You’ll often hear 8fit coaches say something like, “Focus on form over reps.” Correct form helps prevent injuries and ensures that the right muscles are activated. However, despite following instructions, our bodies aren’t always able to perform exercises with the correct form, initially as a result of muscular and skeletal imbalances.
Here Coach Alice reveals the various types of imbalances that can prevent you from performing a perfect squat and how to correct them over time.
What is a squat?
A squat is a compound, full body exercise that trains the muscles in the thighs, hips and glutes (butt). It’s a very telling movement that tests both mobility and strength. In fact, squats are a movement that many physio and sport massage therapists use to determine whether a client has any underlying issues.
How to do squats
- Stand with your feet hips-width apart (or slightly wider). Angle your toes so that they point forward.
- Engage the muscles in your core, legs and glutes as you lower your butt down and back — like you are sitting on a chair.
- Keep your weight in your heels and make sure your knees don’t extend past your toes.
- Sit as low as you can go, without letting your pelvis round (what I like to call a “butt wink”), while keeping your spine straight and chest lifted.
- Return to standing by driving down through your heels and squeezing your glutes as you come up.
Analyzing your squat
Once you understand what proper squat form should look like, it’s time to assess how your squat looks and feels. Here are some things to look for:
1. Knees caving in
This is a form mistake that I see often. Nowadays we tend to live very sedentary lifestyles which causes our glute muscles to weaken. As a result, our stronger adductors (inner thigh muscles) pull our knees together. This is what creates the knocked-knee effect and prevents us from performing the squat movement properly.
Tip: strengthen your glutes by moving more throughout the the day and adding glute bridges, quadruped leg lifts and lunges to your exercise routine. Another exercise I love are lateral band walks. This is a fantastic exercise to strengthen your outer thighs (abductors) and bum muscles.
2. Toes unable to point forward
If you notice that you’re unable to squat with your toes pointing forward because they keep turning outward, this could be a sign that your glutes muscles are tight.
Tip: a great stretch to really target the muscles used in a squat is the figure four glute stretch — reclined or standing. For the best stretch, hold for at least 15 seconds on each leg and perform regularly. Try one of 8fit’s yoga workouts in the app for a deeper stretch.
3. Upper body leaning forward
If you are unable to keep your chest lifted, this is could be one of two things: poor ankle mobility or a weak core.
Your ankles bear the weight of your entire body and help stabilize the body as you move. Poor or lack of mobility in the ankles results in your tibia (shin bone) being unable to move freely,especially when you squat. This means that the tibia gets stuck in a predominantly vertical position, compromising upper body form and causing you to lean forward. This becomes problematic once you start squatting with heavy weights and can oftentimes lead to back injury.
Test your ankle mobility:
- Find a wall and stand facing it
- Place your feet about one hand’s length away from the wall
- Step your right foot back and come into a lunge
- See how close you can get your knee to the wall without lifting the heel of your left foot; use hands as support against the wall
- The further away you can get your knee to touch the wall without lifting the better your mobility;
- Repeat test with the other leg
Tip: to improve your ankle mobility, stretch your calf muscles.
If your ankle mobility isn’t the problem, maybe your core strength is causing you to lean forward. Our core muscles are fundamental to maintaining good posture and supporting basic movements. A weak core will compromise your ability to perform squats with correct form because your body won’t be able to stabilize, causing you to lean forward.
Tip: to improve your core strength, challenge your balance. Try step-ups or test your stability by standing on one leg and seeing how long you can hold it for. My go-to exercise for strengthening the core is the good ole plank.
Practice makes perfect, so if you notice that you have trouble squatting with correctly follow my tips to improve your form over time. When we train smart, we feel great and get the results we want.