In part 1 we looked at squatting basics and touched on shoes and the ankles. I would like to add one thing to the discussion of ankles and the squat and that is how to determine if your ankles are preventing you from squatting properly. This is a simple test, just elevate your heels 1 to two inches above the toes. Use a 2×4 or anything else sturdy, that won’t slip, under your heels and squat.
Was it easier to get deep? Did your shins stay vertical? If your squat changed for the better your ankle mobility needs work. Go back and re-read the last section of part 1
In this article we’ll look at the knees role in squatting. They don’t do anything! They should be passive and never, ever load bearing! The force goes through the legs from the ground/feet into the hips and quads. If you feel pain in your knee(s) when squatting, you must rule out any actual injury such as a torn ACL or meniscus. If there are no injury we can look at how you are going down and coming up.
Assuming your foot placement is correct, shoulder width apart and slightly turned out, you need to look where the knees are going as you squat and as you come up.
- Mid-line of the knee cap should line up between the 1st and 2nd toes throughout the entire squat movement
- The knee(s) should not “cave in”. Women especially have this problem and it is due to generally wider hips than men. This is called Valgus and may occur in one or both knees. It’s also a sign of weak hips, specifically the glute medius
- The knees should NOT go forward past the toes. This makes you push with the front part of the foot which forces the knee to work instead of the hips and quads
- Your feet should not change position during the squat. Tight hips and other issues will cause one or both feet to “spin out” so they no longer in the same position they were at the start
How to fix the knee issues when squatting
You may not be able to get the knees working quite right without some assistance work. Tight hips, weak hips, tight ITB (a band of fascia that runs down the outside of the thigh) and weak core are involved in many of the items listed above. But you can do some quick and easy things to get fast improvement.
If your knees aren’t inline with the toes, get them there!
If your knees cave in, and this is one that may take awhile to correct, there are several things you can do:
- Use a foam roller on the ITB. It may hurt, a lot. Suck it up & roll anyway, it’s good for you……Seriously, it will be uncomfortable, that means it is tight and the FR will help it release. And it is good to use the foam roller over most of your body.
- Think about spreading the ground apart with your feet. While standing actively try to move the feet apart to the sides without letting them move. Feel what happens in the hips? They should get tight. As you are squatting, especially coming up “out of the hole” think about spreading the ground apart with your feet
- Get a resistance band and place it about 1/2 way up and around the thighs. It should be just tight enough to make your knees fall in while standing. Now squat and keep those knees apart. This is basically the same as #2 but you get more feedback with the band
If your knees are drifting forward, past the toes, you are probably initiating the squat by bending the knees first. Think about keeping the shins vertical or close too it. This will impact the depth of your squat at first but as you get better you’ll get deeper.
Another option is to squat to a box or chair. IT needs to be at a height that will allow you to maintain proper mechanics, especially knee angle and keeping the torso upright. Too high and there will be no benefit. Too low and you won’t change your squat and you’ll probably plop down on the box.
As you do the box squat, maintain control don’t just drop your but to the box. Pretend you are holding 500lbs in front of you.
Set up for the box squat, for our purposes, is the same as any bodyweight or front squat. As you descend maintain core tension once your butt touches, immediately reverse and come back up. Don’t rest on the box.
An alternative to the Box squat is the face the wall squat. Set up in your squat stance facing a wall with your feet 4 to 6 inches from a wall. Without letting any part of your body touch the wall squat. Did you fall over? Did your feet move, did you you have to turn your head? Doing this drill will help improve your mobility and teach you to squat properly
Last but not least let’s discuss your abs during squatting. If you are using any moderate weight or heavier, your should most definitely feel your abs. Squats are one of the best core exercises there is. Without activating the core your upper body will cave forward and you’ll wind up straining your back sooner rather than later. A typical sign of not using the core during the squat is the hips barely move, the knees bend too much and the upper body pitches over bringing the head closer to floor but not the hips. It looks like a bad deadlift.