Knees behind your toes, weight in the heels, chest up, head neutral, core engaged… need I continue?
The squat is common but complex.
It adds incredible value to a workout. Repping these out, works the legs, core and back. It is an empowering exercise, hitting multiple large muscle groups at once, leaving your booty feeling great the next day. However, many still lack the foundational skills to stay safe. They fail to listen to their body if the movement becomes painful which may lead to a sudden injury that rocks their training.
I know it’s tempting to load more weight as legs are anatomically capable of managing heavy weight, but it is at the mercy of the rest of your body.
Pain, tension, instability in the legs and back are signs that there are weak points that need to be addressed. Strengthening trouble spots is critical before the body is ready to take on more weight.
Things to pay attention to…
Experiencing pain on the outside to the quad usually indicates a tight IT or iliotibial band. Survey your natural stance and determine whether your legs naturally turn out. If tightness forms by turning your toes slightly inward before you squat, this may indicate the cause of the pain that is restricting you from achieving proper form. If this is the case, loosening up that tendon through foam rolling is effective.
Warning– I have screamed when doing this, but it does get better! Although painful at first, the discomfort will lessen the more you work it loose.
Another factor that may inhibit your range of motion are those up-tight soleus and gastrocnemius muscles and achilles tendon.
Remember the golden rule, weight in your heels, weight in your heels, weight in your heels. This means flexibility and lots of it.
Keep your heels anchored throughout the entire motion reaching for a depth that positions your hamstrings parallel with the floor. But if you’re like me, tight calves will always pose a challenge. I can almost hear the defiant screams from resisting muscles like an unvaccinated child clinging to the door frame before a doctor visit. But with anything else, this takes patience and work. I am of course referring to lengthening of tendons; parenting advice is for another day.
With the extra flexibility this demands of already tight tissue, dedicating sessions stretching on stairs or holding a deep lunge will help increase range of motion to achieve the deeper position.
It is critical to reach the deep squat position as this will target the muscles much more effectively than doing half reps.
Also, if flexibility is a challenge you may compensate by hinging forward at the hips putting stress on lower back.
A slight tweek in the back with a significant amount of weight can cause an abrupt injury that can put you out for weeks. To help prevent this from occurring a strong core is a must.
The core is your back’s support system and must have adequate strength before you can squat safely. For instance, if your back has a slight hollow curve to it, known as lordosis, it will be easy for your hips to tilt forward, as this feels natural due to confirmation. A strong core will easily correct this if you are aware of your body’s tendencies.
When proper form isn’t practiced, the body is robbed from reaping the benefits of muscle engagement. By overcompensating from a weak area you aren’t not being true to your body and its present capabilities.
Practice body awareness to keep your technique flawless. Stay in tune with your body and feel its power, its capabilities and its potential. Through steady training and assessing yourself honestly, your goals will always be within reach.