by James Linker (BSc, PGCertEd)
of Shredded Sports Science
If you struggle to resolve your squat form issues, then you're probably neglecting some of their underlying causes. The squat is a closed kinetic chain compound lift involving several prime mover muscles and antagonistic stabilizer muscles.1 It makes no sense to view squat mistakes in isolation when the lift requires so many interconnected muscles working in unison. Instead, you should take a holistic approach and improve your squat biomechanics. Until you do so, you'll continue to experience problems while squatting, especially "squat mornings” and “butt winks."
Leaning forward excessively while rising from “the hole,” or the bottom of the squat, can make the squat look like a good morning (and make you look like a moron). This position not only hampers your ability to generate force but can lead to injury.
1. Open Your Squat Stance
If you have a narrow squat stance with your toes pointed forward, then you might tilt forward too much during your ascent. Shifting your weight onto your toes exacerbates this issue, as does a lack of ankle mobility. Moving your feet apart and pointing them outwards slightly will help you maintain an upright torso position.
2. Train Your Quads
Your hips possibly shoot up and turn your squats into squat mornings because your back and hip extensors are much stronger than your quads and picking up their slack. If that's the case, then you will instinctively favor these muscles over your quads until you fix this imbalance. Add leg presses, lunges, and/or leg extensions to your strength program, and your hips and lower back might stop compensating for your quads.
3. Redistribute Your Weight
If you shift too much of your body weight to your heels, then you might raise your hips out of the hole or right before lockout to correct this weight imbalance. Instead, focus on distributing your body weight over the mid foot, moving the barbell along a line that runs through your mid foot and perpendicular to the ground, and driving your hips forward by contracting your glutes.
Posterior Pelvic Tilt (“Butt Wink”)
As you lower yourself into the hole, your pelvis might move from an anterior tilt to a posterior tilt, a phenomenon known as “butt wink.” Normally, this is no cause for concern, but your lumbar spine is prone to injury if it flexes excessively.
1. Make a Strong First Impression
Your squat setup is vital for correcting butt wink. First, mind your bar position. When preparing to perform a high bar back squat, ensure that the bar is on your upper traps; any higher, and you'll be unstable. Second, “preload” your squats by contracting the muscles ready for the lift.2 Some simple cues are to drive the elbows down by your sides and retract the scapula. Doing so increases muscular tension in your torso and ensure that your first rep is stable.
2. Remember to Breathe
Bracing supports your lumbar spine. Take a big breath through your mouth like you’re about to take a punch to your stomach and hold it during the squat rep.
3. Loosen Up
A lack of hamstring and ankle mobility can lead to butt wink. One way to stretch your hamstrings is to sit on a bench or chair with your legs straight out in front of you and heels on the ground. Lean forward with a straight back as far as you can until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
To improve your ankle mobility without resorting to buying expensive weightlifting shoes, perform the following stretches:
- Place one end of a resistance band around a post and the other end around your ankle. Get into a lunge position with the banded foot at the front and drop the back knee to the floor. Rock the front knee back and forth over the toes without the heel raising off the floor.
- Using a split stance, place one foot about 4" from a wall and move your knee towards and away from the wall while keeping your heels flat.
There is arguably no greater detriment to getting stronger than one’s ego, so follow the aforementioned cues for every squat rep you perform even if you have to lift less weight at first; otherwise, you won’t change your squatting motor pattern enough to achieve proficiency at the lift. You should also film some of your working sets so that you can tell the extent to which you make the mistakes discussed in this article. If anything, your lifting footage will help you rally the internet lynch mob should you be approached by an angry gym bro with the intention of kicking you in the privates.
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- Ellenbecker, T.S., and Davies, G.J, 2001. Closed Kinetic Chain Exercise: A Comprehensive Guide to Multiple Joint Exercises. 1st Edition. Champaign, Ill. Human Kinetics.
- National Strength and Conditioning Association, 2008. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 3rd Edition. Human Kinetics.