In part 1 we looked at squatting in general and the role the feet and ankles play in performing the squat. In part 2 we looked at the knees and what should and shouldn’t happen during a squat. In this installment we’ll look at the hips and discuss how they work with the quads during squats.
In order to properly start a squat, the movement should start with the hips moving back and down at the same time. Many people initiate from the knees or push their butt straight back and fold over both of which will wind up causing injuries.
Think about squatting down to the toilet, do you stick your back way back then fall to the seat? I hope not. Do you push your knees way forward to get down? Probably not. Whether squatting with bodyweight alone, doing a kettlebell goblet squat or front squat, or a barbell front squat the movement is the same as sitting on the toilet. Sit down and back.
Done properly, which also means getting the fold of the hips below the knee you should be feeling the work in your glutes as much as your quads and you should not feel it in your knees (see part 2). Doing 1/4 squats is not a squat unless you are lifting more than your max and using the 1/4 squat as an assistance lift which 99.9% of you won’t be doing.
For some who are pretty mobile through the hips, you may be going too deep! Yes too deep. How can you tell? Have someone watch your pelvis. If it tips under at any point you are too low for your core strength. If your abs aren’t strong enough the pelvis will tip under (posterior pelvic tilt). With bodyweight this may not be an issue but if you start adding external weight it will lead to low back problems. The first thing that has to happen when coming up from a squat so deep the pelvis tips is the pelvis has to come up before anything else. That usually mean the hips will rise faster than the torso further straining your low back and pitching you forward. It may also cause you to drop the weight.
Your abs, all of them, play a huge part when you squat. I tell my clients all the time, they should feel their abs when they are squatting or they aren’t using heavy enough weight! Heavy weight will force you to contract your abs or you won’t be able to squat.
- Get the weight into position
- Brace your core
- If you are doing max effort lift you’ll be holding your breath otherwise sniff in some air through your nose and exhale through clenched teeth as you go down. At the bottom sniff in some air and exhale through the teeth again as you stand
- Pull yourself down – don’t just collapse
- Find space in the hips. Try to get your torso between your hips
- Keep your weight centered over the feet
- Drive through the heels when standing
The last body area to check is the mid and upper back. If you are tight between your shoulder blades your squat will suffer. You won’t be able to maintain an upright posture. This is especially important when doing back squats (bar on your back) or Overhead squats (holding a bar or bells overhead while squatting). To test your thoracic (between the shoulder blades) mobility put your hands behind your head and squat (Prisoner’s Squat). If your squat is worse and you aren’t able to go as low during a Prisoner’s Squat then your thoracic mobility is limited and you’ll need to do some work to get them moving.
One more thing to look at in the squat and that is, do you shift off center during the squat? That is, as you go down do you shift to the tight or left? Watch yourself in the mirror or better yet have someone watch you from behind or set up a camcorder to video your squat.
If you shift you have some issues to address in the hips. Specifically your glute medius (the side of your butt) to the side you shift towards and your inner thigh strength on the side you shift away from.
If you shift to the right you need to strengthen the right hip and the left inner thigh. If you shift Left you need to strengthen your left hip and right inner thigh.
The two big bang exercises to help the shift are the clam shell and what some call the “Moneymaker”.
The clam is done by lying on your side and bending the hips and knees to around 30 degrees. The feet and ankles are together and the outside of bottom foot remains in contact with the floor. You navel should angle slightly towards the floor. Move your knees apart by activating the muscles in the side of the top hip. Do not roll back or use your back or spine to gain movement. The separation of the knees is small 4-6 inches at most. It doesn’t matter as long as you aren’t cheating. Hold the open position for several breaths before lowering.
The breathing should be done as follows:
- Breathe deep into your belly through the nose and exhale as though you were blowing up a balloon. This should cause the ribs to go down towards your pelvis.
- Hold the ribs while continuing to breathe in through the nose and down into the belly and exhale hard through the mouth
If the holding the knees open in the clam is easy you are either not holding it long enough or you are cheating by rolling back. Have someone check your back and spine for movement. If you are doing it correctly and not getting a “burn” in the side of the hip add some resistance by taking a resistance band and placing it around the knees. Make sure you are breathing as described above.
To perform the Moneymaker you’ll be lying on the same side as the clam, that is if you shift right your left side is down. Straighten out the bottom leg and get a neutral spine. Take the top leg, bend the knee and place the foot on the floor just above the knee of the lower leg. Now rotate the thigh of the lower leg, your toes should towards the ceiling somewhat. Now lift the lower leg straight up and hold the top position for several breaths. The breathing is the same as with the clam.
You should feel the MoneyMaker in the inner thigh of the bottom leg (the adductors). As with the clam make sure you aren’t rolling back or using your back or spine to get movement. Even if the leg only comes up a few inches it doesn;t matter as long as you are doing it correctly.
Do the clam for 5 sets of 5 breaths (exhale, lift the knee, hold for 3-5 seconds, exhale without lowering the leg and repeat for 4 more breaths, lower the leg and repeat) only on th side you shift towards. Then do the Moneymaker on the bottom leg also for 5 sets of 5 breaths. Now check your squat, it should have shown some improvement. Do the clam and the Moneymaker everyday whether it’s a workout day or not to get the glutes and inner thigh strong.