A poor representation of the squat has been going around for years and truthfully, it’s bullshit!
The squat is not bad! It’s not bad for the back. It’s not bad for the hips. It’s not bad for the knees. It’s not bad for the ankles.
Overall, it’s a pretty damn good movement when performed correctly!
Proper fundamental movement competency is essential for training, physical activity participation, and reducing the risk of injuries (Myer et al., 2014). Utilizing superior movement techniques is key for health reinforcement throughout life (Myer et al., 2014). Proper movement techniques should be taught at a young age so that adequate motor skill proficiency can be developed at an early age (Myer et al., 2014). The skillful movements such as sprinting, running, throwing, and jumping all have direct biomechanical and neuromuscular implications to successful performance (Myer et al., 2014) from the transition of primary foundational movements such as squat, hinge, lunge, push, pull, rotation, and gait.
Not only does the participation of fundamental movement patterns such as the squat help for training efficiency, regular physical activity, and reducing the risk of injury, it allows for transferable skill energy towards recreational and leisure activities. The ability to maintain the strength of the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes can easily be done with a squat and in addition, continuing to maintain mobility of the hips and ankles through squats is beneficial.
Now let’s dive a little deeper into the squat!
First things first, the squat is required for ESSENTIAL activities in daily living (Myer et al., 2014) such as sitting on chairs, getting into your vehicle, going #2 on the toilet, lifting objects off the ground, and many more.
The squat is one of the most utilized movements to activate the largest and most powerful muscles of the lower body (Logar, Kleva, MaruŠIČ, Supej, & GerŽEviČ, 2014). Some professionals even classify it as one of the most effective movements used to enhance athletic performance to support explosive movements such as jumping, running, and lifting (Myer et al., 2014). An assortment of squat variations can be programmed based on individual goals and needs. The most common are front squats and back squats (Logar et al., 2014) with a variety of different equipment to use that is on the market.
What’s the Difference between a Front Squat and Back Squat?
Overall, a squat is biomechanically a prominent knee and hip flexion movement, followed by an extension of the same joints. Additionally, a lot of motion is needed at the ankle joint to sufficiently descend down into the squat. Therefore, the squat has a large muscular activation of the quadriceps and glutes (Logar et al., 2014) with an adequate range of motion needed at the knee, hip, and ankle joints. However, each movement squat position can significantly impact the muscular recruitment given by the equipment placement.
The squat variations such as the front squat are held in front of the chest at the clavicle, the high-bar back squat is slightly above the acromion across the upper trapezius muscles, and the low-bar back squat is positioned slightly below the level of the acromion across the spinae scapulae (Donnelly, Berg, & Fiske, 2006).
When looking at the comparison with a back squat, the front squat will produce lower joint compressive forces on the knee and lower back due to the front-loaded equipment placement and upright position of the torso (Donnelly et al., 2006; Logar et al., 2014). When reviewing the back squat, this movement requires a furthermore forward lean of the torso in order to maintain balance and thus, increasing the load on the hip and back extensors (Logar et al., 2014).
It’s important to note the relevance of appropriate movement selection in programming to target movement differences. Individuals that are untrained or lack experience in the front squat, should be progressed appropriately in order to maximize the loading stress on the target muscles while decreasing unnecessary stress to the relevant joints for injury prevention and pain-free movement. Although squat variations are critical for biomechanical considerations in programming, it’s essential to consider why some individuals might need to squat differently compared to others.
Why Do I Squat Differently?
When looking at an individual’s anatomy, they will very likely hold a different bone structure when comparing to another individual. Not everyone holds the same bone structure! The human body includes numerous bones in the skeletal system, but each individual has a uniqueness from the person training to their left and right.
The femoral neck of the femur is an important area to consider when examining an individual’s true squat stance. This is why it is so important for orthopedic surgeons to select the correct neck-preserving ratio in hip replacements (Liu et al., 2019). It improves the patient’s outcome and the mispositioning of the femoral neck reduces the risk of post-surgery complications (Liu et al., 2019).
The femoral version is known as the angle between the femoral neck and shaft of the femur, which indicates the degree of torsion of the femur (Scorcelletti, Reeves, Rittweger, & Ireland, 2020). In further explanation, it is the angle between the projection of two lines in the axial plane perpendicular to the femoral shaft; one line going through the proximal femoral neck region and the second one through the distal condylar region, indicating the degree of ‘twist’ of the femur (Scorcelletti et al., 2020).
The differences at the femoral version significantly impact the biomechanics at the hip (Scorcelletti et al., 2020) which alters the mechanics of movement and such as the squat. Additionally, the muscular actions of the surrounding joints are altered due to the femoral version angle thus impacting the shear forces of the femoral head and the patellofemoral joint contact pressure (Scorcelletti et al., 2020). Although the increased angle of the femoral version is a structural anatomy derivative, it can produce unwanted asymmetries around the body and produce strain and pain in some movements.
Length of the Femur
In terms of anthropometric differences, femur length (1: shorter femur compared to the trunk and 2: longer femur compared to the trunk) alters the mechanics of a squat. Demers, Pendenza, Radevich, and Preuss (2018) provides the explanation that individuals with a shorter femur tend to be associated with lower ankle and knee angles, while individuals with a longer femur tend to be associated with higher ankle and knee angles.
The femoral length differences from individual to individual may affect the range of motion requirements in the lower extremity joints during the squat (Demers et al., 2018). Below are some great videos that provide a deeper explanation of the trunk/femur ratio and how individuals may squat differently due to this cause.
Another important consideration of the acceptance of femoral differences in the anterior curvature of the femur (Su et al., 2015). In some cases, you may see someone that walks with a slight or severe bowing (medial or lateral) at the thigh (Su et al., 2015), which visually, may not appear to be the best standard technique. In some scenarios, femoral anterior curvatures have a significant impact on the pressures at the femur condyles and tibia condyles thus potentially creating unnecessary stress on the surface.
It’s known that the human body has a large variability between shapes and sizes at the pelvis (Krebs, Incavo, & Shields, 2009). At different ages, the pelvis may change orientation from 9 to 18 years of age (Hingsammer, Bixby, Zurakowski, Yen, & Kim, 2015). Hingsammer et al. (2015) explain that the acetabular angles in both females and males increase with maturity as a result of the posterior wall maturation. This statement provides a great justification for why an individual’s squat mechanics may change from childhood to adulthood. Someone may squat in a narrow stance when training at a younger age, but as an adult, they transitioned towards a wider stance due to the growth of their pelvis and acetabulum.
As mentioned above, there is a variety of reasons why someone may squat differently compared to the person training next to them. Does it mean they don’t know how to squat correctly? Maybe, or is it their anatomy development that changes their biomechanics?
The femoral neck, version, length, and curvature play a critical role in the squat technique. Additionally, the pelvis is an essential part of that puzzle as well. When looking at someone, some of these characteristics may be seen visually, but a deeper examination is needed to get the best description. Truth be told, an x-ray would be the true determination of what an individual’s bone structure looks like, but as with most people, we don’t have the time for that!
You may ask yourself, well... how do I squat correctly?
Should you squat wide or narrow?
Should your feet be slightly turnout or neural?
Each of the questions above is highly associated with the anatomy of the squatting individual. This article doesn't necessarily provide how to squat correctly but provide the information on what can dramatically change the squat via mechanical considerations.
As with all foundational movements, it's ideal to identify biomechanical deficits that hinder optimal movement patterns that may compromise performance and injury resilience. A simple bodyweight squat can be a useful tool to screen an individual’s limitations for neuromuscular control, strength, stability, and mobility (Myer et al., 2014).
At Linked Fit, we are HUGE supporters of assessments for clients which includes a demonstration of a squat. This helps provide relative information to the coach on the starting point for the client. The screens utilized in a general assessment should be quick and easy in simple terms of either saying “Yes” or “No” for acceptable squat technique. If the squat is acceptable (“Yes”), then it’s okay to move on and it's very likely the squat won’t become an issue.
However, what if it’s not acceptable (“No”)? Heck, this might be you or someone you know, it’s time to determine what is limiting the squat technique. A faulty squat can be from a variety of things such as an unfamiliar movement that coaching can easily help fix the issue. Additionally, inefficient motor unit recruitment, muscular weakness, strength asymmetries or joint instabilities, joint immobility, and/or muscular tightness (Myer et al., 2014). Lastly, one that generally gets skipped over is natural anatomy! As mentioned above, many different anatomical structures can significantly alter the visual aspects of the squat. Therefore, it’s important to think globally rather than locally with limited desires so the proper technique can be solved.
Valgus collapse is a popular squatting word thrown around in the fitness industry for a faulty squat movement. Specifically, valgus collapse is where the knees collapse inwards or knee-knocking while performing the squat. Valgus collapse is not the greatest technique to perform on a regular basis. Researchers around the world have shown a large amount of supporting evidence that valgus collapse can result in injury. These common injuries are knee ligament sprains or tears and meniscus tears.
At Linked Fit, each progressed movement that is programmed has been earned! You may have heard this before but we’ll note it again, “MASTER THE BASICS!”. The most simplified squat movement might be very tough for someone but in time, they’ll continue to learn the basics and progress as needed. Master a movement and be proud of the improvement you have made! Everyone has to start somewhere and that somewhere might be the most simplified movement.
Regressions & Progressions
When it comes to programming the appropriate squats, a variety of movements can be used to help maximize the performance return. As with any pyramid of squatting regressions and progressions, selecting the appropriate movement is critical! This will help dictate if someone has suitable technique standards when moving up the pyramid.
Here are our favorite squats to perform while training:
Wrapping it Up!
Although there a variety of ways to collectively perform a squat, performing to meet your anatomical standard is ideal. When an individual has different anatomical bone structures, it can dictate how their squat will look visually compared to everyone else in the gym. Someone might need to provide a wider stance because of their femoral version, while another might get away with optimal squat depth at a narrow stance.
Just remember, squats are NOT bad for you! They are great for you and apart of daily activities that very common throughout the day. It's important to always find a way to train pain-free and optimize movement competency. Find the appropriate stance and foot angle through your anatomical considerations.
Demers, E., Pendenza, J., Radevich, V., & Preuss, R. (2018). The Effect of Stance Width and Anthropometrics on Joint Range of Motion in the Lower Extremities during a Back Squat. International Journal of Exercise Science, 11(1), 764-775. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29997725
Donnelly, D. V., Berg, W. P., & Fiske, D. M. (2006). The effect of the direction of gaze on the kinematics of the squat exercise. J Strength Cond Res, 20(1), 145-150. doi:10.1519/r-16434.1
Hingsammer, A. M., Bixby, S., Zurakowski, D., Yen, Y.-M., & Kim, Y.-J. (2015). How do acetabular version and femoral head coverage change with skeletal maturity? Clinical orthopaedics and related research, 473(4), 1224-1233. doi:10.1007/s11999-014-4014-y
Krebs, V., Incavo, S. J., & Shields, W. H. (2009). The anatomy of the acetabulum: what is normal? Clinical orthopaedics and related research, 467(4), 868-875. doi:10.1007/s11999-008-0317-1
Liu, Z., Hu, H., Liu, S., Huo, J., Li, M., & Han, Y. (2019). Relationships between the femoral neck-preserving ratio and radiologic and clinical outcomes in patients undergoing total-hip arthroplasty with a collum femoris-preserving stem. Medicine, 98(35), e16926-e16926. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000016926
Logar, J., Kleva, M., MaruŠIČ, U., Supej, M., & GerŽEviČ, M. (2014). DIFFERENCES IN THE KNEE TORQUE BETWEEN HIGH- AND LOW-BAR BACK SQUAT TECHNIQUES: A PILOT STUDY. Annales Kinesiologiae, 5(2), 141-151. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=s3h&AN=102070317&site=ehost-live&custid=ns015031
Myer, G. D., Kushner, A. M., Brent, J. L., Schoenfeld, B. J., Hugentobler, J., Lloyd, R. S., . . . McGill, S. M. (2014). The back squat: A proposed assessment of functional deficits and technical factors that limit performance. Strength and conditioning journal, 36(6), 4-27. doi:10.1519/SSC.0000000000000103
Scorcelletti, M., Reeves, N. D., Rittweger, J., & Ireland, A. (2020). Femoral anteversion: significance and measurement. Journal of anatomy, 237(5), 811-826. doi:10.1111/joa.13249
Su, X.-Y., Zhao, Z., Zhao, J.-X., Zhang, L.-C., Long, A.-H., Zhang, L.-H., & Tang, P.-F. (2015). Three-Dimensional Analysis of the Curvature of the Femoral Canal in 426 Chinese Femurs. BioMed research international, 2015, 318391-318391. doi:10.1155/2015/318391