We all know the squat is the king of exercises. It’s a compound movement working your largest muscle groups, it has a huge metabolic demand, and is the foundation of better performance. Yet, as a trainer, this can be the hardest exercise for our clients to master. So I wanted to give you my 3 best tips to improve squat form with your clients.
When you first ask your client to perform a bodyweight squat, watch closely for these things. They may not have developed pain in squatting yet, but these movement dysfunctions can be harmful in the long run.
The good news is you can greatly improve squat form in your clients with just a few techniques!
Having an appropriate amount of dorsiflexion (bringing the top of the foot towards your shin) is critical to being able to squat properly. As you lower into a squat, you have to dorsiflex at the ankle in order to keep your heels on the ground. If your heels come up, you are now loading the weight more anteriorly, causing increased stress on the knees.
You may also observe collapsing forward at the hips, into what resembles a “good morning” exercise more than a squat. If your client lacks ankle mobility but tries to keep their heels on the ground, this will most likely be their compensation.
Typically, limited dorsiflexion is caused by tight calf muscles. If you see these movement dysfunctions in your client’s squat, focus on their ankle mobility.
Note: In the picture on the left, the compensation for limited ankle mobility is coming from the lumbar spine. Clients may also compensate by lifting their heels off the ground as they come down into the squat. Both point to the same root issue.
Just based off of experience, if you are training male clients, tight hamstrings may be the root cause of their poor squatting form. As your client gets to the bottom of the squat, does their butt tuck under? If so, their hamstrings are not long enough to allow their hips to be flexed through the entire movement.
Once this butt tucking happens, the lumbar spine becomes slightly more flexed and unsupported. Now your client is pushing up out of the squat with their low back in a compromised position. You can see how this could be harmful in the long term.
So to fix this, have them foam roll and then stretch their hamstrings! As their hamstring length improves, so will their ability to squat lower with good form.
Without good hip mobility, your client’s squat form will always be subpar. The hip joint must have ample mobility in the correct planes of motion in order to squat correctly. Muscles and ligaments can both be responsible for restricting hip motion, so they must both be addressed.
The easiest way to do this is by prescribing a hip mobility warmup a few times per week. I am in the process of designing a comprehensive hip mobility routine for you all, but in the mean time here are a few ideas. Perform two sets of 15 each leg of: leg swings, walking step-overs, and spiderman climbing.
To improve squat form in your clients focus on ankle mobility, hamstring length, and hip mobility. Your clients will not only squat better, but will decrease their chances of developing knee and back pain.
Let me know your thoughts!
Doctor of Physical Therapy Candidate, Corrective Exercise Specialist, Certified Personal Trainer
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