Besides the resistance you choose and where you place the bar, there are three important variables to measure in order to squat safely and more effectively.
Follow these guidelines for a safer and more effective squat.
Have you ever heard the maxim that in order to squat effectively you must put ‘your arse on the grass?’ In other words your butt needs to get as close to the ground as possible.
This is the kind of one size fits all approach that gets people injured.
There is no particular way that we should squat because guess what? We’re all different!
For example, somebody with a long femur (thigh bone) will likely never be able to get that low in a squat because if they did they would fall over. Their relatively long thigh pushes their centre of mass so far back that getting their arse to the grass would actually look more like an accident than a squat.
For a detailed breakdown of why this is watch this video.
What to assess to decide how deep you should go.
There are three key measurements to take.
1) How much ankle dorsiflexion do you have?
2) How much knee flexion is available?
3) What angle of hip flexion can you comfortably attain?
How to measure ankle dorsiflexion.
In most cases squat depth is limited by ankle dorsiflexion. That is how far you can bring your foot towards your shin. To measure this take a seat on a bench and lift each foot back towards your shin. Make a note of the angle between your shin and the top of your foot. Although gravity and perhaps an enthusiastic exercise professional will encourage you to breach this, don’t.
How to measure hip flexion.
Now lay on your back and bring both knees towards your chest. Don’t pull on your knees with your arms in an attempt to take them further and remember to maintain a small amout of lumbar spine extension as you should in a squat.
To monitor this place both hands in the small of your back and when you feel an increase in pressure on your hands that you can’t reduce by actively extending your spine, you’ll know you’ve reached your hip flexion limit. Make a note of the angle between the top of your thighs and your trunk.
How to measure knee flexion.
Lastly, while in this hip flexed position actively bring your heels towards your butt. Again make a note of the angle between the back of your thigh and your lower legs.
Now you have the optimum angle for all three joints (ankle, knee, hip) for your squat.
How to integrate those measurements into the squat.
The next step is to integrate that information into the exercise itself.
This is the tricky bit and will require a little practice and a mirror.
Get a feel for exactly where these positions are and if in any doubt exercise caution. If you use slow repetition speeds to begin with (5 secs down and 5 secs up) you will be less likely to push past these limits.
Your results will improve and your risk of injury / niggles will reduce if you respect your current range of motion limits during the exercise. Remember, if your muscular system isn’t completely in control of the movement then you are likely stressing the structures of the joints themselves. This may lead to issues further down the line.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t work to improve those current limits but do that actively and away from the exercise itself.
For more information on active range of motion and resistance training please see my previous post the most important rule of resistance training for safety and results.