The Perfect Squat Technique

If you’ve been in a gym environment, you’ve likely seen any number of variations of a squat, with any number of voices emphasising different cues and labelling them as “good technique”. You might have tried a few yourself, but still have back pain or knee pain. You might even be someone who “doesn’t squat anymore - it’s bad for my back”. In truth, squatting is no worse for your back than eating breakfast or walking the dog, provided it is done safely and efficiently. But what constitutes perfect squat technique? There are so many opinions out there, who can one really trust to provide answers?

Well, search no more. I’ve decided to finally open up the book of secrets and give you the golden answer, the key to squatting perfectly no matter who you are. The answer is:

It depends.

I know - these are potentially the two most frustrating words for anyone looking for answers, but let me finish. It depends for a number of reasons. Age, training history, injury history, functional and general anatomy - the list can go on forever. In short, there is no one specific way to squat because we are all anatomically different, and we all have different lived experiences that dictate how our body likes to move. What I have instead is a series of standards that, when applied to almost any exerciser, will ensure a safe squat.

 

THE FIVE SQUAT STANDARDS

1. Anterior Core Bracing (ACB)

ACB refers to the targeted contraction of certain core muscles that allow the lumber spine to be supported appropriately and remain neutral. Put simply, the weight of the barbell on your back has to travel through the body into the ground no matter how you move. What can be changed is how that force travels through your body. For example: you squat down without a core brace, with your buttocks pointing to the back wall and your chest pointing to the mirror in front of you, thus creating an exaggerated J-shape with your spine. Due to gravity, the weight of your bar will travel along the structures and musculature of that J-shape, through the legs, and into the floor. The uneven distribution of heavy weight through your spine, however, causes one of two things to happen: certain low back muscles strain from the amount of work they are doing, or an intervertebral disc begins to bulge. Now I’m not saying that this is guaranteed to happen, but it is certainly a consideration without appropriate bracing.

Consider the following example: you squat down with a core brace, with buttocks pointing toward the back wall and chest pointing toward the floor in front of you, thus resulting in a neutral I-shape in the spine. This facilitates even distribution of weight through each vertebrae, resulting in significantly reduced injury risk and a stable pathway that allows for optimal force production.

2. Thoracic Lock

Thoracic lock refers to the voluntary setting of musculature around the thoracic spine to ensure that neither flexion nor extension occurs. This is for similar reasons to the above point regarding ACB - if the back is allowed to flex or extend, weight distribution becomes uneven and can result in injury due to asymmetrical demands being placed upon the spine. Further to this is flow-on effects caused by involuntary thoracic flexion. If the shoulders, neck and resulting thorax are allowed to flex forward, this can often have an effect down the chain that results in a fully flexed C-shape of the back, further compounding the flexion and subsequent likelihood of injury.

3. Three Points of Contact through the Feet

The feet have unparalleled importance in movement due to the fact that they are the connection points between our bodies and the floor. Biomechanics of the feet can affect biomechanics of the knees and resultantly the hips, back, shoulders and neck due to the flow-on effects of functional anatomy. Due to this, it is important that one maintain’s a stable foot position to provide a good foundation for force absorption and production. This applies, not only to a squat, but to any movements involving ground-foot contact. The three points of contact are as follows:

Heels - if the heels have only sporadic contact with the floor, stability is compromised which consequently affects force production and injury prevention.

Big Toe Knuckle (1st metatarsophalangeal joint) - not only will poor big toe connection impact movement stability, but it will also negatively impact one’s ability to contract certain anterior stabilisers such as the vastus medialis oblique (VMO - an important patella stabiliser).

Little Toe Knuckle - likewise, this is important for movement stability, but will also likely result in knee valves through movement if allowed to lift from the floor. Knee valgus is a result of femoral and/or tibial internal rotation that can predispose significant injuries such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) ruptures.

4. External Rotation of the Hips

As mentioned in the above point, internal rotation at the hips can reinforce movement patterns that facilitate the likelihood of knee injuries such as ACL ruptures. External rotation of the hip, on the other hand, reinforces movement patterns that protect from such injuries. This movement also facilitates stable movement through a widened base of support, as well as more range of motion by uninhibiting anatomical structures such as the pelvis.

5. Posterior Loading

Posterior loading is an emphasis on letting musculature around the hip do more of the work, rather than musculature around the knees. In short: sit back into the movement and let the chest come forward a little. If you’re completely upright, it’s likely that the weight of the bar is travelling directly through your low back and the front of your knees. While not an immediate issue, this can cause grief through repetition due to overuse of these structures when you have so much more muscle available to get the job done.

The above standards are movements and technical adjustments that can be applied by almost anyone, no matter what shape or make. There will always be other considerations that are more closely related to the individual, but if you can implement these squatting standards, then you will likely have a much more efficient squat technique than before.

If you would like more information, or have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us - we’d love to help!