If you want to maximize anabolism and build more muscle as well as overall body strength and endurance, squats should be a staple on your training menu. The humble squat is one of the rare exercises that can activate innumerable muscles in the body while providing a massive hormonal response that will allow you to pack on more lean muscle in the long run, so you’re right to want to get the most out of it!
And since no one is immune to mistakes, optimizing your squat performance begins with inspecting your form and technique and learning how to avoid compromising your results by paying more attention to those crucial things. Here’s 8 things that can hurt your squat and how to eliminate them from routine!
#1. Not Going Low Enough
Deep squats don’t hurt your knees – bad form does. In fact, this is one of the most toxic myths about squatting out there. Truth be told, there are people who simply can’t squat below parallel due to their specific body biomechanics, but those cases are pretty rare and it’s very likely that you’re not one of them. On the other hand, many studies have shown that ass-to-grass squats allow greater muscle activation and offer superior benefits in terms of muscle growth and strength gains than partial squats.
What’s even more interesting and widely unknown is that squatting above parallel can pose real dangers to your knee health because the force of the barbell can only shift onto your knees once you reach parallel. In addition, sticking to shallow squats will reduce your potential gains and make your efforts a waste of time, quite frankly.
If you have poor hip mobility, you can work on improving it by starting with an easier variation like the Goblet squat that allows you to squat lower while keeping your torso upright. With enough practice, you too can squat deep and unlock the real muscle building benefits of this great exercise.
#2. Collapsing Your Knees in
Knee valgus, otherwise known as knee caving, is one of the most common squatting mistakes beginners and advanced lifters do. Although this is fairly normal for the vast majority of beginners, it’s of crucial importance to try to overcome this issue because when your knees collapse inward, your knees are receiving a great load of undue stress that can, in time, damage the ligaments. Strength coaches and exercise scientists have many disagreements, but almost all of them agree that knee caving is undesirable from a knee health standpoint.
The most common reasons for knee valgus include insufficient ankle dorsiflexion range of motion, poor hip mobility, poor gluteal strength and development and muscle poor coordination in the lower body in general. As your strength and mobility improve, you will probably overcome some of these issues, but to speed up that process you have to make sure to always point your knees in the same direction as your toes.
Keeping the knees tracking over the toes will produce the least internal load on the soft tissue surrounding your knees, thus keeping them functional and healthy. If you find that your knees are still drifting together no matter how hard you try, place a mini-band around them to force your legs to fight against the resistance and train your muscles to keep your knees in alignment.
#3. Rounding the Lower Back
Many people have trouble keeping their backs from rounding during squats, and unfortunately, this can easily lead to back injury. When you round your back, you increase the load on your spine by five or ten times the load of an adequately performed squat.
Usually, a lifter can maintain a flat back as they descend into a squat, but as soon as their hips drop below parallel, their lower back rounds in and causes the butt to rotate down and forward, which is known as “butt winking”. Over time, the stress caused on the lumbar spine by this practice can become quite dangerous. Therefore, it’s crucial to maintain a flat, neutral spine when squatting.
But there’s another problem – many lifters will try to fix the butt wink by attempting to arch their lower back harder, which can also cause back pain and injury. Instead of doing that, you need to work on improving flexibility in the glutes and hamstrings and remember to stretch them properly before squatting. When your hams are too tight, this pulls your hips forward and causes your butt to drop down and your lower back to round.
The next time you perform a squat, try this: unrack the bar, get into your stance, then take a deep breath and exhale as hard as you can. This should make your ribcage drop and tilt your pelvis point upward. As you descend, focus on maintaining this exact ribcage and pelvic position.
#4. Lifting Your Heels
Do your heels come up as you descend into a squat?
If yes, your knees are getting more beating than they should and you’re unnecessarily increasing the difficulty of the motion. Usually, lifting the heels is a compensation for having tight ankles. Experienced lifters who know how to squat properly can be infrequently seen doing this as a way to improve range of motion at the knee or bring specific muscles into play, but in the case of beginners, elevating the knees under heavy loads or lots of reps will cause the knee joint to wear out quickly.
When performing squat properly in order to engage your entire lower body, you want the weight evenly distributed throughout your whole foot, so if you can’t keep your heels down you will lose the even pressure and put excessive force on your knees, as well as fail to properly exercise the glutes and quads. To fix this, you need to work on improving your hip and ankle mobility (again!), which will take some time. Start by making sure to up properly before squatting and curling your toes upward to prevent leaning forward.
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