So, here we see Kelly demonstrating some squat faults. The pic on the left is the obvious train wreck. When I look at any squat based movement, I go from ground up. Feet, knees, thighs, hips, back/torso, shoulders and head. There are faults in each of these areas in the first pic on the left. Everyone who responded was able to point out the issues seen from their perspective and give reasons as to what was wrong and why. Nice work!
At the feet, the toes are pointing fairly straight ahead and due to the funky positioning Kelly is in, the toes are going to start bearing a lot of the weight. That, as you well know, is a recipe for disaster in a lot of ways. We want to always turn the toes out at about a 30 degree angle. The body is set up to be this way naturally. Jump up and down and see where your feet are pointing when you land. Or if you are in a relaxed standing posture, see where the feet are pointing. Unless you are anatomically weird, this is the way things should work. The toes being pointed out allows the hip and knees to move naturally per the proper biomechanics of the lower extremities. The knees don’t want to be locked into a forced forward position, so turn the toes out and let them track normally. If you force them into this unnatural position, you can expect knee problems as the tibia and the femur flex and twist against each other. This is stress on the joint and all of it’s connective tissues and at some point under load, something is going to give. Not good…
The toes out will allow the knees to track comfortably out over and along the same angle as the toes. Again, this keeps the joint happy by letting things move as they should. The adductors (inner thighs) are nicely activated in this knee out position so they can contribute to the control of the descent and upward movement out of the hole. The adductors will become stronger over time and will help the knees stay out on the drive up which will keep weight distributed nicely across the foot in an even manner.
The knees driving in, as in pic 1, is a common thing with people who are not yet strong squatters with proper form. The body knows more power can be harnessed by using the quads to be the primary and dominant movers out of the bottom. The quads become involved when the knees and thighs are brought in. This takes the overall contribution of the hammies and adductors out of the mix and lends to that nasty torque and shear on the knee joint. The athlete needs to consciously think about forcing the knees out and weight on the heels as they come up out of the squat.
Lastly about the knees, if they are out it allows the athlete to sink into the “ass to grass” position, so long as they can maintain optimal back positioning. This added depth is due to getting the muscles, bones and connective tissues of the hips out of the way. Try squatting with your knees forward and feel the hip flexors and the joint run out of room. Then put the knees out and notice all those hindrances are now moved out of the way and depth is increased.
The hips should be loaded and creating the drive out of the bottom. In every squat, the first bit of movement comes from the hips. If you are passive about it, the hips will lag and the movement will be initiated by quads. This causes instability in the lower back and does not lend itself to proper mechanics, strength and athleticism.
The lower back should be locked into extension and torso rigid. When we say “lower back extended” that means the lumbar spine is in that arched position. The torso should be leaned forward and locked into a position which places the shoulders or the barbell directly over the center of balance mid-foot. The thoracic spine is locked into place with the erector spinae muscles and the shoulders stay rigid to support the load. The shoulders should be pulled back slightly and locked into place. When weights get really heavy, it is not uncommon to see people get folded in half. This is dangerous and exhibits a lack of strength in the torso and muscles of the back. The torso needs to stay in it’s “Set” position during the drive up.
A good cue to help this process and avoid being tacoed, is to think about driving the shoulders up towards the ceiling. A lot of folks will tell you to drive the hips up, but often time the unsuspecting new squatter will find that is the thing that gets them folded in half. So, by driving the shoudlers up, the hips will naturally follow and the torso will stay upright, and lower back locked in nice angd tight. Exercises to strengthen the back to prevent the “squat taco” can deadlifts, rows, halting deadlifts, good mornings and variations thereof.
Head positioning is the last thing we look at. It has been common practice by many people to look up at the ceiling when coming up out of the hole. The thought being that it helps pull the athlete up and provides rigidity to the back. WRONG!
Whenever we are in a position to bear a heavy load, it is best done in a anatomically correct position with proper muscular tension distributed across the entire body to provide support. Test it – put a broomstick across your shoulders, squat down, do the “look at the ceiling” thing, stand up with your head this way. Then dump the broomstick and ask yourself, “is this really an anatomically correct position with my head cocked back like a Roman Fountain?” No, it’s not.
The head should be neutral. That means look straight ahead or even better, slightly down for the duration of the squat. Your head and neck should be in a natural extension of the spine. Think of holding a softball under your chin the whole way or having neck brace on. Once you set yourself into position under a heavy barbell, you lock the head in and correspondingly, the muscles of the back and around the spine lock in. This provides stability. By kinking the neck and staring at the ceiling, the musculature cannot maintain it’s maximal tension and you ask for the slightest bit of laxity and possible injury to happen. Don’t be that person…
In the first pic, Kelly is exhibiting all these issues. In the second pic, Kelly has them fixed and his squat is mature and strong. Be it an air squat or loaded barbell squat, the mechanics are exactly the same. It is absolutley imperative that your air squats are perfect in order to make a loaded squat strong and make you injury resistant and powerful. Being that the squat is the primary basis of human movement in one way or another, it would be wise to make sure your squats look like picture number 2 every time.