Anatomy of Movement:
Squatting is often considered the holy grail in fitness. Why? It’s one of the most comprehensive and adaptable movements to build lower body strength.. more importantly though, it is the equivalent to us getting up and out of a chair.
You may be surprised to know that two clinical tests utilized to assess independence and function in older individuals are that of the Timed Up and Go Test and the Sit to Stand Test.
You guessed it… they both involve timing either how quickly you can get up out of a chair or how many times you can. The importance of the squat cannot be understated. Squat proficiency is critical in predicting the independence of individuals.
Yet, we find ourselves in society glued to a chair often, whether for work, or an attempt to escape work. This sitting is not inherently an evil thing, but the sheer volume at which we sit is.
Prolonged sitting limits our range of motion, it does not force our muscles to grow stronger and adapt because, well, they don’t have to.
That’s why you may notice that many individuals squat doesn’t go to what is considered the standard, that being the thigh parallel to the floor or the hip crease just below the knee.
This should not deter you from squatting. Wherever you are at in your fitness journey the squat should be a foundation. Keep reading to learn how we feel about the individualized portion of the squat and why doing it “by feel” may be far superior than any one coach yelling at you to be in a certain position.
All of our hips are shaped differently and all of us have more or less range of motion compared to one another. This individuality allows for varying degrees of foot position and foot width within our squat. Meaning, that it will help for you to play with your foot position and width to find a squat pattern that is most comfortable for you.
From there we look at a few things. Most importantly is going to be the range of motion you have at both your hips and your ankles.
Most people have the required range of motion at their knees but after years of sitting, or being sedentary, or injury we tend to have this innate ability to not utilize our full range of motion of our hips or ankles.
The first time you squat down you may feel like you are falling backwards, or don’t get very low. Then it will be “I feel awfully stiff, in my hips, in my ankles.” That’s what we look for.
-Do you have full hip flexion, or in other words, can you bring your knees to your chest when lying on you back.
-Do you have full ankle dorsiflexion, or in other words, can you place your foot about a hands width away from the wall and touch your knee to the wall without your heel coming off the ground.
For some it may be working on range of motion at the hip, for others, the ankle, yet for others it will be a combination of both. These two essential ranges of motion are foundational for a full squat to occur.
From there we want to keep our torso as upright as possible, so we don’t fold forward, from this position we can maintain stability and strength.
There are a few factors that can play a role in how upright you can maintain your torso, part of this is attributed to the range of motion that you either have or don’t have from the breakouts above.
The other part of this is largely attributed to your femur length. The longer the femur is relative to your tibia (your upper leg relative to your lower leg), the more difficult it is going to be to get to a full squat position.
This does not mean that you are incapable of squatting, rather it is that the squat form will look slightly different than others and may benefit with a variation or adjustment.
This just speaks even more to the individualization of the squat based on feel. Recap below:
-Full range of hip motion
-Full range of ankle motion
*Determine foot position and foot width to feel
-Maintain upright torso
There a multitude of ways to modify these, such as heel lifts, doing goblet squats instead of back squats, etc but if you stick to the notion of motion and feel you’ll be able to progress your way through squats.