25 Feb Squatting Proper – Debunking the Gym Myth
If whoever you’re getting your fitness advice from tells you to keep your knees behind your toes, run fast and run far. This unfortunate myth that has permeated the fitness industry has recently been proven wrong by those who know what they are talking about with regard to the biomechanics and health of the knee.
The Squat is the KEY to lower body development. It is a great standard of lower body strength and requires great ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder mobility. However, when you look across a gym, you will notice variations in squat depth and form. A full range of motion squat requires the hamstrings to fully cover the calves; essentially your butt will be right above / on your heels, and an upright posture is maintained. The myth is that squatting below parallel is bad for the knees because of shearing forces.
*A shear force is when two forces oppose each other: think of how scissors work. Each side slides over one another in the opposite direction. However, the greatest amount of shear force on the knee (ACL) occurs during the top third of the squat and the greatest shear force on the PCL occurs at 90* knee flexion. Whereas at the bottom of the squat the tendons and ligaments wrap tightly around the knee increasing structural integrity; a compressive force instead of shear force. Thus, squatting only to parallel and driving your hips backwards is actually not helping to maintain the health and integrity of the knee joint, not to mention missing out targeting the hamstrings, glutes, and vastus medialis oblique.
Here are the elements of a good squat:
- Push the hips forward
- Drive the knees out
- Sit in your heels / chest up
- Eyes up
An effort to keep the knees behind the toes is WORSE for intervertebral disk (back) health. Maintaining an upright posture shifts the focus of the lift to your quadriceps and puts your back in a stronger, safer position because the vertebrae are stacked on top of each other and the bar / weight is closer to the center of mass. The more forward lean increases the force placed on the lower back. If there is excessive forward lean address the possibility of tight hip flexors or lack of ankle range of motion. Try adding the couch stretch and calf raises with a 5 second pause at the bottom / stretched position to your warm up before squatting. With regard to foot stance, your anatomy will determine the stance width. Those with deep hip sockets will have difficulty going excessively deep due to the femur being bound with the anterior part of the acetabulum. These individuals will favor a wider stance. Thus, trainees with shallow hip sockets will do better on a more narrow stance. A doctor does not need to determine hip socket depth, start with standing hip width apart and squat down. Video your form and from there you’ll be able to determine the appropriate stance.
Full depth squats are hard work that require concentration and grit. Check your ego at the door, choose a lighter weight, and master the form first. Learning how to squat with proper form from the start will reduce the risk of injury and accelerate strength and hypertrophy results. Most complaints of pain come from performing the squat wrong in the first place. Start with squatting correctly and if the problem still persists do soft tissue work or seek out a soft tissue specialist who can help optimize range of motion. If there is still pain then reach out to your doctor.