This is my little girl Callan Kay who is obviously the cutest thing in the world (I’m not at all biased). What is not so obvious is how perfect her squat is or how the heck she got there. Why do babies squat with such ease but when us adults are asked to squat, we act like we’ve been asked to play darts with spaghetti?! I mean, I thought we got smarter as we aged! Let’s discuss some of the reasons squatting is so difficult and why babies are really just out to piss us off with their amazing squat form.
First things first. How did a baby get this perfect form? Put yourself in a baby onesie and let’s think. When a baby learns to move, he/she has limited muscle strength and coordination to perform a task. When a baby rolls over for the first time, all of the muscles that made this happen worked PERFECTLY. There was no other way for the baby to roll over except for this one way. Thus, a movement pattern is born. There are windows in babies lives that are ideal for these movement patterns to be built. Otherwise, the baby will get stronger, miss the window, and forever compensate around this ideal movement. Missing this window may lead to malformation of joint surfaces, less coordination during movement, or even early arthritis. Don’t freak yourself out about missing these windows. Simply follow one rule and these windows won’t be missed: Never put your baby in a position that they cannot themselves get in. For example, putting a baby in a walker before they can walk themselves will only cause problems (this is why they are banned in Canada)!
Now on to the adults… The reasons not every squat will be the same include: a bunch of science and terms that confuse people. The bottom line is that every body type is different and this has a profound effect on how you move. For example, someone with a longer torso and shorter legs will squat much differently than someone with a short torso and longer legs. Don’t get me wrong, everyone has a unique ideal squat that should be strived for. The hard part is picking out what needs to be changed from what needs to be compensated around.
One thing that I hate to hear is someone in the gym describing what they think is ideal squat form. Telling someone to get their “butt back” is not always the best cue! There is a reason why not every pitcher in the major leagues throws the same way. In fact, it is near impossible to find the same exact form! Of course, squatting is much less complex than pitching form, but the point is that not everyone’s squat will be the same, nor does it need to be.
With this being said, there are certain key points that must be addressed to maintain good squat form.
1. Intra-abdominal pressure, created by your core musculature, is the foundation of any dynamic movement including a squat. Great intra-abdominal pressure keeps you upright in your squat, limits spinal flexion, and actually decreases the pressure in your discs! Training intra-abdominal pressure will not be accomplished by doing sit ups and crunches. A good place to start training this motor pattern is to think of filling up your stomach like a balloon having equal pressure 360 degrees around your core.
2. Equal loading of the “tripod” of the foot allows for ideal stability and function of the knee. The tripod of the foot consists of the heel, the ball of the foot, and the knuckle of the pinkie toe. Finding the tripod of the foot and being able to actively load the arches before squatting will save your knees! Make sure you do this before every squat under load.
3. Hip hinging at the correct angle with the correct rotation of your thigh allows you to use your glutes and hamstrings. This is a common problem seen in squat form which is why you always hear “Get your butt back!” The problem is that this angle is not the same for every person. Make sure you know what angle is correct for you in order to limit future low back pain and knee pain.
4. Ankle mobility is a necessary component that must be addressed to have good squat form. It is very difficult to get full range of motion in your squat if you have poor ankle mobility. Decreased ankle mobility can be because of many reasons but the most common reason is because of tight or shortened calves. And no, simply stretching your calves will not fix the problem. To see if you have an ankle mobility problem, try placing weights underneath your heels during a squat, 1 or 2 inches in height. If you are able to get lower into your squat with better form, then “Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!”
Don’t let the vagueness stress you out, everyone is different and they need to be analyzed as such. Let an expert examine you to find YOUR perfect squat.
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