leaving the spine relatively stress free and knees to flex freely in the middle. 

When the hips and ankles are a little stiff and lack adequate range to perform a squat, the body will try to gain the extra movement required at other nearby joints. Whilst this might seem like a good idea, we actually only end up transferring the stress and overloading these structures resulting in injury and pain.

A common compensation pattern that we often see is posterior pelvic tilt. The two photos below show the difference between a squat with posterior pelvic tilt and a squat with a neutral spine (i.e. a bad and a good squat)

Good squat
Good squat
Bad squat
Bad squat

To increase depth in the squat when hip and ankle mobility is limited, the pelvis will often rotate posteriorly to try to create more room for the femur to flex. Whilst posterior pelvic tilt is a normal movement pattern, excessive movement can lead to injury, particularly when extra load is added. Excessive posterior pelvic tilt increases the demand placed upon the back extensors as they have to work much harder to try and keep the trunk upright. This can lead to an increase in sheer and compressive forces going through the spine, increasing the risk of injury and pain.

In simple terms…

If you have stiff hips and ankles when you squat, the body will compensate and try to find the movement elsewhere. So when you run out of movement at the ankles and hips, the pelvis and lower back will round, potentially overloading your lumbar discs resulting in injury as increased weight is stacked upon it.

Summary…

  1. We love to squat
  2. Sadly not everyone is designed to deep squat
  3. There is no ideal squat depth and due to differences in anatomy and training goals, everybody’s squat depth will be slightly different. 
  4. Providing you are pain free and have no pre-existing pathology  (such as femoral acetabular impingement, meniscal or ligament injuries or patella-femoral joint pain), I recommend that you allow your individual posterior pelvic tilt and anatomy to determine you squat depth. i.e. squat to the point just before your pelvis and lower back start to round.
  5. Improved ankle and hip mobility can often improve squat depth.
  6. The squat is a complex movement and there are other factors to consider such as knee alignment, stance width, weight distribution and trunk alignment. 
  7. If you are concerned about your squat technique, come an chat to one of us or book in for an assessment.

 

If you have any questions please feel free to grab me for a quick chat or check out my instagram @bfit_healthy_happy.

 

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