"You become a the sum of your actions, and as you do, what flows from that - your impulses - reflect the actions you've taken."
Squatting is a movement we shouldn't take for granted. Think about how many times you sit down and stand up. If you squat with poor or lazy mechanics everyday for years, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that your knees and back light up with pain. Poor squat mechanics and poor or restricted range of motion can lead to back, hip, knee and ankle pain.
Faults in the squat typically come from poor range of motion in the hips and ankle. I often see the toes losing contact with the ground, the ankles and knees caving in, the knees jutting forward, and a rounding or hyperextension in the lower back.
Successful lifts start with the relationship you create between you, the bar and the floor. The air squat is no different. We want to create a solid foundation with our feet by keeping our feet screwed into the ground, keeping the toes in contact with the ground. Just as we don't want to loosen or lose our grip on a bar/dumbbell/kettlebell when bench pressing or shoulder pressing, we don't want to loosen or lose our grip on the ground with our feet.
Screwing our feet into the ground should be one of the first things we do when setting up for a squat. This creates torque and tension in the hips and legs and creates stability. We need this stability - starting with the foundation - to dial in our mechanics.
Our muscles can act as a shock absorber, as in running, or they can act as a powerful stiff spring, as in squatting. A spring works best when there is no slack in it. Imagine trying to fire a sling shot with slack in the band. You won't get and power out of the sling shot. If you create tension all the way back when firing it, you will get a ton of power from it. This is what needs to happen in the squat - keeping tension all the way to the bottom then back up.
- Feet shoulder width apart, pointing straight forward - can be pointed out slightly - no more than 10-15 degrees.
- Screw your feet into the ground as if you were going to spread the floor apart with your toes - this will instantly create torque and tension in your hips to create stability. You will feel your toes dig into the ground and your arches rise. We also want our mass centered over the middle of our feet.
- Squeeze your glutes and brace your trunk.
- Reach your hamstrings back and tilt your torso forward (Hip Hinge: see below) to load your hamstrings and glutes.
- Keep your shins as vertical as possible and actively drive your knees out laterally.
- As you lower yourself into the bottom position, there should be no slack - you should feel tension in your legs and hips the whole time.
- Your spine should not change positions throughout the movement - it should remain stiff and stable without rounding or hyperextending.
- Dropping into the squat, we would like to get our hips to knee level, but this may or may not be possible yet.
- Coming out of the bottom position, we just reverse the movement.
- Keep your trunk tight, spine neutral, knees out and feet screwed into the ground.
*Hip Hinge: maximal hip bend, minimal knee bend. The hip hinge is, in general, any flexion or extension starting at the hips that involves a posterior weight shift. With the hip hinge, you maintain a neutral spine and bend at the hips, not the low back - this creates tension in the hamstrings. This pattern relieves stress off of the lumbar spine and can prevent a whole host of injuries.