Quick Tips to Assess Your Squat

We use a squat based movement pattern in near enough every session. Their inclusion in some form in every warm up we perform highlights how functional and fundamental to effective training the squat movement is.

When we squat we see flexion at the hip, knee and ankle. This movement is performed in all of the major Olympic lifts, deadlifts and jumping so making sure this movement is dialled in is pretty important.

One of the most common impairments to this movement especially in more experienced lifters (not necessarily better) we tend to see is more anterior rotation of the pelvis meaning excessive strain is put on the lower back in order to avoid flexion or forward bending. This is often when load is added in order to counter flexion forward. It makes the lifter think they are getting lower but the movement really isn’t gaining depth through the lower body musculature. In fact the change in angle of the pelvis and forward lean of the individual is providing the extra “range.” This means there is more strain on the lower back.

So if this is the case try this challenge to help you clean up your squat. This is a good challenge to old and new trainees- aim to maintain balance while sitting all the way down to their heels while not leaning forward or coming on to the balls of your feet. Check the guy out on the right- if you look more like that than the guy on the left it may be wise to leave a bit of weight of the bar and work on your positioning.

If you fall forward it’s a good sign that your back extensors, hip flexors, quads and calves may be overactive and taking on a little too much work. Some people will remedy this by squatting with a wider stance to get lower- this is just hiding mobility issues by creating a stable wider base with less range to move through. Look where the centre of gravity is going (tip: forward). This will happen without load as you will find greater range of movement than the likely half range that you are squatting through loaded.

Why is this a negative? Well, allowing the abdominals and the other muscles around the pelvis such as the glutes to pick up the slack will result in less loading on the lower back and better force transfer. In turn not just in the squat movement but in rotational movements as well as the back and quads take the work on as opposed to the abdominals and glutes.

A good question to ask yourself is does squatting leave you with a sore lower back- if so consider dropping a bit of weight (your ego won’t suffer too much) and look to clean up your squat movement by balancing your programme and placing more emphasis on making your squat better by adjusting your strength leverages.

 

 

A bala

 

position of joint

muscular action

pressure/ breathing

 

 

 

 

 

Fixing the Flaws: Part 1

It doesn’t really matter if you are an elite level athlete or a beginner. There are always going to be areas in your fitness that you need to work on. You are not Mr or Mrs Perfect….. Sorry….

Be it whole body strength, the transfer of your physicality in the weight room to your sport or small fiddly, subtle drills that you need to work on while the guy next to you totally dominates the exercise with 5 times as much weight.

It’s hard to break it to people that their 200kg deadlift, extreme yoga position or their 3 hour marathon is actually the limiting factor on why their back hurts or their knees are giving in.

Don’t get me wrong- strengths are there to be trained, great performance is impressive. No one is great without “strengths”.

Getting large numbers or quick times are a product of training. They are there to be celebrated as achievements. In turn though they can also lead to becoming your limiting factor when it comes to enhancing your health and overall fitness.

If you want to become a champion deadlifter or marathon runner then you may need to lift heavy things and run long distances. However, managing your recovery is also key. Looking after your mobility, muscular and joint health are tantamount to keeping you performing at high level, at times this needs to be prioritized.

But what about other “specialists” such as the desk jockey. The guys who specialize at being seated for unusually large amounts of time. You see their body adapts chronic overuse patterns reflective of their overall lifestyle be it running, sitting or cycling. In essence the changes in muscular balance mean less joint stability and or muscular tightness.

Weight room weights are vanity. “How much do you bench?” should be reserved to people who bench regularly. In fact the only guy who asks how much you bench is the guy who bench presses every session.  My answer is how much do you deadlift/ single leg squat/ run 1km in. At the end of the day he rates himself as a “specialist” bench presser and with that he will see all the chronic overuse issues that people without a well rounded programme of development will see.

In strength and conditioning for sport a lot of the time we perform training to counter balance the excessive strains and demands of overuse, just as we do for everyday people looking to keep their posture tip top. We do this as well with the detrained- we want to put enough strength and stability in the right areas to allow good balanced movement. We want to put enough mobility and flexibility in the areas that need to be moved.

The take home point is this.

Strength is overemphasised as a facet of fitness as we always lean towards our strengths. We perform more of what we are good at or have to do. What matters more in overall development of “fitness” and long term performance are the balance of strength and mobility.

“Specialists” occur as a product of their own training/ physical build. Balance in their programme is key to optimum performance over a period of time. Ask yourself the question what are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Do your weaknesses hold you up from achieving your ultimate fitness goals? Do they limit your strengths? Does your back hurt when you deadlift too heavy? Does running hurt your knees? Are your shoulders sore after press ups? In the next post we will look at some specific examples….

Why Soft Tissue Work on Your Shoulders Will Improve Your Squat and Take Away Back Pain.

At some point anyone who trains regularly will have an incident of shoulder pain. While looking to maintain healthy shoulders it is important to maintain good tissue quality in and around the shoulder.

The musculature of the posterior shoulder plays a direct role of how your shoulder posture positions itself. To the back of the arm pit you have two muscles that play a large role in shoulder position and generally stabilizing the shoulder joint. However stability and stiffness isn’t all that great if you don’t have enough mobility and stability as you raise your arms. This can commonly be seen in individuals who through training (the chest usually) or by their posture (usually desk based) can’t put their hands above their heads without moving their torso forwards. In fact the two pictures of an overhead squat highlight this quite well as someone with good range and someone with poor range.

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The musculature that can help release the shoulder is located just under the arm pit. The teres major has a tendon, at its insertion that lies behind that of the lats (the big prime muscle down your sides which form your “bat wings”…. If you are a guy) from which it is separated by a bursa or fatty pad that acts as a shock absorber, the two tendons unite along their lower borders for a short distance.

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The teres major is not part of the rotator cuff but it does play a role in humerus position in line with the lats. The lats when trained obviously recruit the teres major. As the lat are connected to the spine tightness or restriction in movement of the lats will not only cause back pain but also shoulder pain. The lats also act as internal rotators of the arm- just as the pectoralis major does. Typically in the situation I have seen a lot of aggressive chest stretches to try and create mobility here. Simply the pecs may not be an issue but the posterior shoulder may be causing the mobility issues.

The exercises that tend to be effected are any that necessitate barbells being placed on the shoulders and being stabilized by the hands such as barbell back squat as well as any overhead exercise. What you will typically see on a shoulder press is extension from the back- this effectively means that you perform a back extension as there is not enough space in the shoulder joint for the movement to clear without a bit of friction in the joint.

The following exercise is a great way of removing posterior shoulder stiffness- typically we have seen some people achieve a better hand position with a barbell on the shoulders as well as improvement in range of movement in overhead work.

Why Posture is Important: Part 2- A Crash Course in Hip Anatomy…

This is a follow on from Part 1 where we discussed the fundamental benefits of postural balance and keeping the spine in a neutral position. The concept often over viewed in most back care programmes and core training workouts is that specific postural issues such as pain, tightness or discomfort in movement are often not associated with spinal position.

The pull of the muscles around the hip and the shoulders have a profound effect on posture. This means that performing a lot of crunches, back extensions and unnecessary rotational work can be counter intuitive for those looking to reduce pain or get yourself back in to more optimal alignment where all the muscles are holding the body in the right way. Commonly, most core, posture or back pain programmes are combined with a lot of unnecessary lower back stretching. Hip, scapular and head position will dictate spinal position. Therefore trying to rotate the lumbar spine in to stretch for pain relief is not that clever. With only a total 13 degrees of rotation at the lumbar spine it highlights why unstable rotation combined with flexion (forward bending) is one of the major causes of disc injury.

So what can we do specifically around the hip area to relieve lower back pain and improve general posture to help improve balance further up the body? It is at this point it is useful to understand basic anatomy. The major muscles that act around the hip are the hamstrings which extend the hip and lengthen when forward bending from the hip. The gluteals which extend the hip as well as externally rotate the hip (turn the knees out) play a major role in movement as well as stability of the legs. The hamstrings and glutes are commonly termed hip extensors. If the hamstrings and glutes are tight we will see posterior tilt of the pelvis, often this will also present when someone stands up straight that they lock out at the knees. If both weak we will see anterior tilt of the pelvis, this is not to say they will not present tight in this case though- a lot of people will indicate they have tight hamstrings often though they have weak and inhibited muscles that are in major need of proper focussed training!

At the front of the thigh you have the quadriceps including rectus femoris which acts as a hip flexor (forward bending of the hip) as well as the iliopsoas group which play a role in lifting your leg up above 90 degrees- vital when sprinting… or indeed walking up stairs for those non-sprinters. The hip flexors can play a dual role in pelvic alignment if tight at the rectus femoris you may see a greater anterior tilt (forward) of the pelvis causing a bigger curve at the lower back. The psoas major plays a large role in anterior pelvic tilt also causing lumbar or lower back extension- which if excessively tight can lead to back pain from faulty spinal alignment. If the iliopsoas though are not strong enough to pick up the knees above 90 degrees then we may again see more of a flatter back posture which is commonly screened as tight hamstrings but may indeed be weak hip flexors. A lot of the time tight hip flexors or tight hamstrings are buzz word that is used by a lot of people who may not have assed hip flexor function properly.

The abdominals also play a role in hip alignment if they are tight they can posteriorally tilt the pelvis (flattening the back), if they are weak it can anteriorly tilt the hips sometimes placing strain on the lower back. If in anterior tilt the inner thigh muscles (the adductors) may present tight. We find this commonly in people with anterior tilt who are “front of the body dominant” as being opposed to having sufficient “posterior” chain strength. In laymen’s terms the front of the body is too strong for the back of the body.

In the next update we will look at building strength in to the right areas and strategies to improve postural balance.