Everyone should be squatting. Simply put you are already squatting every day as you sit and stand, but often we move with faulty mechanics or poor motor control. Learning how to squat with good technique therefore not only helps with daily life but helps us move more freely and in strong stable positions.
This movement is normally described from the beginning of the hip hinge, but it actually starts with posture. Standing tall you point your feet straight ahead and screw them into the floor to create a stable position on the floor. Next you never your abs and lock in your shoulders as you stand with a straight back, head looking straight ahead. Maintaining this mid line control you next hinge at the hips as you drive your hips back and sit into a deep squat position, keeping the knees in line with the hips and ankles. Then from the bottom position you reverse the drive, flexing through the glutes and quadriceps to push your body straight and finishing back in that tall solid position.
Why we should be squatting:
Squatting is one of the most fundamental and functional movements we do with our bodies. From the age of 1 or younger we are standing, walking and sitting on a daily basis and it teaches us a lot. From how to brace our core and spinal muscles as well as how to generate force with our legs, create torque and power in our hips and maintain balance as we move from seated to standing. Squatting with weight also adds to the muscular effort, challenging strength in the hips and core, and activating 80% of our musculature by a substantial level. Simply put squatting is a must do movement and one that we often perform incorrectly.
Valgus knees: This is when your knees collapse inwards as you either decend into or press out of the squat and is associated with a tightness in the glutes, hips and calves. To fix focus on keeping your knees above your toes or stretching the hips and foam rolling and stretching your calves and glutes.
Lack of hip mobility: this causes a whole range of issues including Valois knees but also is a big cause of lower back rounding and the infamous butt wink. Simple fix, work on ankle and hip mobility through stretching and massage work.
Butt out fault: caused by pushing your butt back and failing to stabilise your core leading to your back rounding as you descend. Essentially your pelvis tilts and your bum sticks out, it also leads to the butt wink as your pelvis rocks back and is easily fixed by focusing on bracing your core and glutes before and during the movement.
Knees forward: this happens when your first movement is bending your knees rather than sitting back with the hips. Simple focus on sitting down and driving the hips and hamstrings back as you squat.
Head up: this is usually seen and not thought to be a problem, but any destabilisation in the spine results in total failure along the chain. Rather than keeping your head up and looking ahead try to focus on lining up your head above your spine and body at the top of the movement and then maintaining this line as you squat letting your gaze tilt with the rest of your body.
Why it is important to mobilize and squat:
Squatting is such a common movement, right up there with bending over to pick things up (dead lifting), squatting is one of our most used movements, be it sitting down at the table, on the loo, to play or explore on the floor and any other time you bend your knees you are performing a squat. Therefore it is important that we learn to move correctly and strengthen our bodies in this position so that we can reduce injury risk and maintain this level of mobility as we age and grow.
Focusing on the mobility many sporting and joint injuries are caused by poor mobility and inadequate techniques. But if you could learn to squat correctly and developed the necessary hip, ankle and spinal mobility and strength needed then you would seriously reduce injury risk and at the same time reap all of the benefits associated with being able to move with great technique.
Another important reason to focus on strengthening not the squat is that studies on leg strength, carried out by testing participants one rep max squat strength, has been shown to be a serious indicator of mortality with weak legs strongly associated with increased injury, infection and degeneration should you suffer a health set back. Having a strong base therefore is vital and squatting is an excellent way of achieving this in your training.
Adding more weight will obviously challenge your squat, be it in maintaining the knee and core positions or in the actual strength required to push back up. A different way to challenge your squat is by changing your technique. Front squatting will challenge your core musculature more as well as your ankle and hip range of motion. And the overhead squat will challenge this even more as you have to perfectly position that barbell above a stable and mobile body for optimal movement and control.
For tips on how to boost your squat strength check out our article on assistance exercises to use along side your squats to boost strength and speed in the movement: