By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator
Whether it’s getting up off a chair or getting down to play with your kids, the squat is one of the most functional movements we do as humans.
Babies and kids naturally have the range and ability to do this with perfect positioning (and no pain). But as we age and our lifestyles change, we may become inactive, sit for long periods of time, or have imbalances that can cause us to lose that ability.
Practicing proper squat mechanics can help us maintain or gain the functions we once had, and have a better quality of life.
No matter your fitness level, you can follow these tips to ensure stronger and safer positions.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is the importance of the position and grounding of your feet in the squat.
Maintain pressure throughout your entire foot through the full movement, thinking about the three points of contact: heel, big toe, and little toe.
To ensure this is maintained, you also want to make sure you have the proper footwear. Running shoes are NOT ideal for squatting as they are meant to roll your foot, which is the last thing you want in a squat (especially with any amount of added weight).
For a proper base of support and foot pressure, we suggest a flat-soled shoe or weightlifting shoes that help with ankle dorsiflexion.
Foot placement and angle are much more individual to each person’s preferences and anatomy. A good starting point is your heels shoulder width apart and your feet with a slight turn out of the toes (think 15 degree).
Just remember, wherever your toe points, that is where your knees travel. Play around with a little wider or narrow heel placement as reductions, or increase the angle of your feet.
Hip angle differences (especially between men and women), length of femur, torso length, and more, all play into the proper placement here, so find what feels best for you so you can maintain that pressure of the foot.
To protect the spine and back during squats, bracing is paramount.
If you are doing light or body weight squats, simply activate/contract your full core by thinking “brace for a punch” and have continued, controlled breaths throughout your movement.
If you are doing moderate to heavy weighted squats, we suggest practicing the Valsalva maneuver.
Before you initiate the squat, take a big breath and expand your belly, not your chest. Hold that breath through the entire movement to provide your core the stability it needs. Let your breath out after the exertion or at the top of the movement. Repeat for each rep.
Furthermore, if you are reaching 80%+ of your 1 rep max weight, we suggest utilizing a weightlifting belt for safety and strength along with the Valsalva maneuver.
Full range of motion is important for functional strength development, but is different for every individual.
In short, squat as deep as you can, as long as you can maintain your centre of gravity (chest/barbell/kettlebell/dumbbell) over the mid foot and your natural spine does not get compromised (not over arched or round).
Ideally, this depth is to where the crease of the hip passes just below the patella (top of the knee).
Two of the most common limiting factors to depth of squat is ankle dorsiflexion and hip flexibility. Ankle dorsiflexion refers to the degree or angle between your toes, angle and shin. The more your knee can go forward over the toe when your foot is flat, the more dorsiflexion you have and the deeper in the squat you will be able to go without compromising other positions.
Most restrictions with flexibility of the hip are due to joint immobility or soft tissue tightness, which can affect your spine and back position as well. Sometimes genetics are at play, but most of the time, these restrictions can be overcome with proper mobilization and activation drills.
Here are a couple things to try if you have restrictions with flexibility:
- Rolling: Using a ball and/or foam roller on the bottom of your feet, calves, quads, IT band, glutes, hamstrings and adductors can help release the myofascial tissues for better movement quality. Check out this video for a quick walk through.
- Soft tissue stretch: knee drive, world’s greatest stretch, couch stretch, and squat to stand are all great mobilizing stretches that can help get you in better positions for squatting.
Questions about all things squats? Feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for some discussion and help!