The anatomy of the squat

There are so many different variations of a squat that you might think a personal trainer keeps changing them to continually inflict pain on their clients! Well not quite! Each different type of squat has a different purpose and works a slightly different combination of muscles. Here are three that are most regularly used: explained.

Traditional squat

The traditional squat should be one of the first squat techniques to learn. Typically it is recommended that the back curves inward slightly and is not rounded. This engages the muscles that protect the spine. A neutral hip position can also be used. For the neutral hip position, you simply rotate the top of the pelvis back and bottom of the pelvis forward to flatten the back. Do not exaggerate this movement – too much of a “thrust” and the back will round – just use enough rotation to make the back neutral. Keeping the head facing straight ahead with respect to the torso rather than looking up or down also helps align the spine and protect it from injury.

Descend as if you are sitting in a chair. A common mistake is to allow the knees to bend so far that they extend well beyond the toes. This particular squat places a bit of stress on the knee joint, and the farther the knees track forward, the more stress is placed upon the joint. By “sitting back” so the weight is transferred through the heels rather than the toes, you assure that tension is on the quadriceps more than the knee joint. It takes balance and flexibility to execute this movement correctly. Some people place their heels on blocks. While this improves balance, it is a compromise for lack of ankle flexibility. A better approach would be to address the root cause (lack of ankle flexibility) through stretching, rather than to eliminate the symptom by using blocks.

Descend as far as you can go without the knees tracking forward excessively or the torso bending too far forward. Most people through practice and with appropriate flexibility can descend to thighs parallel or beyond.

Sumo Squat

Taking an excessively wide stance is necessary to perform the sumo squat. Do not try to keep your legs pointed forward during this movement. If you try to bend at the knee with a wide stance and feet pointed forward, your leg will twist at the knee joint. This not only stresses the joint, but also stretches the ligaments and can injure them.

Feet should point farther out than your natural stance, so that the leg bends in a plane that does not allow twist or excessive torque on the knee joint. The sumo squat will employ more muscles in the inside of the thigh than the traditional squat.

Box squat

Another variation of the traditional squat is the box squat. In this movement, you squat until you are sitting on a platform or box. This is typically placed just at or above parallel. It is essential that you transfer all weight to the platform, pause, and then drive upwards. This technique works the weakest range of motion by forcing you to have a “cold start” from the bottom. Squeeze the glutes to drive upward and keep the torso as vertical as possible (many people make the mistake of leaning forward before driving up from the platform, and this may lead to injury).

The box squat will employ more of your hamstrings and glutes than a traditional squat, but helps strengthen the weakest range of motion and is sure to help you increase your maximum squat poundage. By transferring your weight completely to the platform, you eliminate the “stretch-shortening cycle” which uses “recoil” or “spring” energy to help drive back up from the bottom of a traditional squat.

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