Squatting is one of the essential exercises anyone can do. We need the strength from the glutes, quads, and hip flexors in almost every movement we make throughout the day, so why are they avoided in traditional exercise programs?
I have had many people come in that are avid exercisers or are even coming from another functional fitness program who have not been taught to squat correctly. Many people tell me they cannot squat, but after a few months, they are squatting and doing it well. People have been told that squatting is bad for you, and it can be if you are not taught correctly. Many trainers have their clients avoid them completely because they are afraid to teach them.
To me, teaching the squat is easy. I am trying to get my athlete to do a couple of things. Set up well, hit the proper range of motion, and keep good posture.
We start first with our feet, they should be about shoulder-width, and the toes should be slightly pointed out. The descent is started by pushing the butt back. The biggest mistake people make when squatting is leading the descent by moving the knees forward instead of the butt back. This is where the majority of injuries come from. As a coach, I have many cues that I can use to get my athlete to track back with their hips rather than forward with their knees.
Most people complain about their knees when they squat, and trust me, I can empathize with this, but proper traction of the knees can significantly reduce knee pain. Step one to relieving knee pain is keeping the knees back at the start. Step two is tracking the knees out over the toes for the entire squat. This means we are pushing our knees out as we go down and up. It is one of the reasons I have my athletes point their toes out to start. It gives a great visual guide to where their knees should be pointed. Butt back and knees out are two action points that, when done correctly, can help build the strength in our knees that we need to keep the daily pain away as well as exercising pain.
Next is the range of motion. We are looking to have every athlete squat to a depth where their hips are lower than their knees; we call this bellow parallel. Growing up through different strength and conditioning programs, we were never taught to squat low, and that was embedded in my head. As I learned more about teaching exercise, I realized it was because the coaches did not know how to teach the squat, and when dealing with a group of kids, it is easier and safer to teach it that way. The same goes for most personal trainers. It is easier to not squat low when you do not know how to teach it.
Squatting to a full range of motion has many benefits. One being strong at any point in the squat. You will never be in a real-world situation where you stop at ninety degrees and stand up. What would happen if you were stuck in the bottom of a squat? Could you get up if you only trained to parallel? The biggest benefit of a full range of motion squat is building strength in the joint. If we take our knee, ankle, and hip joints through a full range of motion, we are strengthing them through all angles. This helps with many common elements like arthritis but also keeps the joint strong. Hopefully, reducing many non-contact injuries and helping with normal daily activities.
Squatting is essential, but more critical is squatting correctly. Find a gym where they stress squatting as apart of their program and are virtuous in making sure you are doing it correctly.