While musical pioneers like Juvenile and Sir Mix-A-Lot were focused on the booty 20+ years ago, they unfortunately didn't teach us that squatting is a little more complicated than that.
Here we are in 2018, infatuated with the squat and how to get a bigger backside. Squats, deadlifts, and hip thrusts are being performed all over and I have to admit it, I love it! The only problem is that I see them being performed wrong constantly.
We've all seen people getting super low on squats to the point where they have the patented "butt wink" (pelvis tucking underneath). While this seems to be OK according to Instagram, this loss of lumbopelvic control is due to a combination of posterior pelvic tilt and lumbar flexion. This can put undue stress on the intervertebral discs, especially when under external load. There's usually very little risk with lumbar flexion without load. However, repeated lumbar flexion, such as doing 100 toe touches per day, working it like Beyonce, or allowing lumbar flexion while squatting with heavy load can warrant some unwanted risks such as disc herniation.
The squat is one of the most meaningful movements in a person's life. It is very complex and should be individualized entirely. Think about how many times you squat: Getting up and down out of your chair, into and out of your car, and even sitting down and getting up from the toilet (hopefully without your legs going numb).
Needless to say, the squat is one of the most important motor patterns you need to perfect.
Analyzing the squat isn't always an easy task as we all have our own unique pattern that is required for each of us to squat adequately. The size of the leg muscles and bony structures of the hip joints must also be factored in before determining proper squat form. Genetic factors play a role as well, especially within the hip joints.
The hip joints are a ball-and-socket joint where the head of the femur is the ball and the dome of the acetabulum is the socket. The depth between the ball and socket, known as the acetabular depth, is critical when determining squat depth. If you are above average height or have proportionally long femurs, you more than likely have deeper hip sockets. Hip mobility is limited when the sockets are deeper. Thus, creating a more shallow squat depth caused by the femur running into the pelvis. This is why you usually see that the deeper squatters are usually shorter in stature with more shallow hip sockets. However, don't feel sorry for yourself just yet if you're in the deep hip socket club. Those individuals with shallow hip sockets are more susceptible to hip dysplasia, which can cause pain, arthritis, and dislocation.
There are two steps to individualize the squat which should be determined by a licensed physical therapist, a certified strength and conditioning coach, or a certified personal trainer with a corrective exercise specialization.
The first is determining the necessary amount of knee flexion. This is determined by establishing the proper angle of the knee that's required to stand from a standard chair which is 17 inches from the floor to the seat. This test is performed by measuring the angle of the knee at the point where you are about to stand up from the chair. This is done by sitting in the chair with good posture, arms crossed at your chest, and your trunk shifted forward. You should be actively engaging in the process of standing up in order to measure the proper angle using a goniometer or a smartphone app that allows you to measure the angle from photo or video. Note that this angle isn't always congruent to your actual squat depth as it requires much more strength and motor control to transition between the eccentric and concentric phases of the squat versus the standing up in the eccentric phase of the squat.
Second, determine the optimal stance width. The goal is to determine how far apart the legs should be to allow the knee the necessary knee flexion determined in the previous test. This is done by performing a quadruped rock back test. Instructions are listed below.
1. Begin in the quadruped position with a neutral lumbar spine with a natural curve and knees hip width.
2. Rock back until the lumbar spine starts to flex and then slowly reverse the motion until you come out of lumbar flexion.
3. Measure the knee flexion angle achieved at the maximum rock back position while maintaining a neutral spine and natural curve. If the angle is larger than what was measured to require standing from a chair, widen the knees a few inches and repeat.
4. Continue to widen the knees a few inches at a time until the the appropriate knee flexion angle is achieved while maintaining a natural curvature in the lumbar spine.
5. Once you've determined the appropriate knee width, measure the inside distance between the knees. This is how wide your heels should be, from one inside to the other, during a goblet squat.
There are many determining factors and assessments that should be performed by a professional to determine your proper squat pattern. The most important one is to understand that the squat is a functional movement which is any movement that is meaningful to a person's life. Proper squat depth should be assessed and determined to fit that person's lifestyle, their sport, and the daily tasks that require the person to function properly.
Information accredited to International Sports Sciences Association "Corrective Exercise" First Edition by Chad Waterbury, DPT