Myth: THE Perfect Squat

Now this is a fun subject. Like many myths in the realms of exercise it has fuelled the finances of gurus and zealots around the World, peddling a line that simply is not true. I give to you ...drum roll please....... The Perfect way to Squat.

 

Let’s break it down in sections:

Figure 1 Shows a variety of toe in and toe out positions (along with stance width).

Foot position There is no single perfect foot position that caters for all. It is also not as simple as feet facing forwards will hit more quads, or feet turned out will get more glutes. The potential angle of the amount of turn out (hip lateral rotation) required by each individual is different and is usually due to our individual structural make-up. Some people cannot squat to any depth with their feet pointing forwards, yet they turn out slightly and can obtain sub 90-degree positions (hip below knees). What does that mean? That squatting with their feet pointing forwards probably isn’t for that individual, and all the cuing in the World won't help... Even the gems like “turn on your core” or “activate your glutes”.

Figure 2 shows a variety of stance widths.

Stance width There is no one size fits-all foot width. And again just because they are narrow, doesn’t mean it is biasing your quads. As other contributors like depth of the movement and angle of turn out also contribute to which muscles end up doing more. If you can manage to squat to a 90-degree depth with your feet narrow or wide your quad activation is very similar. The major difference between narrow and wide (+45 degree lateral rotation of the hip) stances is that your gluteus maximus will work to a greater degree when the stance is wide, but note, that includes the addition of turning out.

Figure 3 shows demonstrates the fallacy of "no knees over toes" and what that does to form.

Knee position If someone tells you to keep your knees behind your toes when squatting… Please do not listen to them and if you can, never speak to them about exercise ever again. This is an antiquated personal trainer and physio cue from the early 2000’s and earlier, which is simply ridiculous. If you are squatting to a reasonable depth then you will absolutely need to allow your knees the freedom to move over your toes otherwise you will either fall backwards or bend a huge amount from the hip (hip flexion) and lower back (lumbar flexion). Which lets just say is suboptimal if you have a bar across your back.

Figure 4 shows.... (image link)

Knocking knees The knock knee position during a squat has been vilified as long as I can remember. If you’re squatting to a depth of 90 degrees or below then, in reality, the majority of us will actually need to have our knees drift inwards a little. The position has been labelled with fear mongering language like “dangerous”, which is not very helpful and in my experience it is actually far from that for the vast majority of people. Depending on the performer and their attributes/structure I’m often not worried about this knee position, especially if I see it when they are pushing their threshold. A couple of the reasons I might be wanting to limit this knock knee movement during a squat are 1) if the movement has marked asymmetry (if one side consistently does it, and the unaffected side doesn’t or 2) if the movement seems uncontrolled, in which I mean the knee moves inwards quickly and is used to generate momentum at low loads, even that is subjective on my part. There are other reasons too but I’ll keep it simple for the sake of clarity.

Figure 5 shows.... (image link)

Butt winking Another beauty. For me this only becomes relevant if 1) it happens very early in movement 2) looks excessively uncontrolled, especially using lighter weights or 3) we’re limiting exposure to it due to a recent pain episode. Again, for a large majority of us who would like to squat below 90 degrees, it has to occur. The pelvis can roll under (posteriorly tilt aka wink) for a number of reasons, and the likelihood is that the person telling you not to allow it to happen hasn’t assessed you in any way to make that assumption. So heed their advice with caution.

 

I’ve highlighted common so-called “faults” that are often pointed out to people when training by those with little understanding of squat mechanics, and how varied they CAN be. There is no single model that everyone has to copy... because we are all individual, each of our structures differ significantly, and each of our pain, injury and exercise histories are different… With that in mind, to think that everyone should move in the same way is misguided. The purpose of this post was to give a little hope to those that think they can’t squat because they can’t achieve the “perfect squat”, it doesn’t exist so there’s no need to worry. Your body will give you some indicators as to what is a good way for you to squat when it comes to the areas I've mentioned above because your squat will probably be different to my squat in these respects.

You can learn more about how squat patterns vary and how you can find a way to regain confidence in your ability to use this extremely useful exercise, soon via Production Education.

Thanks for reading

Barry

@barry.sigrist