There are a lot of different opinions about how to do the perfect squat. Here’s how scientists recommend improving your squat technique.
Some say that a perfect squat means keeping a person’s knees over the midline of the foot, others talk about the feet being hip-width apart.
What Is A Deep Squat?
The newest idea is that a squat is only a good squat if it’s deep. Deep in this context meaning where the hips are parallel or lower than the knees.
However, squatting deeply can only be a good exercise if it is safe for the body. This may mean that for certain body types, or for people with certain injuries or restrictions, a deep squat is not safe because they do not have the requisite range of motion to achieve this position.
Firstly, a safe squatting technique will involve:
- A good head position (head forward and eyes facing up).
- The heels of the feet on the floor with the knees relatively close to the toes (it is not essential to keep the knees behind the toes).
- And a comfortable width of foot position (the width is dependent on what feels comfortable for the individual).
What is meant by a deep squat is where the hips track back in line with the knees or go lower than this point.
This form of squatting is perfectly safe to do so long as the range of motion is not achieved by pushing the pelvis to posteriorly tilt beyond its normal range of hip flexion.
If a person goes beyond this range it causes a syndrome known as a butt wink. This is where the pelvis will try to provide more room for movement by tucking itself under.
A normal range of motion is approximately one hundred and twenty degrees. If a person forces themselves beyond this range of motion, they get more movement from the pelvis to accommodate for this. Forcing the pelvis in this way increases their chance of injury.
Build Your Squat Technique According To Your Body Shape
It is important to remember that everybody’s body shape is different.
Where one person may be able to squat low to the ground while keeping within their normal range of movement it might not be the same for another person.
For example, a taller person, with longer leavers, is higher up from the ground. This means there is a lot further a tall person to go down to the ground than for a shorter person.
Usually, a taller person will achieve a low squat by forcing the pelvis to posteriorly tilt to allow more room for the femur to flex.
This is a natural bodily movement, but when the pelvis is forced to move in an excessive posterior pelvic tilt, then there is a problem. This is essentially a bad butt wink and it has, rightly so, received a lot of bad press.
What Is A Butt Wink?
The reason a butt wink is seen as bad is that, in this position, the pelvis can place excessive amounts of load on the spine in a flexed position. This increases the lever arm of the back extensors meaning the back extensors must work much harder to keep the torso upright.
This muscle activation of the back extensors increases intradiscal pressure inside the intervertebral discs. It increases tremendously in a flexed spine position.
The intervertebral discs are meant to withstand compression forces not tension for all angles. This tension in a flexed spine position can cause a spinal disc to rupture.
It takes as little as twenty kilograms to slip a disc under abnormal tension of the vertebrae. Therefore, it is essential to address any abnormality in the squatting position with the most obvious culprit being the butt wink.
Recent studies by biomechanical professionals Nachemson, Alf, and Morris have shown that despite the real dangers of but winking it should not always be avoided. (1)
This is because the movement seen in a butt wink is a natural occurrence and not a cause of negative bodily reactions.
Further to this point, postural scientists Hart, Stobbe, and Jaraiedi have shown that despite the concerns over butt wink syndrome, posterior pelvic tilt occurs naturally at end range hip flexion. (2)
This report shows that there is no point of pulling out of a perfectly good squat just because there is movement in the pelvis.
When a person squats deeply, it is expected that there is a little posterior movement of the pelvis. In fact, a little butt wink helps to keep the spine in a neutral position.
There is a lot of negative emphasis placed on the butt wink to the point that awareness of the movement has become detrimental. For example, weight lifters are doing all they can to avoid butt wink.
It is common to see arching of the back to compensate for what is a natural bodily reaction to squatting deeply. Any excessive movement in the back carrying a large load is a recipe for disaster.
It seems that the reaction to butt wink has been blown out of proportion to the point that weight lifters are placing their health at risk by forcing themselves into unnatural bodily positions.
How To Improve Posterior Pelvic Tilting
There are a few things that can be done to help improve posterior pelvic tilting when it is not coming from the body’s natural movement pattern:
1. Anterior Pelvic Tilt
Hart, Stobbe, and Jaraiedi claim that tight hip flexors cause the hip flexors to pull the lower back into extension as they tighten.
A feature of this in day to day life is a pronounced arch in the back during normal standing posture.
If a person has this condition, it will cause butt wink from a much early phase in the squat. This will prevent a person from achieving a deep squatted position.
The most effective way to address this issue is to work on improving hip mobility.
Yoga is very good for improving general hip flexibility with the Supta Baddha Konasana particularly good at increasing general range of motion.
When the hips have greater flexibility, the next step is to learn to squat with a tall spine and open hips.
Goblet squats are a great exercise to teach this skill as the squatter is forced to sit backward.
2. Ankle Flexibility
Experts in human kinetics, Kim et al., say improving your ankle mobility is a key to being able to squat deeply. (3)
Your ability to dorsiflex (bend your foot toward your shin) matters because if a person is tight in this area, the pelvis will move from side to side to compensate for the lack of movement in the ankle/ankles.
This can cause dangerous amounts of butt wink, as well as higher risk of stabilizing muscles (like internal obliques) tearing as they try to stabilize the hips.
A good way to address this issue is to use a foam roller on the claves followed by thirty seconds of calf stretches.
The foam roller acts as a myofascial releasing tool that loosens the muscle’s fascia. Once this is loosened off, it is more likely that the deeper tissues of the muscle will release during a normal stretch.
3. Listen To Your Body
The reports considered as part of this article all agree that for a person to be safe while doing an extreme form of exercise, like a heavy weighted squat, it is essential the person listens to their body.
It is too common for a person to be forced to do something according to advice, only to find it is not right for their body. This is when accidents occur.
To help develop bodily awareness it might be worth joining a mindfulness or yoga class where the focus is about linking the mind and the body together through breathing techniques.
This develops postural awareness as well as the ability to hear the body when it tells you something does not feel right.
4. Listen To The Experts
Any personal trainer and fitness expert knows that there is no such thing as the perfect squat technique that everyone should follow. That’s because each person is individual in their biomechanics and their life experiences.
So listen to your trainer’s advice. Explain your situation to the expert, and he’ll properly guide you in the right direction.
Or, if you want to learn more about your body and the proper form to work out, engage in these personal training courses that will shed light on your questions.
Who knows, maybe you’ll end up not just gaining knowledge, but also teaching others the right way to get fit.
It seems that by trying to force someone into a technique that is not right for them, like a deep squat, squatting may cause injury.
Despite the lack of uniformity in the preferred squatting technique, a person can still do a perfect squat if they listen to their body and do what feels right for their body.