Squatting | Are you doing it right?

by | Oct 29, 2021 | Physical Training, Tips & Tricks

Welcome to the Fitness Adaptive live podcast! Today, I’m going to talk about squatting. What are the different types of squats? What types of squats should you be doing? How can I improve my squats? 

First, I’ll share a story. When I was in high school, I learned about squatting from many different coaches. I wanted to learn how to squat properly to improve my performance. I’ve seen many coaches teach squatting, and most of them taught it very differently. When I started studying fitness, I came across a few principles that made me realize what kinds of squats are best, and how to execute them. 

 

What kind of squats should you do?

What types of squats are there? Which ones will help me meet my fitness goals? There are two main types of squats, double-leg (bilateral), and single-leg (unilateral).  Most people are taught how to squat bilaterally, and the most common kinds of bilateral squatting are front squats, and back squats. The split squat is the most common form of unilateral squatting. So, should we squat bilaterally, or unilaterally? 

Unilateral Squats

Unilateral squatting provides benefits that bilateral squatting doesn’t. Let’s compare a back squat, to a split squat with dumbbells or kettlebells. When you do a back squat, you are loading the bar on top of your spine which puts a lot of stress on your lower back, especially if the weight is heavy. The heavier you load it, the more stress and pain you feel on your lower back. Eighty percent of adults already suffer from lower back pain, so back squatting can increase your chances of injury. 

When you do a split squat on one leg with dumbbells or kettlebells, you have a few advantages, compared to back squatting:

  1. You don’t need as much weight because you are using one leg instead of two. 
  2. The lighter weight is safer and decreases the risk of injury.
  3. It utilizes and strengthens your stabilizer muscles because you have to focus harder on balancing.
  4. It strengthens your legs individually, so when you use them together, your strength and ability is magnified.

 

Stability

 Stability is extremely beneficial in any kind of sport or exercise. The more stability you have, the better you are able to control movement. More controlled movements means reduced risk of injury. It also means more force production. When you are stable and balanced, your energy can be focused on other movements, allowing you to produce more force. 

 

Individual Leg strength

How many legs do you walk or run on at one time? How many arms do you throw with? One, right? When you run, one leg is producing force at a time, not two, so building unilateral strength is more specific and beneficial for running. Since running requires good balance and control on one leg at a time, unilateral squats are ideal for building the muscles needed. 

 

Unilateral Squats Progression

Adding unilateral squats to your exercise plan is a great way to improve balance and individual strength. But where should you start?

Level 1

Start with a regular split squat. One foot is forward producing force, and the back foot is behind for balance. This is the easiest form of single-leg squatting because the back foot is providing balance and support. 

Level 2

Next, try a rear-foot-elevated split squat. Once you have developed strength in the split squat, the rear-foot-elevated split squat will help you continue to improve and build strength. Now, the back foot is elevated and can’t provide as much balance. This makes your front foot do more balancing work. This activates your stabilizer muscles and develops better stability and balance. 

Level 3

The last level is a single-leg box squat. Once you have developed stability and strength in the rear-foot-elevated split squat, you can progress to a full single-leg squat and eliminate the use of the back leg. Put a box behind you to make sure you go down far enough. Since a single-leg box squat eliminates the use of the back leg, it activates more stabilizers. And you don’t have to hold as much weight since the support of the back leg is now eliminated, easing the stress on your body. 

 

Squat Depth

As a general rule, you should squat down far enough that your femur is an inch below parallel to ensure full range of motion. When you do split squats, you just need to lightly touch your back knee to the ground to ensure full range of motion, since your femur will be parallel to the ground when your back knee touches the ground. 

On full single-leg squats, you may need to start with a squat depth of an inch above parallel, depending on stability level. Once you feel stable and comfortable with that, progress to an inch below parallel. I love box-squats simply because the box or platform provides a depth-marker and ensures that you squat down far enough. 

 

Squatting Form

Now, let’s talk about foot/knee angle when squatting. Where should your knee be when you squat? Should it go past your toe? Behind your toe? There is a common belief that your knees should never go beyond your toes when squatting because it puts stress on the knee. This is a  misconception. 

When you put your knee too far over your toe, the ankle comes off the ground, forcing you to put your weight on the ball of the foot instead of the heel. This is what stresses the knee. Your weight should be on your heels when you squat to avoid stress on the knee. Does that mean that your knees should not go past your toes? This answer depends on your ankle mobility. 

If your ankle mobility allows you to put your knee past your toe while still putting the weight on the heel, then you’re fine. The goal is to keep your weight on the heel instead of the ball of the foot. If your ankle mobility is poor and needs work, you should put a board or a heel plate under your ankles when you squat, so your knees go over your toes in a proper foot/knee angle while still putting the weight on the heel of the foot. 

When you run, go down for a jump, or kick a soccer ball, your knee goes beyond your toe. Your knee is never behind your toe when you do activities like these, so why should your knee be behind your toe when you squat? 

 

 

Knee/Toe Alignment

If you have knee pain of any kind when you squat, it’s not necessarily because your knee is going past your toe. It could be your knees buckling inward or outward, getting out of toe alignment. When you squat, your knee should be lined up and parallel to your second toe. If your knees compensate by going inward or outward, your muscles are causing these movement impairments. Movement impairments, like these, can be remediated by improving your form.

Proper squatting form is important to maximize results and minimize injury.

 

 

Continue to Improve

If you want to take your fitness ability to the next level, learn how to squat properly, maximize results, and minimize injury, check out Fitness Adaptive. My physical exercise course is specifically designed to help you maximize your performance. If you have joint pain from squatting or other movements, check out my corrective exercise course. Corrective exercise corrects movement impairments and muscle imbalances and reduces the risk for injury. 

If you have any questions, or if you aren’t quite sure about Fitness Adaptive, feel free to contact me. Let’s go over your goals, and get the results that YOU WANT!

When you put your foot in this position, you put your front calf muscle in the lengthened position, and the back calf muscles in the shortened position, limiting ankle mobility, especially if you do wear these types of shoes a lot. It’s better to wear shoes that have a flat sole so that you don’t put your ankle in that position and limit ankle mobility. 

Why should I worry about ankle mobility?

Decreased ankle mobility can lead to higher chance of injury. For example, when you squat with limited ankle mobility, your heels are more likely to come off the ground. This forces you to put the weight on the ball of your feet, which puts excessive stress on the knees instead of putting the weight on the heel of the foot, which puts less stress on the knee. Limited ankle mobility can lead to foot injuries, the most common being ankle sprains. 

Choosing the right shoe

Having proper footwear is extremely important for maximizing performance, and minimizing injury. Follow the tips I’ve talked about to find the shoe that’s ideal for you. 

Learn More

If you’re interested in learning more, advancing performance, and reducing injuries, check out fitness adaptive. My corrective exercise course is specifically centered toward correcting movement and postural impairments, improving poor life habits that cause these impairments, and improving joint mobility and stability. The corrective exercise course teaches you techniques to reduce the risk of injury. I’ll even provide guidelines on specific types of footwear based on your goals and needs. This is my invitation to you: take the next step forward, and get the results that YOU WANT!

Welcome to the revolutionary personal training solution that aims to change the world. Read about our goals, motivations, and roadmap for the future as we continually grow and expand our operations…

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