Although the squat comes with some basic form rules, there is no one size fits all squat position because hip anatomy can easily differ between people. Therefore, no two people will ever squat exactly the same way. And it’s not a matter of mobility work – if an athlete has a problem with their squat due to their anatomy, squatting will always be a battle. Some people have a really hard time squatting deep, while others have their feet pointing out no matter what they do.
The truth is that not everybody has to be forced to squat the “perfect” way and there is more than one way to squat correctly – in fact, the athlete’s anatomy, especially their femur length, should dictate squat width and mechanics.
For example, let’s take two athletes of the same height but different torso and femur (thighbone) proportions. The one with a longer torso and shorter femurs would be better at high bar squats, squat very deep and keep an upright back with relative ease, while the one with a shorter torso and longer femurs would prefer low bar squats, squat just below parallel and constantly lean forward. Actually, the second athlete would always have a problem staying upright and that would become especially evident when dealing with heavier weights. At first glance, most people would assume that the second athlete has poor form and should be reminded to stay upright, when the problem actually is in their specific anatomy.
For a detailed review of how anatomy influences squat mechanics, check out Tom Purvis’s great videos on the topic:
In a nutshell, the anatomic traits that are associated with a more upright squatting posture include: greater heel elevation, greater ankle dorsiflexion mobility, shorter femur length, longer torso length, wider stance width, more abduction, a higher bar position on the back, greater quadriceps strength and increased intent to target the knee extensors.
On the other hand, anatomic traits that lead to a more forward leaning squatting posture include: no heel elevation, restricted ankle dorsiflexion mobility, longer femur length, shorter torso length, narrower stance width, less abduction, a lower bar position on the back, greater gluteal strength and increased intent to target the hip extensors.
So if you’re one of those people who significantly struggle with their squat form, don’t stress too much about it because it might not be your fault at all. You might have to work a bit harder on your form than other people, but you have other natural advantages in other exercises where you can better utilize your strength.