4 Ways to Improve Your Squat Form

After working hands-on with hundreds of athletes ranging from youth through professional, I'm 100 percent certain that not everyone should squat.

More specifically, not everyone should squat with weight immediately, and to be honest, a portion of people really don't need to squat with weight to be successful.

That being said, it is my goal with every athlete to ensure that they reach their goals as fast as possible while allowing for future success. If squatting needs to be on their plan to help achieve success, then it will be my goal to progress them as quickly as possible.

I've heard countless coaches and parents talk about how everyone needs to squat. While I agree, I think the complexity of the movement often gets lost in the concept.

Squatting is a complex movement; it is a series of movements involving multiple joints and muscles; one series of muscles must relax to let the joints function and move while another set of muscles remains tight so that the athlete can stay in proper position; if just one of these sequences isn't timed or completed properly the movement will come to halt very quickly.

Don't believe me? Try this simple test: Take a wooden down or PVC pipe and hold it overhead with your hands just outside of shoulder width. Your feet should be positioned with your feet pretty much straight forward (a slight toe out is ok) and just outside of shoulder width.

Keeping the arms completely straight overhead I want you to squat down so that your butt touches your heels. You pass the test if you can do this: 1) With your feet still straight ahead, 2) Your lower and middle back should be straight and not 'tucked' under, 3) Your arms still over your head and not out in front of your body, 4) Your heels are still on the ground (and never left), 5) Your butt must break below the crease of your hip.

If you're able to do the above without any pain or issues, congratulations, you're among a very (and I emphasize very) small number of athletes who don't have any major glaring issues in your squatting pattern. You would immediately be progressed along to virtually any of my squatting exercises depending on your needs. If you're unable to complete all five tasks on the list above, you've got some work to do to improve your movement. But the good news is it can be done!

I'm sure you're sitting here asking yourself, "Why can't I do this?" Well, it could be a lot of reasons, but here are the most common reasons that I see someone fail to complete the overhead squat test:

  • Ankle Mobility: in order for you to be able to get your hips to a certain depth, your ankle must allow enough movement (mobility around the joint) forward (towards your toes). Without enough movement here, your hips and back will have to make up for it.
  • Hip Mobility: In order for your upper body to stay upright and your hips to stay in place you must have mobility around your hips. This means that the muscles, surrounding tissues, and joints must move freely.
  • Upper Back Mobility: Commonly referred to as thoracic mobility (or t-spine), your upper back must be able to extend in order to keep the arms and chest up throughout the movement. It's very common for people who sit down to have poor posture and be slouched forward. That poor posture is negatively affecting your ability to keep your mobility in your back plus making you look less confident and shorter.

If you have restrictions it's important to start addressing them on a regular basis. I've seen the most progress with my athletes when they follow a series of "prehab" movements prior to a practice or training session (they could also be done in the privacy of your own home). The movements will only take about 5-10 minutes but can have a profound effect on your mobility and your health.

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