In my time carry out movement screens on golfers (14 golfers this week alone) and spending most of my life in the gym, helping athletes get strong, I have seen more than my fair share of poor squat form.
The issues are pretty much the same for everyone: poor ankle flexibility, inadequate core stability, lack of glute activation—and in some cases, poor thoracic spine mobility.
Let’s take a look at some common squat mechanics problems and how to fix them:
Finding Your Baseline
To break down your squat pattern and figure out where your form is going wrong, you need to establish a baseline to check against for improvement. A simple body weight squat performed with your hands behind your head works perfectly for this.
Ask a training partner to watch carefully—or better yet, use a camera—and do a few reps using your natural squat motion.
Pay particular attention to squat depth, whether your chest is up (can you see the logo on the front of your shirt), if you’re tucking your butt under in the bottom position, the angle of your back is at isn’t too horizontal, lateral weight shifts as you squat down, and whether your knees are tracking over your toes or caving in.
Once you’ve taken note of your baseline squat pattern, it’s time to make it better! Many people assume that if their squat depth is shallow or their torso leans forward, they lack hip mobility or calf mobility. But they’re are a few other possibilities that that are actually just as common too.
One of the most common causes of poor form is actually a lack of stability—or more specifically anterior core stability. Test yours by squatting with a light weight, held at arms’ length directly in front of you, as a counter weight. This automatically forces your anterior core to engage. If your squat form looks better, you know you have an anterior core issue.
Lack of ankle flexibility can be responsible for many off the same issues as a weak anterior core. The old trick of placing 5-pound plates under your heels when you squat reduces the dorsiflexion requirements of the squat. If the counterweighted squat doesn’t improve your mechanics, see if elevating your heels improves your form.
If the counter weight does improve your mechanics, keep the counterweight but repeat with your heels elevated, see if this improves things even further.
Just found out you need to improve your ankle mobility? Take a look at this article for exercises to improve ankle dorsiflexion.
We know the glutes are the king of the golf swing, essential for stability in the swing and generating power. We also know that thanks to sitting at our desks all day, down regulated glute activation is pretty damn common! If your knees aren’t tracking over your toes when you squat, you probably have glute activation issues. Lack of glute activation can result in relatively stronger quads, creating a more profound forward pull on the femoral head, which in turn reduces the space available in the hip joint to squat, limiting your squat depth and/or cause butt wink.
Place a mini-band around your knees to force your knees out. This is a technique called Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT). A small amount of resistance is applied to ‘feed the mistake’ in order help establish what favourable alignment actually feels like.
It is important to note that the assistance in RNT drills actually assists the movement pattern. Thus decreasing the amount resistance is the proper way to progress these drills.
This drill uses a light resistance band that applies an INWARD pressure on the knees. The result is you activating your glutes and avoiding excessively moving the knee into valgus.
Lateral Weight Shift
Oftentimes, athletes show a weight shift to one side or the other when they squat, leaving them susceptible to groin, hamstring and quad strains as well as low-back pain. What normally causes this imbalance is that the hip adductors on the same side as your shift are too tight, while the hip abductors on the same side of the shift and the hip adductors on the opposite side of the shift are too weak.
My favourite drill to deal with the short hip adductors on shift side are these split-stance hip adductor mobilisations from Eric Cressey.
Adductor strengthening on the opposite side can be done pretty effectively with mini-band lateral walks.
RNT is also a great way to fix this once again, a band pulling TOWARDS the side of the weight shift will often fix this squat pattern error pretty sharpish. Additionally, incorporating more single-leg exercises will be important.
Thoracic Spine Mobility
After making the modifications mentioned above, if you’re unable to keep your chest up and squat with appropriate neutral spine in the upper back, then lack of thoracic spine mobility is usually to blame.
Simple test: can you still see the logo on your shirt throughout the Squat? If not, can you see the logo when you squat with your heels elevated, a counter weight and band tension forcing your knees out? If the answer is still no, you probably need to work on T-spine mobility. T-Spine Extensions on a foam roller are a great way to develop the mobility required to keep your chest up in the Squat.
Begin at just above the belly button. With the foam roller in position, do five crunch movements. You should feel the roller pushing the vertebrae slightly forward, in effect creating range of motion. You can do a series of these crunches all the way up to your shoulder blades.
Now it’s over to you! Go forth, identify your squat pattern issues, use these drills to fix them and let me know in a few weeks how much better your squat pattern has gotten! 😉