All we do is squat, squat, squat no matter what…
Ever wonder why gym-goers love to squat…or don’t, but do it anyways? Is it for the great butt? Possibly. But squatting is actually a very functional movement and one that we, as humans have done since we were babies. If you watch how a baby learns to stand, at some point, the baby will be on his/her feet in a crouched position (Fig. 1). From there, standing up, is basically the same movement as the up phase of a squat.
|Fig. 1: Baby Crouching||Fig. 2: Muscles involved in squat|
“But we’re not babies anymore!!”, you say? Correct, you’re not (most of us aren’t anyways); however, how many times today did you sit down and stand up? Sitting and standing is the same movement pattern as doing a squat. When I say ‘movement pattern’, that is a key term. Back to those gym goers again, their exercises shouldn’t be solely to get swole (bodybuilders have a unique goal). A good workout should be one that strengthens muscles as well as teaches the body good movement patterns with proper recruitment of muscles.
So, with a squat, the main muscle groups involved are the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings. There are other muscles involved, as seen in Fig 2 – the Rectus Abdominis and Erector Spine assist in core stabilization and maintaining an upright posture. While the muscles in the lower leg facilitate knee flexion and ankle dorsiflexion.
Muscles used are great to know, but how do I squat properly? If you’ve never done a squat before. Start by sitting down to a chair – yes, I know this sounds ridiculous, but try it. Then try standing up. In those two movements, how much momentum did you use? Did you swing your arms to get up? Lean forwards? Use the arm rests? Could you control your body down to a point then let gravity take over? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are not as efficient in your squat movement as you probably could be. The first place to start is training yourself until you can answer no to all of the questions above, with the exception of “lean forwards”. Look back at Fig 2., in the image on the right, the model does lean forwards slightly, this is expected as your center of gravity and base of support shift. What you want to avoid is having the shoulders in a vertical line above the knees. And while keeping the heels on the ground, let the knees drift forwards!
There is a common myth that the knees should never go past the toes…well myths are meant to be busted! Even though we are so focused on research and scientific evidence, take a moment to think about that baby in Fig 1., or another baby you may have seen in your own life. When they are in that bottom position, if the knees don’t go past the toes, the baby will fall over. Alternatively, take a look at Olympic athletes – at the bottom of a squat, where are the knees? If you try to do a squat without letting the knees drift forwards, you do in fact decrease the knee torque; however, you increase the torque in the hips by over 1000%. So save the hips by letting the knees move forwards!
Oh yeah, I have that knee injury from X many years ago and squatting makes it my knees hurt. That’s usually an indication that something in the squat needs work. It is common for the knees to fall inwards rather than staying inline with the feet. As those knees move forwards, let them follow the same line as your second toe. If the toes point out at a 30 degree angle, the knees should track that direction as well. This being said, knee injuries do occur and if you have one, do not push through pain. You can always start with mini squats to feel out the movement. Or just go down to 90 degrees in the hip and knees. It will also be useful to have a chair behind you just in case you do need to sit down. Also, make sure you see a musculoskeletal or movement professional to ensure you are doing the best form of exercises for that injury.
*Disclaimer: The suggestions and recommendations in this article are for educational purposes only. The author and company associated with publishing the article are not responsible, nor can be held liable for any injuries that may occur as a result of readers attempting this movement pattern. If for whatever reason the reader recommends the movement to another or is unsure of the quality of movement, it is the responsibility of the individual to seek professional guidance.
-Ishana Debba BSc. Kinesiology, NKT
Jan 23, 2018