3 Ways to improve your squat


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Now you have probably heard that squatting is one of the best things you can do in the gym blah blah blah… Yet still, irrespective of its abundance in modern day gyms and workout programs, squatting is still performed poorly far more often than it isn’t.

In an attempt to make a minor dent in the world of compromised squats, we’re breaking down a couple of elements that we’ve notice in typical subjects.


Ankle stiffness

Primarily the squat involves 3 major joints, the hips, the knees and the ankles. Whilst most trainers/coaches and people focus on the hip and knee, the biggest influence on the mechanics of those two joints comes from the ankle.

If your ankle is stiff (your shin lacks the ability to flex forward over your toes) then, no matter how hard you try, you knee will struggle to flex during a squat and instead, your body will reorganise itself to transfer load into the hips.

If you are lacking knee flexion in your squat, then your quad contribution in both the eccentric and concentric phase of your squat are going to be compromised. If you’re hoping to build a strong and resilient body, strength across all muscles and joints seems logical?

If you’re wondering how to build your ankle range, take your shoes off, sit at the bottom of a squat with your feet flat and stay there – for a while – 5minutes minimum. Your body will work it out.


Thoracic Extension

One of the best assets in a squat is the influence it can have on your posture. Particularly, your upper back.

The idea that Pilates and yoga is all you need to change is flawed – unless there is a significant amount of load (weight) involved. Contacting or just lengthening large or small muscle groups repetitively for an hour won’t do much for generating the structural change required for better posture.

There certainly are plenty of other benefits – but postural change requires work – a lot of work.

On top of this, a common cue used today when teaching people how to squat involves bracing techniques.

What is worth questioning is the cue “pull the ribs down” before you beginning your movement.

Consider this,  whilst you are reading this, pull your ribs down… you might have noticed they already are down, because you are most likely sitting in a chair hunched over reading this.

If sitting up straighter is the postural improvement we’re after, why then, on one of the most posturally influential exercises are people doing the very thing they are trying to undo….?

Some might argue that ribs down is part of the Valsalva manoeuvre (google it) and this allows for increased intra-abdominal pressure reducing the potential for flexion of the spine etc. etc. The argument is that your body will “brace” when necessary weather the thoracic spine is extended or not – particularly when the spine is under load.

Others might argue that people with abdominal weakness will go into hyperextension of the lumbar spine etc. etc. The argument, is the squat the problem or abdominal weakness the problem.

So the next time you squat, grab the bar and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Lift your ribs up.  Take a big breath in squeeze tight and squat – keep your chest upright the entire time.

If you’re getting lumbar issues – see point one and try again.

And again, if you want to argue about your ribs down bracing feeling, try tell people to keep their ribs down on an overhead squat (notice they will still brace). And yes, you should be aspire to OH squat.


Hip “Dominance”

The final issue that is grossly abundant in the modern squat, is hip dominance in bottom positions.

We put this down to two things.

The first is in point one of piece.

The second goes back to the first time you were taught how to squat.

One of the first ques you were ever told was probably to put your weight in your heels and stick your bum back. What this has led to is a series of chronic issues including hip impingements, lower back issues, knee issues to name a few.

The next time you scroll Instagram and see an influencer exaggerating the extension of their lumbar spine it is more likely an attempt to get your attention and therefore a “follow” than genuinely attempting to improve movement mechanics and posture.

If this offends you, we apologies, but do remember offence is taken not given and as exercise and movement specialists, we have a responsibility to teach people how to move better and feel better.

Regarding your hips, if you sit too far back into your hips during a squatting pattern, you are very likely to be tilting your pelvis anteriorly (forwards) which sets you up for a slight internal rotation causing the jamming position happening between your femur and the medial borders of your acetabulum. Throw in a few tendons and ligaments and other connective tissue and all you need is a handful of repeated reps before things begin To inflame and cause pain.

Regarding your lower back, if you are sitting into your hips but try and keep your chest upright it is likely that you are hyperextending your lumbar spine (see point two) causing a jamming type of feeling in your lower back.

Regarding your knees, it is rather difficult to externally rotate at the femur (allowing for glute recruitment) when you are sitting deep into your hips without much knee flexion. This increases the chance of valgus (inward turning) knee movement. Additionally the lack of flexion at the knee joints causes weakness in the quadriceps (point one) and an increased risk of patella and knee instability - amongst other things.

So before you squat again, take a moment to consider some of the mechanical basics. And if you are hoping to improe but not entirely confident with the intricacies – let us know. We have a host of options to help resolve your issue.

Till then, happy squatting.