Advanced Squatting Technique
The back squat is one of the most popular and important exercises in the development of lower body strength. Maximal back squat performance shows strong correlations with improved athletic ability.
Although this is one of the most common exercises in strength and conditioning programs there is still variation in coaching styles for the classic back squat. Over the last decade there has been an ongoing debate over what techniques produce the best back squat.
So what does the evidence show?
First I must point out that techniques that work for some people may not work for everyone. Each individual has slight variations in the structure of their hips. Some people are born with more shallow hip joints while others present with a much deeper ball and socket structure.
Contrary to popular belief, the back squat does not produce excessive strain on the ACL. As squat depth and knee flexion increases, the force through the ACL increases as well. However, there is significantly less shearing force on the ACL during the squat as compared to open chain exercises such as knee extensions.
What about depth?
As knee flexion increases, so do the forces on the patella-femoral joint and tibio-femoral joint. Training in a progressive-overload fashion and allowing proper time for recovery will help avoid injury to the quadriceps tendon.
Deeper squats have been reported to result in greater jump performance in controlled trials. A combination of both deep and shallow squats (of greater intensity) demonstrated the greatest improvement in 1 rep max strength in a recent study.
Should the knees go beyond the toes?
Current research shows that when the knees pass beyond the toes while squatting there is an increase in anterior displacement of the tibia in relation to the femur. This may lead to a greater risk of sprain or strain in the knee. Research also showed that when the squat was restricted (knees did not pass beyond the toes) there was a noticeable increase in the shearing forces in the low back. Therefore it is not recommended to restrict the knees from going beyond the toes in and effort to reduce knee strain, as this will disproportionately increase the shearing forces in the lumbar spine.
What is the ideal trunk position?
Positioning of the trunk is directly related to the range of dorsiflexion in the ankle. When the range of motion in the ankle is restricted, the body tends to lean forward during the descent phase of the squat. When full range of motion is achieved in the ankles, the knees can shift forward and the torso remains more upright. Stretching and soft tissue therapy of the posterior calf muscles prior to squat training will therefore improve ankle mobility and prevent excessive forward lean.
Where should I be looking?
Downward gaze while squatting is associated with a greater forward lean. Maintaining a more upward gaze will keep the torso upright and prevent excessive shearing forces in the low back.
Last but not least: Foot position
Foot position will be slightly different for each lifter. A “natural” foot placement is recommended. This means roughly shoulder width apart with the toes pointing slightly outward. As mentioned before, everyone has different anatomical structure of the hips, ankles and knees. Foot placement will therefore be dependent on the natural rotation of the hips.
So what is the optimal back squat technique?
• Heels remain in contact with the floor
• Gaze forwards and upwards
• Natural stance width and foot positioning
• Full depth (115-125 degrees)
• Knees tracking over toes
• Chest up, relatively upright posture, neutral spine
As always, these are just recommendations and each individual should use precaution when beginning a new exercise. Please refer to a qualified strength and conditioning coach or a licensed health care professional for a complete movement assessment. Call 519-826-7973 or visit www.forwardhealth.ca to set up an appointment with Dr. Kyle today!
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