When somebody hears the word “squat” in a weight training context, one probably pictures the classic barbell back squat. However, here at BBCT, the barbell back squat is seen more as a privilege. If you’ve done a barbell back squat here, think back to how many phases it took before your trainer programmed a barbell back squat. It probably took a few phases of progressing through different exercises. Why is that?
The barbell back squat is one of the trickier exercises because there is no support other than your body. If your body is lacking in one of the many strengths needed to sustain proper form, your chance of injury increases. So let’s break down some of the common imbalances in squat form and how to fix them.
You’ve probably heard your trainer talk about strengthening your VMO many times. The VMO is your vastus medialis oblique. It is one of your four quadricep muscles and is responsible for tracking your knee over your toes. Strengthening you VMO typically occurs through the step up variations, especially the Poliquin Step Up. A strong VMO is crucial when squatting because it helps prevent your knees from caving in. When knees cave in during a squat, the knee joint is put at an unstable position and weak position, thus increasing the chance of injury.
Believe it or not, your core strength is very important in squatting. Bracing your core helps to keep your chest up and back tight. Without a strong core you’re likely to round your back, putting unneeded stress and strain on your back. If your back hurts when squatting, check your core strength and ability to brace. Ab exercises such as planks and Pallof Press are great ways to increase your core strength!
Tight Hip Flexors
Hip flexors play a major part in squatting. Tight hip flexors do not allow the body to get proper range of motion for the squat. For a normal barbell back squat, one should be able to get their legs parallel to the ground. Tight hip flexors can also cause a “butt wink,” where the hips roll under at the bottom part of the squat. A butt wink that is too prominent can loosen up the back resulting in injury. Split squat variations are great at improving hip flexor flexibility. Split squats allow for the stretch through the hips and help teach the knee to track over the toes. One of the objectives of split squats is to get the hamstring to touch the calf and slowly lowering the platform height. Being able to lower the platform and still touch the hamstring to calf is a great sign that your hip flexor flexibility is improving.
Calf flexibility is often an overlooked component of squatting. Calves actually help flex the knee, so flexibility is key when asking the knee to bend to at least 90°. If calf flexibility is a major issue, squatting with your heels elevated takes the calves out of the squat allowing people to get lower. A couple ways to help improve calf flexibility is to sit on the seated calf machine and sit in the “down position” with weight on the machine and rolling out your calves.
Fixing your squat pattern will not happen overnight. Be patient with yourself and trust your trainer. Slowly but surely you will get stronger and be able to move onto barbell back squats in no time!