As soon as babies can stand, they start to learn how to squat. I remember my kids standing and then squatting so they don't topple over. Babies have fantastic flexibility and their brain is eager to learn new motor patterns...where did it all go wrong for most people?
What do you need to do a good squat?
- Flexible but well controlled feet: You need to be able to hold your foot into a neutral position, not rolling in or out. So many people are focused on keeping their knees out that they roll out their weight to the outside of their feet. You need to keep the 26 bones and 33 joints of your foot nice and mobile. Older people who come from cultures where squatting is common do so until they die - it is only a matter of practice!
- Good ankle flexibility: Wearing heels, sedentary lifestyle and/or too much exercise without stretching has meant that your calf muscles are probably tight. You need good length in the muscles and good joint flexibility so you can keep your centre of gravity over your heels.
- Good knee strength and flexibility: Your knees need to be able to bend your knees at least 130 degrees to do a full squat. The knees are ultimately subject to the rotational forces generated by foot/ankle as well as the hips.
- Good hip strength and flexibility: Controlling the hip should be easy but we tend to make things harder than they need to be. It is easier to bend from our backs because we slouch a lot. Also, our normal lives don't require us to bend more than 90 degrees of hip flexion so our body, in its efficiency, decreases the amount of flexion we have - use it or lose it!!
- Strong spine aka "core" or "midline": Without the ability to maintain control of every joint in the spine will likely lead to a bend in your back and so pressure onto your spine and discs.
How do you do a squat?
- Start in standing with feet either under your hips or as wide as you like.
- Initiate the movement by sticking your bottom out like you are going to sit down
- As you go down, keep the line of your femurs (upper leg bone) pointing the knee the same way as the feet are pointing. This is one of the most important points about squats!!
- Go down as low as you can keeping the weight on your heels and your back straight.
- You stop the squat if:
- Your feet roll in or out of neutral
- Your heels come up off the ground
- Your knees roll in or out of line with your feet
- Your knees go too far forwards past your toes
- Your hips roll under (posteriorly tilt)
- Your back bends
- Come back up by pushing down through your heels back into the standing position
How to ruin a squat:
Here are some photos on how to do your squats incorrectly...
What if you can't do squats properly?
If your squats look like some of the bad ones shown above, then you need to find out why you can't do them as well as Leah can. Maybe you have tight hips or ankles, weak back or hip muscles. Maybe you have short calf muscles. Maybe you have the strength and flexibility but not the coordination to put it all together. Who knows? The only way to make your squat better is to see someone who knows what they are talking about.
Everyone you show this article will agree that the photos above are bad...but are they telling you when you squat badly? if they aren't, ask them "why not?". If you don't get a good answer, change trainers! Do you want to end up like Brandon Roy (see a previous blog post on how his knees are shot to pieces by the age of 27)?
Squats are so essential in everyday life. Most of the time, we are too tight somewhere to do a full squat so keep working on your joint and muscle and nerve flexibility so you can lift safely.
How do you do your squats? Do you have any questions? Please post in the comments below!