How Should You Squat?

How should you be Squatting?

By: Bret Lusis, CPT Show Up Fitness Santa Monica

Let me introduce you to some 90's basketball players: Manute Bol and Muggsy Bogues.  

how to squat manute bol and muggsy bogues Show Up Fitness

Manute is one of the tallest to play the game- 7'7, while Muggsy is 5'3, do you think these two should Squat the same way?  HELL NO.  Bodies are different, and in this article, I'm going to explain why people should change up their Squat.  

In certain lifting communities, people are told to line up their feet a specific way (NSCA say's 10-15 degrees of external rotation), while others say parallel.  What about the jacked dude with the biggest quads who says you need to squat like him?  Which one is it?. In today's world with social media, if someone has success, or a ton of followers, people naturally try to re-implement that pattern to emulate what they've done.  It must be that simple to do what Mr. & Ms. Tool / Toolette with 1.5 million followers says to do, right? Wrong!!!!  For the most part, bodies are built differently.  In this article, I will discuss three topics that should ultimately decide how your stance is going to be under the bar: Anatomy, Mobility, and Stability.  

1. Anatomy is the structure of the body and the relationships to its proximal and distal joints.  My femur may be longer than yours, or maybe your torso is longer than mine- we're all different.  Maybe your femoral head inserts into your acetabulum posteriorly to anteriorly, while the person to your left may have an articulation that is at 90 degrees.  Take a look at the following femurs, do they look the same?  What do you think will happen if they are instructed to squat the same way?  The important thing to understand is bodies are different.  If my bone structure is built differently than yours, odds are we're going to move differently. One variable is the depth of the hip sockets (acetabulum depth varies from person-to-person.) This will determine the maximal depth before you “butt wink” and the width at which your feet are externally rotated. 

As you can see, these two Pelvis's are different in width and height...

pelvis bone structure for the squat show up fitness

And these two femur's articulate at different angles.  One is closer to a 90 degree articulation, while the other is closer to 45 degrees.

femur length and articulation for the squat Show Up Fitness Santa Monica Dublin

 

2. Mobility is the ability of a joint to go through it's optimal range of motion (ROM.)  This varies from person-to-person, gender, age, and prior injuries.  My mobility has never been great.  I remember when I first started squatting it felt so awkward. My heels would come off the ground, my back rounded, and I damn near fell over! Unlike anatomy, mobility can potentially improve by practicing and establishing the proper motor behavior.  If I would've continued to squat with those faulty patterns, I would have created poor motor behaviors.  Instead, I worked on a stance and pattern that allowed me to program proper mechanics.  Never compensate weight for form, this will lead to bad behaviors, and potentially an injury.  

3. Stability deals with maintaining a strong and sturdy core. One thing that I learned when I attended the Show Up Fitness Academy is how to properly brace and engage my core.  You know that guy in the gym who makes a loud sound when he Squats?  Ya, that's me, I'm that tool who grunts when I have a ton of weight on my back, but it's for a reason.  When I grunt, it's because I'm creating a large amount of pressure in my core (intra-abdominal pressure) which allows me to utilize the Valsalva Maneuver.  The valsal what?  The ability of my core to create a lot of pressure to stabilize my back.  This fluid ball is why lifters use a belt.  The greater the surface area on your front-side allows for greater protection for the lower back.  I suggest to use a belt whenever you're lifting a weight above 80-85% of your 1rm.  Knowing how to properly brace your core and engage other supporting muscles can be a major factor in stability for your lifts.  

In the following image, we have a student at the Show Up Fitness Personal Training Academy in Santa Monica (the best personal training school EVER!)  On the left, the student has around 30-35 degrees of internal rotation.  After we did a few drills to activate his anterior, lateral, and posterior core, look at the increase in ROM, it's around 45 degrees (optimal ROM for internal rotation at the hip.)  So this begs the question, is it mobility or stability?  To me, it looks like his restriction is due to a lack of core stability.  This image should challenge your mindset the next time you go to stretch some "tight" muscles.  Are they truly tight, or is it a neuromechanical mechanism to protect the body from weakness in other areas? Hmmmmmm.  SCIENCE :)

internal rotation stability vs mobility drills

Conclusion:

Not everybody can get under the bar for the first time and have great form. Shit, I Squat every week and am still learning what feels right for my body.  Ask yourself what feels the best, and how much weight can you do?  it’s important to take time to see where you feel the strongest, how it feels, and looks.  Mobility and stability may be something you can fix, your anatomy and bone structure is something that is not going to change. If someone is squatting 135lbs with their feet shoulder width apart and then they widen their stance to hit 185lbs, why not stay there? If the force production is optimized with optimal mobility and stability, you my friend, have found your proper Squat form.  Start out by experimenting with different stances (Shoulder width apart, feet externally rotated, wider stance….), whatever feels the best, and then how much you can Squat. Don’t compromise a lift just because someone says this is the way you have to Squat- CHANGE IT UP!  .

Pointers for Squatting

 Try to bend the bar on your back to engage the lats

 Pretend theirs an orange under your chin aka neutral.  

 Keep your back straight.

 Try to palm the floor with your feet (Ever tried to palm a basketball?  Do this with your feet to the ground.)

 Don't let your knees buckle inwards (knee valgus) aim to keep them between your big toe and little toe.  

 Brace your core as if you were going to be punched in the stomach.