Squatting is easily one of my favorite exercises, and in my opinion, one of the greatest ways to determine overall strength of the body. Yet many people shy away from this exercise for many reasons, such as lower back pain or knee pain. This can be very frustrating, especially for those that want to either start squatting, or for those that have been squatting for a while and continue to nurse those pains which occur. However, all of these pains can easily be remedied by a couple of simple fixes. These include the way one squats, how one warms up for their squats, and the equipment choices for their squats. In this article, we will be focusing on fixing the general form of your squat so that you can avoid knee and lower back pain.
The best place to start is by first fixing one’s squat form. Most people, when first attempting to squat, tend to begin the squat by leading with their knees before pushing their hips back to allow for proper depth in the squat. When a person does this, it causes all the force of the weight you are squatting to be put through your knees, which don’t have a lot of muscle around them to help protect them from that force. It also doesn’t allow optimal activation of your glute muscles, which help take most of the pressure off of your lower back. Instead of leading with the knees, start the squat by leading with your hips. This is what is called a hip hinge. To practice hip hinging you can break this down into three steps. We will break down these three steps momentarily.
To start, take a dowel and grasp it behind your back. One hand should be above you head, the other should be around your lower back. You then make sure the dowel has three points of contact along your back. These should respectively be at the back of your head, between your shoulder blades, and around your hips, as seen in the image below.
From the starting position, begin to lean forward while keeping your legs straight. As you lean forward, do your best to maintain those three points of contact. Drive your hips back behind you as much as possible (images provided for reference). The two major things to focus on with this movement is maintaining the three points of contact and pushing your hips back as you lean forward. Continue to practice this until you can get around 70 degrees or more of bend at your hips. When you can do this, you are ready to move onto Step Two.
Step Two is almost the same as Step One, just with an added movement. This time as you bend down, lift one leg off the ground and make sure it follows your hips back as you lean over the other leg. Everything from Step One still applies, but this time make sure to keep your hips parallel with the ground. Do not allow the hip to rise or fall below parallel while balancing on one foot. Continue to practice until you can reach around 70 degrees or more of bend at the hips while maintaining the hips at parallel. When you can do this, you are ready to move onto Step Three.
The idea of Step Three is to integrate the previous two steps and perform a squat. The major things to focus on with this step is to push your hips back and to maintain the three points of contact as you go into a squat. When you can do a full squat while maintaining those three points of contact, you have achieved good form in your squat!
In being able to master these three steps you will be able to transfer the force of your squat so that you no longer have any force going through your knees, but move all the force into your hips, which is better for your body. In doing this you not only avoid pain throughout the body, but also optimally activate your glutes, which will give you a stronger squat and pain free motion through your squat.
SPT, Strength Coach & Personal Trainer