The squat is one of the most functional movement patterns we use, whether it is at the gym, at work, or at home during our daily activities. Problems can arise when our form is lacking on this basic movement pattern. I am going to review some of the most common mistakes I observe and provide suggestions to help you fix your squat.
This is by far the most common mistake I see. When squatting, your knees should be aligned over your second toe throughout the movement. How wide your stance is and what angle your feet are pointed is completely up to personal preference as long as you are able to maintain the alignment of your knees. If you have trouble with your knees caving inward, really focus on pushing your knees outward as you descend into your squat. You may even benefit from looping a band just above your knees to give yourself something to push against.
Our bodies naturally have a lumbar lordosis (anterior curvature of our low back) and the goal during a squat is to maintain this neutral position. You may not even be aware that you are rounding during your squat so I recommend watching yourself from the side in a mirror or having someone film you. If you’re still having difficulty, I recommend practicing from a four-point kneel position, sitting your hips back towards your feet while maintaining a neutral spine.
This issue often stems from myths around squatting with regards to shear force at the knee joints. A study conducted in 2003 found a reduction in stress to the knees by limiting anterior movement (Fry 2003), leading the masses to believe you shoulder never let your knees go past your toes. However, it was overlooked that the study also concluded that this stress was disproportionately shifted to the low back and hips (Fry 2003). Further literature has confirmed that our bodies are more than capable of handling the stress induced from the normal anterior knee displacement that occurs during a squat (Schoenfeld 2010). That being said, we also don’t want our squat to only involve bending the knees but rather a combined movement from the hips/knees/ankles in order to optimize position and depth. Reduced mobility in any of these joints may limit the depth of your squat. A temporary fix to get you accustomed to squatting deeper at the gym is to slightly elevate your heels.
I encourage you assess your squat form to identifying any mistakes you may be making and use some the tips I have suggested to fix your squat. If you are still struggling to master the squat feel free to come in and see one of our therapist for an individual evaluation. Remember, you don’t need to be in pain to come see us!
Mandi Lamanes, MPT, BKIN
Fry, A. C., Smith, J. C., & Schilling, B. K. (2003). Effect of knee position on hip and knee torques during the barbell squat. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 17(4), 629-633.
Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). Squatting kinematics and kinetics and their application to exercise performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(12), 3497-3506.