The squat is one of the most basic and comprehensive exercises we can do for the human body. Not only does it build physical strength in the quads, hamstrings, calves and back, but it increases the resistance and strength of the nervous system along with our overall ability to adapt to change. Naturally squatting is fundamental to our bodies as a resting position, it is helpful in supporting biological functions such as digestion health, and is the natural way for humans to go to the bathroom. While activating nearly every muscle in your body, its movement pattern translates into the structure behind the vast majority of physical activity. Fixing your squat can improve speed, strength, power, coordination, balance, agility and overall athleticism.
The first thing we are going to cover is how a proper squat should be performed. The exact positions of each performance point will vary between person to person because not all of us are built exactly the same way. When you try it out for yourself, you will find what feels best for you. Here, Austin has spaced his feet about hip width apart, has his toes pointed slightly outward with his knees tracking over his toes. His heels stay firmly planted on the ground, and at the bottom his hips drop below his knee crease. It is important to keep strength and control when entering the bottom of the squat position. It is also important to make sure that he keeps his chest up, and his spine in a neutral position, so that his spine will not be stressed in unnatural directions, thus preventing injury.
Performing the squat improperly can result in injuries in the joints, muscles, ligaments or tendons surrounding the points of motion. Here, Austin will demonstrate a squat performed with his feet too far apart. The result of this is he is unable to reach full depth in his squat and therefore is operating in a limited range of motion. It is important to make sure we hit the full range of motion with all of our movements because that’s the way we will reach the full potential of our strength and mobility.
In this next demonstration, Austin is showing how not tracking the knees over the toes can cause the knees to cave inward, putting unnatural stresses on the medial collateral ligaments in knee joint, especially when under a heavy load.
Here Austin is performing a squat without his heels firmly planted on the ground. Shifting too much weight onto the toes in this way causes an unnecessary shearing stress on the knee joint, and creates a quad dominant movement that may cause a muscular imbalance between the quad and the hamstring when repeatedly exercised with this type of motion. A proper weight balance places the load of the squat in the middle of the foot.
Next Austin shows how not maintaining a neutral spine can negatively affect the motion of a squat. A neutral spine position is the position your spine naturally falls into when you are standing, or sitting up straight. It is not overly arched, or caved forward. When the neutral spine is lost, Austin experiences improper directional stresses on the posterior ligaments that support his spine, in addition to losing the ability of the deep spinal erectors to create a stable position. Fundamentally, you increase the chances of damaging a ligament or herniating a disc in your back if the spine finds its way out of a neutral position.
Part of the foundation for healthy movement is maintaining full range of motion and flexibility. In order to avoid common injuries and increase mobility, we have a mobility routine that involves stretching, rolling and working different joints and muscles.
Here Austin starts by rolling out his thoracic spine to get rid of knots in his muscles, because stretching muscles that have knots in them may only serve to make them tighter. Avid runners can find huge benefits from rolling and stretching their IT band because it releases imbalances caused from improper striking.
Improvising by shaking and other creative movements can get rid of tension all over the body. It might look a little silly, but it’s important to generate sporadic movements while letting go of any judgement or resistance to them. This helps to increase your readiness for change and to ensure your joints don’t become too specialized by following a certain pattern of movement. Instead, they become adaptable to all modalities within the human capacity.
Stretches should be held between 30 and 120 seconds, based on the how much resistance you feel that your body should be experiencing. The best way to feel how long you should hold these stretches is to listen to your body and let it show you the happy medium between pain and effective engagement. It is also important to generate small movements within these stretches, such as waving back and forth. Small movements like these ensure that all areas of the tissue receive an effective stretch.
Some stretches like the deep lunge can be paired with accessory movements such as a back bend to create a more comprehensive and full body stretch. Other stretches like the pidgin stretch, the couch stretch, the forward fold, and a calf stretch with and without a bent knee, all work nicely together to prepare the joints and muscles for exercising the squat. If you have access to something to hold onto, working your control in and out of a squat while holding onto the object is also very beneficial in demonstrating the proper positions to the hips, knees and back. The next position here is a yogic squat, where Austin pushes his knees outward and inward while adding a twist to his back to engage the muscles surrounding his spine. Deep knee bend rocks are also a great way to increase the flexibility in your ankles. Having flexible ankles will translate into an ability to keep a more upright back position while in the bottom of your squat, resulting in greater strength. Austins final movement is a comprehensive mobility spin that puts it all together.
Performing a squat properly is essential to maintaining health in the joints and building strength. In addition to being a fundamental element of human movement, it builds a foundation that adaptability grows from, while increasing speed, agility, power and nearly every other domain of physical performance. On a psychological level, there is also a strong correlation between physical improvement and overall mental adaptability. In this sense, the squat can serve as a tool that provides a healthy vision of purpose which can be used to improve life in areas that extend beyond physical mobility. In other words, it’s a healthy habit.