The many benefits of doing squats have been discussed ad-nauseum, and I think at this point most people understand that they are an important piece any good exercise program.
The real problem I see lately, is that people suck at squatting, mainly because they’ve received terrible pieces of advice on how to perform them.
In today’s post, I’m going to highlight the worst 3 pieces of advice I commonly hear about squatting, and what the advice instead should be so you have a much clearer picture of what to do when you squat to make sure you’re successful and getting results.
- Never Squat Below Parallel
This statement was a piece of advice I used to hear a lot a couple of years ago, but still hear from people on occasion these days as well.
Anytime I hear anyone say things like, always, never, everyone etc. my bullshit meter goes off like fire engine’s siren. There is always a grey area (shit! I said always!).
Originally the statement of “Never squat below parallel,” was immediately followed up by “because it’s bad for your knees,” which is just not the case. At least, not if you’re able to perform the squat correctly.
If you’re squat form is terrible, and your knees are caving in like crazy (we call it a valgus collapse) then that in fact is bad for your knees, because they are a hinging joint and if not lined up properly puts a ton of stress on the ligaments and cartilage.
However, if in fact your knees aligned correctly the stress to the joint is much much less, and assuming you don’t have an injury that prevents you from achieving that range of motion, should be safe for most people. Here’s an example of a valgus knee collapse, and what good alignment looks like from Kelly Starrett via Brett Contreras.
The Fix: Always make sure that your knees are tracking in the correct way throughout the movement, and work into the biggest range of motion you can while keeping those knees in proper alignment and maintaining tension throughout each repetition.
- Always Squat As Low As Possible (aka Ass to Grass Squats or Squat Like a Baby)
This advice gets a similar rebuttal to the what’s listed above (See the always, never, everyone statement).
This has gained more traction as of lately, and in part because of how popular things like Crossfit has gotten. I should make myself clear here, this is not me blaming Crossfit for this trend but rather, people bastardizing the principle of squatting deeply and words of some coaches, without understanding the why of it. Hence the blanket statement that everyone must squat well below parallel.
This can leave people squatting to the point where they are unable to maintain any tension or stability in their body, because they’re only concern is getting as low as possible. As a result, you’ll often see people letting their knees collapse inwards (like we discussed above) as well as watching the lower back round at the bottom, something we’ve nicknamed “butt wink”.
Both of these can wreak havoc on your body and greatly increase your risk of injury, but also not provide you with the benefit you’re looking for from performing squats in the first place.
The Fix: Squat through the range of motion that you are able to keep tension everywhere, without compromising your spine’s position.
- Keep your feet should be pointed straight ahead
So this one I mostly hear from Group Exercise instructors at your typical commercial gyms. I know that there are lots of great instructors out there, that really know their stuff, so I don’t mean to make a blanket statement here by any means, it’s just that this is where I hear this advice spouted off most often.
The problem with advice is that not everyone’s hips are built the same.
(This fact also applies to the previous piece of advice as some people just cannot squat low because the structure of their joints don’t allow them to without pain.)
Remember that old elementary sone “The hip bone’s connected to the leg bone…..” Well, this translates all the way down to the feet as well.
If my feet are constantly pointed straight ahead, but my hips are not built for that, I’m going to either a.) get some serious discomfort/pain while attempting to squat through a full range of motion, b.) cause their knees to collapse in (see Valgus collapse picture previously), or c.) both.
The Fix: By allowing my clients to turn their toes out a bit, and even let them turn one toe out just a hair more than the other at times (gasp), they’re often able to have greater stability and range of motion throughout the movement.
Play with your foot position and find what works best for you. Some people can squat great with their toes pointed straight ahead, others need to turn their feet out a bit, and as I mentioned before even a few of us need one foot out just a smidge more than the other since our body isn’t perfectly symmetrical.
- “Activate Your Core” by Pulling Your Belly Button into Your Spine
First off, “Activate your core” is a cue that is confusing as hell for most people. The average gym goer generally is unsure of what to do with their abs no matter what the exercise is, never mind having someone tell them to do something that sounds like you’re talking to one of the Transformers.
Furthermore, more often than not the explanation of how to “Activate your core” is to suck in your stomach to pull your belly button to your spine.This accomplishes very little and creates no real brace for your spine as you begin to squat.
The Fix: Instead of sucking in your stomach or pulling your belly button into your spine, do the exact opposite. Try taking the fullest deepest breath of air you can filling up your belly and even into your lower back. Next, brace your abs like someone was about to punch you in the stomach.
Never been hit in the stomach before? That’s a good thing, instead, and I’m sorry cause this cue is a little crude, but we’ve all been here before, pretend like you were taking a really big poop. (Gross I know, but very effective none the less)
Do you feel how much more stable your abs and trunk got? That a very good and safe place for you to be strong and squat weights that will having a drastic effect on your body and performance.
Think about a tree, the bigger and thicker the trunk of that tree is, the more weight it can generally sustain.
I hope you found these tips on squatting helpful and I helped clear up some of the bad advice out there for you.