The squat is the perfect analogy for life. It’s about standing back up after something heavy takes you down.”
When most people think about squats, what do they think about? Quads? Maybe glutes too? However, this foundational movement goes MUCH deeper than that! A weighted squat is quite literally a total body exercise, and this week we are going to break it down piece-by-piece for you:
START FROM THE GROUND UP
Not the other way around!
Instead of picking up weights, making sure they are secure and then bending your knees dropping into your squat, bring your attention FIRST to your feet! Weightlifting experts suggest focusing on broadening the foot, spreading the toes laterally, and making as much contact through the floor as possible. Imagine someone has placed several playing cards under different parts of your foot, and you are trying to prevent someone from pulling them out! You might be surprised to find how much more active engagement you feel throughout the muscles of the lower body. Ready? Yes you! Imagine those cards under each corner of your foot – now squat! Just a few, don’t burn yourself out – we want to take a moment to do just a few bodyweight squats with each paragraph to solidify what you’re reading and make it more real.
Next up are the ankles! Take a look at the graphic above. Notice the angle at the ankle – it is not 90 degrees with the knee directly over the heel, because that would shift your center of gravity too far to the back making it impossible to hold weight safely. Ankle mobility might be the most common limitation people face when it comes to getting into a deep squat. Try drawing the alphabet or big circles in both directions with the ankles, really pushing the range of motion and moving slowly throughout the range. Maybe move your ankles for a minute or two, then try another couple of squats – try thinking about pulling the front of your shin down towards the tops of your feet (but don’t pop up off those heels!)
Moving up the leg to the knees now. Many people struggle to keep their knees in line with their ankles/toes as they get deeper into their squat. This is most commonly due to inner thigh weakness, glute weakness, hip tightness or all three. Find a mirror! Watch your knees on the way down and continue to hold them in line – pay attention to whether you start feeling your squats in different areas! Ask a coach to assistance if you find your knees continue to fall in towards each other; there are a few ways to work through this common movement dysfunction. The Split Squat is one excellent example of a unilateral exercise that can help us identify instability and weakness. During split squats and side lunges take care that you don’t allow your knee to fall inward by engaging the outer glute and pressing through both the inside and outside of the foot. Hip lifts and single-leg hip lifts are also great exercise to help develop stable glute strength. Now you know what comes next – put it to work! Focus on the position of your knees while squatting and try keeping them pointing directly in line with the toes! Maybe try a few squats with your feet narrow, wide, in the middle, turn the toes outward a little. See what feels most comfortable.
Speaking of hips! The very first step for the squat is to send the hips back – THEN begin sitting. Too often we start bending our knees into our squat before we have even begun to send the hips back and this sets us up for dysfunctional movement right off the bat. Alright fine, maybe just one squat this time…start with the hips!
So that pretty much covers your lower body – but we haven’t even got past the hips yet! What happens above them is just as important for your squat form especially if you are going to be carrying weight. Squat Holds and Quad Rocks (see a trainer for demonstration) is a great exercise to help get you into the habit of engaging your core muscles during the squat. A quad rock IS a squat if you turn the movement vertical, however this variation drastically reduces the amount of weight you have to move. Often we forget about the upper body here and just focus on the legs, but especially if we are loading the squat we MUST have core engagement to ensure the safety of the spine. Tuck the chin in (double chin) to keep the spine straight all the way through the top, and don’t forget to pack those shoulders!
So there you have it folks – the squat in 500 words or so. There is even more that we could say if we wanted to continue delving into this movement, but let’s allow this to sink in and if you like seek out some one-on-one time with a trainer to fine tune your squat.