We’ve traded plowing the fields for strolls down the grocery isle, chopping up firewood for a tap of the thermostat and carrying water from the well for flick of the faucet. And that’s a good thing, right? Yes and No.
Our lifestyle has changed in many ways for the better over the past century or so, but we’re also less mobile, less agile and more sedentary than ever before. Most of us spend at least half the day sitting, chained to a desk and glued to a screen – and this is taking a toll on our bodies. But we’re here to change that. And you’re probably here because you want to make a change too, am I right?
As we travel along our fitness journey you will often see me reference the abilities of adolescents and babies. Why is this? For one, they haven’t been confined to a desk and chair for 50% of their daily life, and two, they have more elasticity in their joints, muscles, tendons and bones. But were not here to go back in time, instead, we’re going to provide you with the information to fix and master the fundamentals today. And there’s no better place to start then with one of the bodies most basic functions – the ability to squat.
This is the light switch of your butt. The second you collapse your knees you immediately a) turn off your butt (aka lose the contractile state of your posterior chain) and b) lose all structural integrity.
If you want to understand why most people suffer from knee pain or tear ACL/ MCL it is often related undertraining the Vastus Lasteralis muscles (muscle on the outside of the legs) and thus, under developing their glute muscles. The other thing that happens when one goes valgus is that they collapse the arch in the foot, removing any torque factor and leading to an inevitable shearing force in the knee.
Unless you’re a skier, ice skater or cyclist, there’s no good excuse for bad ankle mobility. This is one of the easiest functions to fix, improving your squat and taking you from squat to squat master in no time. When one begins the squat, a simultaneous hinge at the ankle and hip is key. This allows you to keep the weight centered over the foot and maintain a vertical spine.
How do you know you’re doing it right? As you hinge at the ankle you should feel pressure in the front of the soleous (the muscle on the front of the shin). Leading us to our next point…
Knees in front of toes – a big no, no! Right? Wrong. It’s absolutely okay for your knees to go in front of your toes when you squat. There are two important points to make here. One, the optimal squat position without load exhibited by a baby and two, the loaded version with an adult Olympic weight lifter.
Now, what is imperative is that we look at the direction in which the knees travel – noting in both images that the knees travel out and over the 2nd and 3rd toes, not directly over the big toe. This movement eliminates the shearing force on the patella and tendons – and justifies our next crucial point: torque.
Torque takes place where your body and the ground come in contact. Without torque you’ll never be able to create structural integrity in your movements. When setting up for the squat, I recommend planting your feet at 11 and 1 (essentially a 5-10 degree turn from centre). Spread your toes out and dig your big toe into the ground. Now, stand tall and externally rotate the knees away from centre, initiating a gluteus contraction.
You will immediately notice all your muscles in the anterior and posterior chain contract and feel your pelvis rotate forward. You have now connected your lower body via your core to your upper body and initiated a squat sequence. By creating torque before you squat (getting into that externally rotated position) you will notice something significant as you descend into the bottom the squat. Your knees will naturally travel overtop of the 2nd and 3rd toe and you are able to apply pressure to the front of the shin.
Last but not least, the most important part of any squat is the inclusion of your spine. Many times we see people initiate body squats with a rounded back, kinking their neck upwards. By doing so, you create a weakness in the neurological pathways between the brain and the legs.
Instead, focus on drawing your shoulders down the spine, away from the ears as you pop your chest. This will engage the lats, allowing you to keep a more erect spine and decrease the “hip tuck” that often occurs at the bottom of a squat. When a spine lacks vertical integrity during a squat it often means that the load is transferred from the gluten, hamstrings and quads to the erector muscle of the spine, resulting in lower back tightness and pain.
Check out the full video here for how to master the squat, fix these common mistakes and tune in next week for some wicked loaded squat variations.
Get strong, get fit, get adventuring!