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Reviewing The Squat: Progressions And Regressions - Part 1

The Squat Review: A Look At Teaching The Squat & The Many Progressions & Regressions - Part 1

The squat is one of the most commonly performed movement patterns that we do right from the early development years as toddler through to old age.  We as humans need to be able to perform a squat pattern in many of the activities that undertake on a daily basis.  In the strength and conditioning arena, the squat is one of the most commonly prescribed exercises because it trains the entire body and also replicates many movements required to play sport and be active.  It also allows the individual to train power and strength in the lower body that can translate into increased jumping, running and moving peformance.  In a clinical sense, the squat is one of those movements that many clients presenting to the clinic with musculoskeletal injuries often demonstrate a poor ability to execute correctly.

Looking At The Squat Pattern In The Early Developmental Years And Across Cultures

Looking at the early years of development you will observe many toddlers readily performing either squatting or deadlifting patterns when getting up and down from the ground or picking things up.  It is truly amazing to watch these small humans perform these movements with such ease and without any movement, strength or motor control issues.  The truly great thing about watching toddlers perform squat and deadlift patterns is that they perform these movements naturally and without any teaching like us adults often need.

When we take a look at different cultures across the globe, we see many people from various cultures still readily performing these movement patterns compared to many in the Western world.  Many westerners have lost the ability to squat, with some of the reasons for this possibly relating to mobility issues from too much sitting, a lack of strength and motor control from general inactivity.  When we look at many Asian cultures and countries, it is very common to see many people still adopting squatting positions in everyday life.  It is simply amazing to look at people of all ages (right up to the ages of 70 and 80 years) where people can simple squat and hold these positions with such ease.  Something that I commonly ask my clients and try myself, is to simply get into a full squat position and see how long I can hold this position for.  It is amazing how many people have lost the ability to do this or simply find it too difficult to maintain this squat position.

Assessing The Squat

Assessing ones ability to perform the squat can tell us a lot about their body’s ability to move.  The squat is a great movement to assess because it involves both lower and upper body integration, as well as both left and right sides of the body.  It requires the individual to have good mobility, stability and motor control from the lower limb right through to the upper body and therefore tells us a lot about their general function.

Assessing The Squat Movement Pattern

When I ask my client to perform the squat, I try to limit my coaching and demonstration of the squat to get a more true sense of how they move.  The squat means many things to many people and looking at how they perform their version of the squat can give us a great deal of information.

I have listed below some of the common observations of variations of squats performed by many of my clients which help me to identify further areas of assessment to determine if their is a mobility, stability or motor control issue.  This list is not exhaustive and further assessment is required to determine what the clients major limiting factor might be.

  • An ability to perform the squat movement full stop.  Some people simply cannot squat and this could be a result of poor movement, stability or motor control.
  • Shallow squat pattern that is limited in range.  This again could represent a mobility, stability or motor control issue and further testing is required to determine which is the biggest contributing factor.
  • Squatting through their knees and limited mobility through their hips.  A common pattern adopted by many clients who have forgotten how to hip hinge.  Often people performing squatting patterns like this who exercise find themselves developing knee related issues at some point in their life.
  • Squatting and looking at how they counterbalance their movement.  Some people can perform a perfect squat pattern with arms reaching out in front, others find it difficult to squat effectively with arms by their side or above head.  It is important to see how the client performs these variations of squat patterns as it can give us more information as to mobility issues through the trunk and shoulders or lack of stability and motor control.
  • A lack of closed chain dorsiflexion through their ankle.  Clients may find it easier to perform a good squat pattern when heels are placed on a wedge.  This could be as a result of poor mobility, motor control or stability in the trunk lower limb.  Often one of the key areas that I assess in this is to look at their closed chain dorsiflexion range.  It is important to rule out tightness through the gastrocnemius and soleus or joint limitation through the talocrural joint.
  • Knee diving in on the squat.  This could be a result of poor foot mechanics or mobility or stability issues through the hip and pelvis.  It is important to assess these areas to rule out other contributing factors.
  • A shift in their pelvis to one side when squatting could be a result of poor mobility or dysfunction in movement.  It is important to assess the foot and hip/pelvis to identify this.
  • A rounding of the spine whilst squatting could be an issue with hip or spine mobility or an ability to disassociate hip and lumbar spine movement.

When it comes to assessing the squat, I will often vary up the squat movement in many ways to look at how one can move through a squat.  This could involve looking at the squat pattern in the following ways:

Changing the start position of the foot i.e. split squat, toes in, toes out, width of stance, position of the arms and looking at ones ability to perform a single leg squat and lunge.  Each of these varations can give us further information as to how they move through the foot/ankle, knee, hip, spine and upper body with more or less base of support, change in centre of gravity and range of movement.

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Rob Madden

Physiotherapist & S&C Coach.

3 years ago

Nice piece!