Am I Doing Squats Wrong?

The Top 3 Ways Your Squat Can Go Wrong

Written by Dr. Bart Hand

  1. Your knees cave in.

  2. You experience knee pain.

  3. You end up just staring at the floor.

A squat is the most functional movement that people perform all day long, but yet when asked to squat they say, “My squat has always been terrible.”

How has someone lived there entire life with a “terrible squat” when they do over 20 squats a day without thinking about? Every time you go to sit in a chair and then get out of that chair, you're doing a squat. Every time you get into your car and then get out of the car, you're doing a squat. Every time you go to pick something up off the floor with any weight at all, you're doing a squat. These are just a few examples of things we do in everyday life that involves a squat at some level, and I don’t know one person who doesn’t do these things multiple times a day.

There are so many different factors that go into a good squat - proper muscle firing patterns, proper joint movement, and good hip, ankle, and thoracic mobility. Those are just a few things that need to happen in order to have a perfect squat, but I am here to talk about three ways your squat can go wrong.

#1) My knees cave in when I squat. (Genu Valgum)

 
When squatting, keep those knees out!

When squatting, keep those knees out!

 

This is a very common way a squat can go wrong and there can be multiple factors for why you are unable to keep your knees out over your toes during your squat.

The most common reason why people are not able to keep their knees from caving in is due to weak gluteus.  Yes, I said it, people have weak glutes, particularly the gluteus medius which controls external rotation of the hip - a.k.a., keeping the knees from caving in. Strengthening the gluteus medius will help guide the femur naturally into external rotational which will put the knee in position right over the toes given you also have proper ankle mobility.

Here's are some exercises to strengthen your glutes:

Glute Med Wall Slides

 

Glute Bridges

 
 
 


#2) The front of my knee(s) hurt when I squat.

 
If your knees are hurting during/after squats, check your form. Are your knees extending past your toes?

If your knees are hurting during/after squats, check your form. Are your knees extending past your toes?

 

This is common in people who are extremely quadricep dominant. They lead with the knees instead of having that one to one ratio of hip flexion to knee flexion on their descend down to the bottom of a squat.

When we lead with the knees, the anterior portion of the knee ends up well past the toes causing there to be too much anterior translation of the femur onto the tibia. This causes the patella tendon and cruciate ligaments to take on a load that were not designed to hold which can lead to pain. By working on your squat patterning with some good ole fashion hip hinges and wall squats, you can work past this poor squat pattern that you have developed over the years.

Hip Hinges

 
 

Dowel Squats

 
 


#3) I end up just looking at floor when I squat.

 
Oh, heeeeey floor

Oh, heeeeey floor

 

Once again, there are many different reasons why this could be you during a squat, especially if you are trying to lift any weight in the back or front squat position. Let me guess...you're dumping the weight forward and getting frustrated as to why you are struggling to increase your max? One of the most common reasons for this problem is poor thoracic mobility, particularly extension.

This is the most common because the majority of us spend so much time sitting hunched over a computer all day which is followed by going home to watch tv hunched over on the couch. As a society, we spend so much time with our bodies curled up in the frontal plane whether it is from using a computer or texting.

Some try to strengthen their back during the notorious “back and leg day” which is great but it is not going to solve the problem alone. As momma always said to me growing up, “Sit up straight or else I’ll be stuck looking at the floor.” Well momma, you were right and that old Colonel Sanders was wrong. The good news is you don’t have to be stuck there, thoracic spine mobility coupled with isolated strengthening exercises can give you a posture that momma would be proud of and a squat you can be proud of!

Bench Dowel Extensions

 
 

Increasing Thoracolumbar Mobility

 
 

Increasing Thoracic Spine Mobility

 
 

Now, lets be real, the squat is the most fundamental functional movement in my opinion, but it is also one the most complicated movements due to the different intricate biomechanical factors that go into a squat.

So, if you are someone who struggles with your squat then do not be ashamed because you are not alone! The exercises above outline some quick tips on how to improve your squat, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a perfect squat!!

 
Am I Doing Squats Wrong? Img 4

 

Need some help with your squat? Recovering from an injury?