A while ago I wrote this article on assessing your stability needs when squatting. It proved rather popular so I thought I’d write another post assessing the most vital of movement patterns for athletic performance and life in general, the squat.
As I said in the article mentioned above, when people struggle with the squat movement pattern the advice given is either simply a verbal cue to squat lower, or if that doesn’t work trainees are told to develop hip mobility. In reality, to steal a quote from Mike Boyle
“issues with the squat in reality usually come down to ankle flexibility, core stability, or glute activation”
No prizes are given out for correctly guessing, but yes this article will deal with glute activation. One of the major roles of the glutes muscles in the squat is to adduct or ‘push out’ the knees. But why is glute activation so vital for proper squat mechanics?
People who lack glute activation often present a squat that looks much like this:
The knees have caved in and are no longer tracking over the toes. The squat will probably have stopped short of parallel and the heels may even have come off the floor in an effort to hit a deeper squat. Without forcing the knees out, the legs are effectively stuck like stilts under the torso. The body folds like an accordion, often creating substantial torso lean in an effort to hit depth.
If instead, the glutes are engaged and the knees adducted, the pelvis can know sink between the knees, allowing the lifter to hit appropriate depth, whilst maintaining a more upright torso position and feet flat on the floor. Ideally, maintain neutral alignment between your feet, knees, and hips as shown below:
If your squat looks like that first picture chances are you have a problem activating your glutes in the squat. But what can you do about it?
The simplest solution is to cue ‘push the knees out’ as you squat down, and if this simple technical change solves your issues then grand. However most people require a little more kinaesthetic feedback when it comes to coaching cues. With that in mind here are two exercises that I find have an almost magical effect on squat mechanics:
Goblet squats – simply having the weight held on your chest with the elbows where they are, you are forced to squat with your knees out. In order for your elbows to slide past the inside of your knees. It’s okay to have your knees out as you descend.
Use mini-bands to re-groove your squat pattern- Take a mini band and place it around your knees. As you sit down into your squat make sure to keep your knees out! If you cave the knees in the band will slacken providing instant visual feedback. Additionally, the slight tension the band will provide when you properly adduct the knees gives a nice reminder too.
This image is courtesy of Nick Randall and http://www.golffitapp.com. The bands used are also available to be purchased from his website.