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Squat Mechanics- Considerations and Supplemental Exercises

EnFuse Staff
support@EnFuseFitness.com

Category: Strength & Rehabilitation

Squat Mechanics- Considerations and Supplemental Exercises

When working with a personal trainer, physical therapist, or coach, many of us cringe when the word “squat” is mentioned. Squatting can be a physically demanding exercise that can be both uncomfortable and challenging to perform; however, what many people may not realize is that a basic bodyweight squat is a functional activity that most people perform multiple times each day. 

For example, when lowering or rising from a chair, one is performing a squat; that being said, most people do not perform the squat correctly. Whether you are performing a squat as an exercise or as a functional activity, such as sitting in a chair or picking something up off of the floor, it is important to execute proper squatting techniques in order to protect the body and avoid injury. 

 

Proper Squatting Technique 

There are several ways to perform a squat correctly.1 However, there are certain aspects of the squat that must be present in order to avoid injury.  

  1. To begin, start with your feet approximately shoulder width apart. 
  2. Shoulders and chest should remain upright and the head should remain in a neutral position. 
  3. Initiate the movement by sending the hips backwards, then allowing the knees to bend- (knees must be slightly behind the toes and toes should be seen throughout the squat.)

* it may be helpful to think of squatting / sitting between your heels 

  1. Heels should maintain contact with the floor throughout the movement and balance should be maintained. 

 

Two critical points-

  1. Throughout the entire movement, your spine should maintain a neutral position- (avoid rounding or hyper-extending your back)
  2. It is also important to avoid ‘uncontrolled’ knee valgus (knees caving in).  

Note:  Performed correctly, the squat can improve strength, range of motion, level of independence, and long-term health of joints; performed incorrectly, one greatly increases their risk of injury and may expose themselves to developing low-back and or knee pain.2

As mentioned above, there are several ways to perform a squat correctly.  Stance, foot position, initiation of movement, and load placement are all considerations depending on the ultimate goal of the individual / training programl.   The method of execution outlined above is for what many consider to be a traditional squat. 

Further considerations:  Often times people tend to hyperextend or flex the lower back when performing a squat. Over time, the lower back experiences increased load which can stress the muscles, joints, ligaments, and disks within the spine.2 To ensure that the spine is in a neutral position while squatting, a broom stick can be placed along the spine. The broom stick should maintain contact with the spine throughout the entire range of the squat. If at any point, the broom stick loses contact with the spine, neutral hip position has been lost. 


Want help improving your squat?  Email our team to set-up a consult- support@EnFuseFitness.com

 

Improving Squat Mechanics- ankle dorsiflexion and impaired ability to squat

Compromised squat mechanics can be caused by many factors; a common reason is insufficient ankle dorsiflexion (the ability to raise your foot / toes up towards the ceiling). If the ankle has compromised dorsiflexion, one may have a difficult time initiating the squat, maintaining balance, or achieving optimal depth.1 

Ankle dorsiflexion during the squat, by and large, is what allows the heel to maintain contact with the ground throughout the entire range of movement.  

There are many reasons why someone may lack dorsiflexion. Barring hard injuries that could compromise the delicate structures of the ankle, the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, both calf muscles, are typically a good place to start. These muscles can greatly hinder dorsiflexion when tight;1therefore, in order to improve / increase range of motion (ROM) you can incorporate the following stretches: 

 

To stretch the gastrocnemius-

1.  Extend the leg being stretched at the hip.
2.  Ensure the foot is flat on the ground. 

Note:  To increase the intensity of the stretch, the foot can be placed on a wedge, or the non-stretched leg can be placed in front of the one being stretched.

General rule of thumb- this stretch can be performed bilaterally (both sides) for 3 sets of 30 seconds several times throughout the day or as a general warm-up / cool-down.

 

To stretch the soleus- 

1.  Extend the leg being stretched at the hip.
2.  Ensure the foot is flat on the ground. 
3.  Slightly bend the trail knee

Note: this stretch is similar to the gastrocnemius stretch; however, the trailing knee is bent versus extended. 

To add a multi-directional component to this stretch and further improve ROM, (ensuring the foot maintains constant contact with the floor) the trail knee and gently be pulsed forward both medially and laterally.

General rule of thumb- this stretch can be performed bilaterally (both sides) for 3 sets of 30 seconds several times throughout the day or as a general warm-up / cool-down.

Want help improving your squat?  Email our team to set-up a consult- support@EnFuseFitness.com 

 

Improving Squat Mechanics- hip strength & knee pain

Hip strength is a critical component when performing a squat. If the hips are weak, the thigh bone (femur) can adduct (move inward) which can subsequently cause the knees to collapse inward as well.3 When the knees collapse inward, there is increased compression on the lateral femur and tibia, and strain on the medial meniscus and medial collateral ligament within the knee.  The medial meniscus can wear down over time and increased pain can occur as a result. 

Improper squatting mechanics over time may lead to variety of dysfunctions throughout the body; chronic knee pain is just one of the more common complaints. 

In order to decrease the incidence of knee collapse, gluteus maximus, medius, and external rotator hip strengthening exercises can be performed.3


Bridges
- primary focus (Gluteus Maximus)

To Begin-

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent.
  2. Tighten glutes and elevate hips off floor until they are fully extended.

 Note:   It is important to maintain a neutral spine while performing glute bridges to avoid injury to the spine. 

 
Side-lying Clamshells- primary focus (gluteus medius and external hip rotators)

To Begin-

  1. Lie on your side with your knees bent and stacked on top of one another.  
  2. Keep hips flexed to approximatelyy 45 degrees.
  3. Feet remain together throughout the movement
  4. Raise / Lower upper knee / leg

Note:   To increase difficulty a resistance band can be added above the knees. 

Want help improving your squat?  Email our team to set-up a consult- support@EnFuseFitness.com


Wrapping it up!

As mentioned above, the squat is a functional multi-joint activity that many of us perform multiple times each day. Performed correctly, the squat can improve strength, range of motion, level of independence, and long-term health of joints; performed incorrectly, one greatly increases their risk of injury and may expose themselves to developing low-back and or knee pain.2

To protect the body and improve squat mechanics, improving ankle dorsiflexion through targeted gastrocnemius and soleus stretching; increasing hip strength through targeted gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and hip external rotator strengthening exercises; and, avoiding flexing and or hyperextending the spine through the entire range of motion should be considerations when engaging in a thoughtful squat program.

We hope that you find this article helpful! 

Please know that our professional and highly qualified team of coaches and therapists are always here to help- support@EnFuseFitness.com

In Health,
Team EnFuse

EnFuse Fitness, located in Enfield, Connecticut, is a veteran and family owned private personal training studio that offers pilates, massage, meal prep, and nutritional counseling services.

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References 

  1. Hardingham C, WPadmin S. The importance of correct squat mechanics. Injury Active. http://injuryactive.com/the-importance-of-correct-squat-mechanics/. Published April 4, 2017. Accessed June 15, 2017.
  1. Strength Training 101: How to Squat Properly. Nerd Fitness. https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/strength-training-101-how-to-squat-properly/. Published October 25, 2016. Accessed June 15, 2017. 
  1. 5 Injuries That Can Be Caused By a Bad Squat. Ascent Physical Therapy. https://ascentpt.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/5-injuries-that-can-be-caused-by-a-bad-squat/. Published November 12, 2013. Accessed June 15, 2017.

 

Images

https://i0.wp.com/injuryactive.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/squat2.png?resize=300%2C216

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/G_jhO7FSjYM/maxresdefault.jpg

http://www.topendsports.com/medicine/images/calf-gastroc-stretch.gif

http://www.topendsports.com/medicine/images/calf-soleus-stretch.gif

http://dingo.care2.com/pictures/greenliving/uploads/2016/02/glute-bridges.png

http://lillypt.indefree.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/clamshell.jpg

http://physiodetective.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/20140202-232743.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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