Squatting has been a movement that humans have performed since the beginning of time. Yet over time, the population as a whole has grown further and further away from our primitive squat beginnings, especially in the western world. And without training the squat regularly we can lose the ability to squat properly.
As a general recommendation, everyone in theory could benefit with the ability to complete a bodyweight squat correctly and progress by adding load with form improvements.
Low-Bar and High-Bar Squat Differences and Consistencies
No matter what the athlete’s preferred style of squat, three things must remain consistent when squatting: The bar must remain over the mid-foot, the spine must remain neutral, and the knees must track directly over the toes. Outside of these three points, the argument on bar positioning could go on for days, and does among different coaches and minds in the strength world. However, these three things must stay consistent for optimal squatting.
Typically, the low-bar squat is used in powerlifting and the high-bar squat is trained in weightlifting. A study that was published in 2017 by the Sports Performance Institute in New Zealand (Sprinz) assessed biomechanical differences between the high and low-bar back squat. They suggested that the forward lean of the chest during a low-bar squat allows athletes to activate more posterior chain (glutes, adductors, hamstring, and erector muscle groups).
Olympic weightlifting often utilizes a high-bar squat primarily because it involves more of an upright torso position, which is somewhat identical to the snatch and clean and Jerk. Strength built out of this position relies much more on quadriceps strength due to the high bar positioning.
3 Common Squat Errors
1. The Problem: Valgus Knees
Valgus knees are defined as knees caving in and this could be with one knee or both knees and if valgus becomes excessive, then the lifter can be at a greater risk for knee injury. There are a few factors that can contribute to valgus knees, which are out of our control. One example of this would be that females are more susceptible to valgus knees than males. This is because their Q-angle is greater.
The Q-angle is the angle formed between the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS) and the patellar tendon. The greater this angle, the more difficult it becomes to stabilize the knee and therefore risk for injury increases. The width of the pelvis and way the femur sits in the acetabulum can also affect the ability of the lifter to drive the knees out when squatting. These are things lifters should be aware of, but should not focus on when training, as they are simply out of the control of the lifter.
The Fix: Strengthening Exercises
Instead of fretting things out of our control, it’s best to control what we can. To combat knee valgus, an athlete can strengthen the glutes (including both the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius). Typically, the most vulnerable position of the squat for valgus knees is at full-depth or straight out of the hole. Two exercises that can be incorporated into the warm-up to help reduce knee caving are lateral band walk and single leg banded adduction.
Both exercises will contribute to activating the lateral hip muscles that allow the knees to track directly over the toes and limit knee when squatting under load. These prehab exercises were taken from PT and owner of Squat University Dr. Aaron Horschig. Check the video below as Dr. Horschig addresses knee cave in the squat and demonstrates the exercises listed above which will help fix this problem.
2. The Problem: Anterior/Posterior Pelvic Tilt “Butt Wink”
The pelvis should try to stay neutral throughout the squat no matter if it’s under a high or low-bar squat (keep in mid, there will be some anthropometric variance). Anterior/Posterior pelvic tilt is due to lack of mobility in the hips, which is related to motor a patterning issue (lack of core stability in the squat). Excessive Anterior/ Posterior Pelvic tilt can not only put an athlete in a sub-optimal position to squat and produce force, but it can also put excessive stress on the lumbar spine, which increases risk for injury.
The Fix: Coaching and Addressing Weaknesses
When an athlete has excessive anterior/ posterior pelvic tilt when squatting, the first thing to consider is whether they have been coached to squat correctly. If they haven’t been, then this may be the issue. After motor patterning is covered, the second thing to assess is anatomical restrictions in the hips that cannot be changed, aka this involves picking a stance that best supports the athletes hip structure. Finally, address the core. Is the lifter breathing and bracing properly to create a stable center of mass? If not, breathing/bracing exercises need to be introduced to get the lifter doing this properly.
3. The Problem: Lateral Weight Shift (Left/Right)
Below you will see a visual from Physical Therapist Dr. Aaron Horschig of Squat University displaying what the the lateral hip shift looks like at the depth of the back squat.
According to Dr. Quinn Henoch of Juggernaut Training Systems, lateral hip shift occurs most commonly due to adductor dysfunction.
Dysfunction of the adductors causes instability in the pelvis (aka a shift or twist to the right or left), which results in lateral weight shift of the body to the left or right during the squat. Often this shift becomes much more apparent to the naked eye as load increases. As with any dysfunction in the squat, heavier loads relative to the lifters 1-RM reveal technique breakdown. Weight shift in the squat causes one side of the body to do more of the work when squatting than the other and can lead to increased injury risk as force is not being distributed equally between each leg.
The Fix: Reactive Neuromuscular Training
What’s becoming seen as an effective and easy way to fix lateral hip shift is using a method called Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT). This is a method that is used to “feed the dysfunction.” For instance, if a lifter has a lateral hip shift to the left at the accent of a squat, then we would use outside resistance from a resistance band to pull them to the left, this causes the body to fight against the resistance and hopefully clean up their shifted squat pattern.
The idea is that the outside resistance of the band will help turn on under-active muscles that would otherwise not be active if the lifter were to squat with the normal hip shift they were experiencing. RNT has been a technique popularized by the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) and is often commonly used by strength coaches and trainers to clean up faulty movement patterns.
Check the video below as Dr. Quinn Henoch goes more into depth on the hip shift and how to fix it. Dr. Henoch uses RNT along with other techniques to help Chad Wesley Smith fix his lateral hip shift.
Squat errors can be common among all levels of athletes. The errors can be apparent early on in an athlete’s career or can develop overtime due to injuries or imbalances. Although these errors can be common, it is important that they are addressed to optimize squatting and reduce the risk of injury in training.
Excessive knee valgus, anterior/posterior pelvic tilt, and lateral hip shift are all potential squat errors that can be fixed over time with proper intervention.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Feature image from @nik.jehle Instagram page, and photo taken by @shuttersportproductions.