Updated: Jan 21, 2021
Whatever happened to LMFAO?
Today in this TED talk, we'll talk about...you guessed it....Squats.
Contrary to popular belief, squatting to parallel or below parallel is not bad for you.
Letting your knees go beyond your toes? Also not bad for you.
Physical Therapists, Personal Trainers, chiropractors and Physicians....quit perpetuating this nonsense.
The context of the squat determines where you end up biomechanically...keep reading to discover why.
2 common misconceptions about the squat
1. The knees can NEVER go beyond your toes.
If the shin stays vertical, it places extra pressure on the knee (like a wall-sit without the wall) and will create a need to compensate with extra hip flexion/forward trunk lean to bring your center of gravity back towards the foot to maintain balance.
A vertical shin influences increased quad demand rather than balanced glute/quad recruitment. If you're training or treating someone who is complaining of knee pain and then teach them to squat in a quad/knee dominant position you're going to create....you guessed it...more knee pain. Use the hip dominant/normal pattern to offload the symptomatic knee.
2. The knees should always follow a path directly in line with the hips and ankles.
Similarly dysfunctional to the wall squat, the door hinge squat artificially limits normal joint mechanics that occur within the hip, knee and ankle joints.
These artificial/self induced limitations in the mechanics can results in pinching in the hip joints (impingement-like symptoms), excessive pressure on the knee joint (see point #1 above) and over time, loss of range of motion in all of the aforementioned joints.
As your brain and body see it, it's a use it or lose it scenario. If you don't frequently use your inherent mobility, your body will slowly take up the unused slack over time.
What is happening at the hip during a squat?
As those knees track out, the resulting effect anatomically is that the thigh and shin bones rotate outwardly (externally) up until roughly 90* of hip flexion. This is why we need to be competent with hip external rotation. Movement competence encompasses both having full/complete range of motion AND strength/control through that all of that range.
Once you achieve roughly 90* of hip flexion during a squat, the hip begins to internally rotate to maintain hip joint congruency, its a normal effect to keep the ball (femur) in the socket. This rotation at the hip will draw the knees back in towards the instep of the foot.
This is the reason why we need to be competent with hip internal rotation.
The context of your squat determines what biomechanical "minimums" you need to accomplish your "squat task" at hand.
Do you just want to be comfortable sitting to and standing from a low couch or do you want to be able to squat ass to grass in order to pull under the bar while snatching? Both of these require varying degrees of "squat ability" but the concepts and execution of both movements are the same. Does this mean you need to be able to squat ass to grass to sit down comfortably? No. But if you can squat that deep then sitting down comfortably will only be easier.
Most people, for exercise and lifestyle related activities, need to regularly squat to parallel (Sitting onto the toilet, sitting into an office chair).
You squat more than you think but the context in which you squat determines how much motion is needed. Squatting TO parallel is more common with activities like sitting onto the toilet or into an office chair or even performing a back squat. But what if the surface you're sitting to ends up slightly deeper than anticipated? To avoid low back, hip, ankle and foot compensations you still need good amounts of hip, knee and ankle range of motion.
If you participate in CrossFit the demands on your movement competence increase because of the necessity to "squat below parallel".
Whereas, if you're a Weightlifter the demands increase even more than that of the two aforementioned because of the necessity to pull yourself under the bar and get as deep as possible.
As you can see the movement competence needed at the hips, knees and ankles is significantly higher.
The problems arise when tissue adaptations have occurred over months, years and decades. Think of how much you sit each and every day, couple that with all the years of sitting in grade school, college, work, etc.
Each decade of life on average (sitting 8 hours per day) is the equivalent of over 29,000 hours of sitting and during that time your tissue was stagnating/adapting to that new and familiar position by taking up slackened tissue and lengthening tissue which had been drawn tight. Essentially, you're remodeling tissue and joint positions to make you very efficient at assuming a sitting position and the global effect is tissue stiffness and an inability to demonstrate FULL range of motion.
Basic Concepts for the Squat
Hip bending results in knee bending results in ankle bending.
As they bend, the knees should track in an outward direction. Coaches and providers alike often use the “drive the knees out” cue which is often misinterpreted by athletes. I've watched athletes time and time again, drive their knees out so far that the inside edge of the foot and toes leave the floor.
The opposite can also be seen where an athlete is so focused on keeping the knees under the body or their hips cannot accommodate the "knee out" position that they stabilize themselves by "hanging" on the structures of the inside of the leg.
Both of these positions are inefficient to squat from and potentially injurious because it disrupts normal biomechanics in the leg.
But won't squatting too deep hurt my knees?
If you're admittedly tight and immobile and insist on squatting ass to grass, will it bother one tissue or another? Yes, most likely. However, if you have the mobility and control (movement competence) at those ranges, no. It should not hurt your knees. The common misconception about the knee is that pressure increases the deeper the knee bends. This is only true up until about 90* of flexion. Barring any immobility in the tissues/joint, as the knee bends greater than 90* the pressure actually decreases.
It's almost as if we were designed to be able to squat that deep for things like resting, eating and using the restroom.
Movement competence suffers when we've become SO accustomed to sitting in cars, couches and chairs that we begin to lose the inherent range of motion and control associated with the deep squat and begin to topple over as we approach an abbreviated tissue end range when simply performing a "parallel squat".
What can I do to re-establish some mobility and/or control in my hips?
A common occurrence that often comes with hip immobility as it relates to internal and external rotation is that typically clients are only lacking in one direction. Generally speaking, if the hips are lacking external rotation they're likely to demonstrate good amounts of internal rotation. On the flip side, if they exhibit good external rotation they're like likely missing internal rotation. In some rare instances, one hip will have ample EXTERNAL rotation and the other ample INTERNAL rotation. None of these are hard and fast rules that the anatomy must live by but rather just observations made over the years.
My suggestion is to work on both rather than getting caught up in nuances of what you may or may not be lacking.
Utilize some or all of the following mobilizations and control activities to restore motion AND control to your hips.