Monday, February 9, 2009

Quality Movement - The Squat

The squat has long been heralded as one of the best movements for mass gain, leg strength and core strength.  Arnold called it "The King of All Exercises."  It's one of the three lifts used in powerlifting.  You can't do the olympic lifts without it.  It's even been immortalized in poetry.  (Nods at snooty literature majors in the audience.)  Okay, let's call it a rhyme instead.

But, before we look at the squat as an exercise, we have to look at it as a movement pattern.  Why you ask?  Because if you can't do one properly with just your bodyweight, you have no business loading up your back with 6 big wheels and going for reps!

So what does a good squat look like?  Again, think of what a four-year-old looks like when they squat down to play in the water, but don't want to get their bottom wet.  The key points to notice are:

  • Weight is through the heels, they are not up on the balls of their feet.
  • The spine is neutral.  The proper "S" curve is maintained.
  • The shoulders are behind the knees.

Here's a great test that Gray Cook, designer of The Functional Movement Screen and author of Athletic Body in Balance recommends for checking your squat form:

While standing sideways in a doorway, holding a broom handle overhead in a locked out position, squat down as deep as possible.

You pass the test and may continue squatting as part of your exercise routine, if you meet all of the following:

  1. The heels remain on the floor.
  2. The feet do not slide or rotate.
  3. The knees are aligned over the feet.
  4. The hips are below the knees.
  5. The broomstick does not touch the wall.

You fail the test if any of the above are not met.

Some common reasons for not being able to squat properly include tight hip flexors, inability to activate glutes, lack of ankle mobility and lack of core stability.  Over the next few posts, we will look at teach of these issues and some corrective exercises for each.  In the meantime, one of the best ways to improve your squat form is to squat.

Here's a great method for correcting improper form:  Stand 6 or 8 inches away from the wall and squat as deep as you can without touching the wall.  Practice this a few times a day, until you can get your hips below your knees without touching the wall.  Once you are capable of this, move in 2 inches, until you can do it with only 4 inches between you and the wall.  If you can do it from a distance of 4 inches, your squat form is pretty solid.

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