Brace Yourself for Squats: Three Common Faults and How to Cure Them.
If you’re a regular member of our classes you know this: we love to squat. The squat—air squat, back squat, front squat, and overhead squat are staples in a good squat routine—can develop much more than just raw strength. Heavy squats develop your fast-energy systems, strengthen postural muscles, and create a hormone response that accelerates muscle growth and recovery.
That being said, proper squatting position and movement are more important than heavy weight. Think of it like a pyramid. Healthy positions (standing, half squat, full squat) are the base of the pyramid. Movement through the squat is built on the base of position. Fast, heavy squats are at the top of the pyramid. Building a tall pyramid requires a big base, so if you want to squat heavy, you have to put time into building your base.
Brace yourself. The first building block in your squat base is a braced spine. If your spine isn’t supported when you squat you’re at risk for injury and low-back pain. Check your squat for these three faults.
Fault 1: Posterior Pelvic Tilt—“Dog-Poop Squat”
This fault is characterized by the tilting of your lower spine/hips underneath you while
squatting. Put simply, you look like a dog relieving himself. Every degree of tilt adds additional strain on the muscles of the lower back and takes tension (potential power) away from the hamstrings, quads, and glutes. Worst of all, as you lose good position, your lower spine rounds and increases your risk of spinal issues.
Fix: Banded Squats
Tilting of the pelvis at the bottom of a squat has many culprits, one being a lack of gluteal (butt muscle) activation. Practice engaging your “glutes” with banded squats. Step into a resistance band, and set it just below your knees. Plant your feet firmly on the ground in squat width, and actively spread the band apart. You should feel tension on the outside of your legs and hips.
If squatting low with good form is difficult, spend more time on mobility exercises to open up your squat range of motion. Until then, don’t sacrifice your back for extra depth. It’s better to work on mobility gradually, than it is to find injury suddenly.
Fault 2: Anterior Pelvic Tilt—“Over Arch”
Opposite of the first, this fault happens when you over-arch your back and send
your hips too far behind you. Over-arching tips your pelvis forward, tightening the hamstrings and overworking the lower back erectors. Strained erectors and an overarched spine will eventually cause a great deal of back pain, especially in high volume WODs. Full squat depth is also difficult to achieve when your pelvis is tilted.
Fix: Goblet Squats
Keeping your hips/pelvis in line during the squat requires sound abdominal
function. Goblet squats are the perfect tool for learning to activate your abs while squatting. Hold a light kettlebell in front of you, and try to squat. At the bottom of your squat, extend your arms away from you. The front-loaded weight forces your torso to remain more upright. Your abdominals automatically engage and pull your bottom ribs towards your hips. You should be reproducing this abdominal tension during all of your squats. Think “bottom ribs down tight.”
Fault 3: Missing a Big Breath “Soft in the Middle”
Strong breathing is arguably the most important point to squatting strong. It’s also the most difficult to master. To demonstrate the need for a full body of air, grab a capped water bottle. This is you with a full breath. When you try to bend the bottle, it resists the flexing and bending—That’s not bad for a bottle without any muscles. Then, uncap the bottle, take a little air out, and recap it. Now, when you bend the bottle, it crumples over. The imagery is a lot less pleasant if you’re the airless bottle. Squatting without a full breath of air leaves you soft in the middle.
Fix: 90/90 Breathing
To practice the ideal breath and prevent being soft in the middle, try 90/90 breathing on a wall. Lay down with your feet on a wall. Your feet should be squat-width apart, and your legs/hips both at a 90 degree angle. Grip the wall with your heel, mid-foot, and big toe. Your back should be flat on the floor.
To start, breathe out all your air (like you’re blowing up the world’s largest balloon). Your gut will tighten, and your bottom ribs will sink toward your hips as you blow out your last bit of air. This abdominal tension is just like goblet squats. Hold that tension as you perform this exercise.
Breathe in deeply through your nose. Let your breath flow down into your belly. As the lower half of you body fills with air, your midsection will expand, and your lower back will press into the floor. Try to get as much air in your lower half as possible. Once your belly is full of air, the rest of your breath will begin to fill your chest. Your upper back will begin to press into the floor, and your shoulders should begin to open up. Note: your shoulders shouldn’t shrug as you breath—you should feel your shoulders getting broader. Sequence is key to a good breath. Air fills the lowest part of the body and travels up. Think about filling yourself with water. (The water fills from the bottom up.) Notice, in the photo, I have my hand on my stomach and chest. If done correctly, the hand on my stomach will rise first, followed by the hand on my chest. By the end of the breath in you should almost feel taller.
Now that you have the air in, keep it in. Squeeze your belly while taking shallow breaths. Good internal air pressure isn’t exactly relaxing, but it is stable. Your braced position also optimizes force produced by your shoulders and hips.
Always Be Improving
Curing faults and developing the perfect squat to reap its benefits is an ongoing process. Continual progress is a labor of love. As coaches, we care about our athletes, and as athletes, we care about our own body and our health. Whether you’re brand-new or a seasoned veteran, get braced and get squatting.