All about the SQUAT....
Read through then check out the video at the end...
The squat, a most functional move, performed by us all daily (as long as you have 1 leg at least) and often done badly. You didn’t think you squatted every day? Every time you sit, stand and go or up stairs you are doing some form of squat.
There are different ways and toys you can use to squat – bodyweight, barbells, dumbbells, kettle bells, TRX, Pilates Reformer leg work, using a ball or bosu or nothing at all. The intention here is not to go into the ins and outs of using weights when you squat, but to bring awareness to general form and what to focus on as you move down and up.
One of the most commonly asked questions (and myth) is whether the knees can go over the toes. Ever used a squat toilet? or look at children - check out how far their knees go.
In many group exercise classes the cue is to keep the knees behind the toes and our belief is that when you teach to many people, this is the ‘safer’ option. The teacher doesn’t know if there are injuries and issues in the room – a problem with mass classes so to ensure no one leaves in pain the range is minimised. However in a non-group environment there is nothing wrong with the knees going over toes unless you lose good form in the spine, or the knees lose alignment with the feet. Good alignment???
Spine – if you do Pilates you’ll know what a neutral spine is, in a squat we are aiming to keep the spine in the same neutral shape on the down and up for as long as possible – video yourself or have someone watch you from the side to see this. Knees to toes – from the middle of the knee cap to the 2nd toe you want to be able to draw a straight line. If you squat with the feet turned out, the knees need to do the same – it is when this line goes bendy that the knee starts to complain. Having said this there is a small inward knock of the knees (4˚ according to research in gait analysis) – but this is not alot!!
If squats hurt your knees or back it is due to bad form however deep you go, not because you squat too deep. Pain is the body’s way of saying something is wrong and we need to listen to it. If your knees hurt the likelihood is you are going down and bending them first as opposed to folding at the hips, knees and ankles evenly – this will place excess stress on the knee. Also when you come out of the move, you will be driving with the knees and not the hips – this is a really common ‘mistake’.
When you do a squat only go as low as your knees don’t hurt and stay in alignment and then when you stand up, put your hands under your butt where they meet the legs – welcome to your glute max posterior fibers and hamstrings – use these guys to come up and then at the end straighten the knees with the quads (thigh muscles).
If your back hurts – likelihood is you overarch it as you go down and/or come up and therefore use it as opposed to butt – hence why neutral spine is so important, as well as abdominal engagement. Work the depth of squat where you can keep the spine in the same shape for as long as possible and also put one hand in your lower back to feel whether or not it changes. There is a depth at which the tail does tuck under, but it is the when we need to look for. Work this for a while, along with more core focus and butt attention on the way up and see if that changes the way your back feels.
Stick men notice the ‘Z” line of the body – the spine and lower legs are parallel to each other and this is the case however deep you go, keeping centre of gravity in the middle and stopping us falling over! The first man is with a knee bend only – this tends to be what ballet dancers do, and is a different ‘squat’ – it is plie (we’re not a dancers….) . Play with how wide you place your feet, there is no right or wrong - also whether the feet are straight or turned out to various degrees. They are all variations and will challenge different muscles and movement patterns – just keep good form!
There are reasons why some of us can’t do a deep squat ( injury and skeletal issues withstanding) we all have the biomechanics to do; watch children until we sit them in a chair at school…. We can’t go into the reasons why you may not be able to squat here, but if you can’t go deep then go where you can go to and keep practising – getting better at anything takes good practise, patience and persistence…