The Evertrain Quick-Guide to Better Squats (and better results!)

Learn the why, how and which of Squatting

In the training programs we design for our clients, we always aim for the "biggest bang for your buck" when it comes to any and every aspect of the program. 

This can include mobility prescriptions, lifestyle changes, exercise selection, etc.

Our clients live busy and hectic lives. Whether it comes with a short term or long term pay-off, we always want to make the best use of our time and their's.

This is where the good old squat comes in. At Evertrain we love squats. And for good reason! There are so many reasons why we feel that everyone should aim to squat (provided they don't have any specific conditions that prevent them from doing this).

Squatting is a basic necessity of human movement. We squat when we get off the toilet. We squat down to pick up a small child. In some cultures people squat to converse or eat a meal. We were master squatters when we were babies. Our bodies were designed for it. Doesn't that tell us something?

In today's post we will give you a quick guide on the why, how and which of squatting. 

The Squat: An introduction

Squats are one of the most debated topics in fitness. For the longest time, people believed that squatting was actually bad for your knees! So much so that many people have been taught (even myself) that you should avoid allowing your knees to pass your toes when squatting.

Studies have since shown that squatting through a full range of motion can actually reduce your risk of injury when compared to not squatting at all.

(Click --> here for a brief article by Brad Schoenfeld touching on this.)

Why Squat?

There are many reasons why you should squat. Here are a few reasons you will want to make sure squatting remains in your exercise routine.

  • Prevent osteoporosis - Many of our clients mention wanting to prevent osteoporosis in the future. One of the best ways to treat or prevent this is with heavy squatting. Click --> here for an interesting article on this subject.

 

  • Improve your physique - There are many metabolic and muscle building benefits you can get from squatting. Did you know that over 200 muscles are activated during the squat? If your goal is to tone up, build muscle and lose fat, there aren't many exercises that can deliver a bigger impact than the squat.

 

  • Highly Functional - We need to squat more than we think. Many of our ADLs (activities of daily living) require squatting or at least similar forms of squatting. When was the last time you sat down on a toilet or picked up a grand child? When did you last work on your garden or need to get something from under the sink? If you do any of these things on a regular basis, then you are squatting often enough to need to be good at them.

 

  • Live Longer -A doctor from Brazil created a test that can predict your risk of death in the next 5 years. The test asks you to sit down and stand up again. You are scored based on how much support you need to do this. If you are squatting regularly with good form and full range of motion, you will test highly on this. Click --> here for a link to the article.

How to Squat

This is not a one size fits all answer. Everyone's body is different and therefore will want  to consider their specific anatomical variations (i.e. femur length, hip joint variations, etc), mobility restrictions and injury history before choosing how they should be squatting.

There is a lot to cover on this topic and for today's post we will give an introduction on some of our favourite ways to improve your squat. 

Improve Mobility for Squatting

Most people need better mobility before loading a squat and learning the movement.

To improve squat depth, reduce tension on the joints and better activate the right muscles you will want to perform mobility drills prior to your workout.

Here are some of our favourite "pre-squat" mobility drills.

  • Foam Roll Hip/Quad

Lie on a foam roller and travel from hip to knee, covering the inside, middle and outside of the quadriceps. Roll back and forth until you feel tension release. 


  • Hip Flexor Stretch Wave

From a kneeling position, perform each step of the stretch 3-4 times. Start with the hip only. Move towards the arm up position. Then add in a lateral bend (as shown in the photos) to really open up the front line and lateral line fascia.


  • Hip Openers

To promote rotation at the hips try the hip openers stretch. With your knees at 90 degrees and ankles wider than hip width, drop your knees from left to right with out lifting your hip off the mat. Do this 10-15 times.

Key Cues for Squats

There are many cues that can be used to improve your squats. We like to keep things simple when coaching clients, here are some key cues that we use;

  1. Brace your core - Engage your core muscles to ensure you have a stable spine.
  2. Push your knees out - gently push your knees outwards as you squat to allow yourself to sink nicely into the bottom position.
  3. Chest up - Keep your chest facing the wall in front of you to prevent any dipping forward.

Anatomical Variations

If you have performed mobility drills on your areas of need and still feel that your squat is off you may have overlooked some key areas.

Everyone's body is different. When it comes to the squat there are a few things that everyone should keep in mind. Here are 2 key areas of the body to take note of;

  • Femur length

People with shorter femurs are excellent at getting in and out of a squat. Not only that but they will probably have an easier time with exercises like back squats. On the other hand, those with long femurs are at an anatomical disadvantage for squatting (this is a topic for a future blog post).

Practical Tip: If you have long femurs, try opting for a front squat variation such as the Dumbbell Goblet Squat or Barbell Front Squat (see photos below) 

  • Hip joint variations

The many variations of the hip joint.

The hip joint is a ball and socket joint. The "ball" is the head of the femur and the "socket" is the acetabulum (pelvis). They say that hip joints are like finger prints. No two are the same. This is quite true in regards to squatting.

If your squat doesn't feel right in the bottom position, this could have something to do with the position of your feet.

 

Practical Tip: Play around with your foot position to find what feels best in the bottom. Try narrowing or widening your squat until it feels better. Then adjust the degree at which your toes are pointed out. Most people squat with anywhere from 15-30 degrees of external rotation. 

 Elevate your heels to improve your squat range of motion or to simply emphasize your quadriceps more. 

Elevate your heels to improve your squat range of motion or to simply emphasize your quadriceps more. 

Bonus Tip: Although stretching and rolling the lower limb can help to improve ankle mobility, some people will take longer to show change in this area. If you lack ankle mobility try elevating your heels to improve your squat immediately. 

WhiCH Squats?

There are so many variations of squats to do. Which ones are best for you?

Here are the criteria that we use when choosing a variation in order of priority;

  1. Pain free movement
  2. Ability to move through full/maximum range of motion
  3. Allows for the heaviest load (i.e. Barbells allow heavier loads than dumbbells)

Here are a few squat variations that we like to use with our clients.

Dumbbell Goblet/Front Squat

- great for beginners learning how to squat

- teaches posterior chain activation

- doesn't require much shoulder mobility

Dumbbell Suitcase Squat

- great for beginners learning how to squat

- teaches posterior chain activation

- doesn't require much shoulder mobility

- trains grip strength

Barbell Back Squat

- for intermediate to advanced lifters

- requires significant shoulder mobility

- great for loading the squat

- can vary between knee (quad) and hip (glutes, hamstrings) dominant variations

Barbell Front Squat

- for intermediate to advanced lifters

- requires significant ankle & shoulder mobility

- great for loading the squat

- knee dominant squat (quads)

- great for developing core strength

- great carry over to more advanced exercises (push press, clean & jerk, etc.)

Conclusion

Whether you want to improve your physique, stay strong as you age or just live a longer healthier life, you will want to consider the benefits of squatting often and well. 

If you need help deciding on what kind of training program to follow, let us know and we would be happy to help. Simply go to our contact us page, fill out the form and we will get back to you.

[EDIT: We've introduced a new program for men and women over 50 looking to lose weight and feel their best. Ask us about our LeanAfter50-Online program and get started on your path to success today.]

Thanks for reading and happy squatting!

The Evertrain Team

Learn more with our other Quick-Guide posts

Guide to Goal setting for Fitness and Weight Loss

Design Your Own Fitness Training Program