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Evolution of a Squat

I did some 'back of the napkin' calculations the other day and figured out that I've probably taught or corrected the squat technique of around 10,000 people. That's a lot people and a lot of squats. I wanted to share what that looks like, what it means to have a movement pattern or an exercise tweaked or 'optimized'. I trawled through the countless clips I've amassed (I frequently film clients during our sessions to provide a third-person perspective on their movement) and found a series that demonstrates the early evolution of the squat technique of my client Leroy. With Leroy's permission I sent the clips to a friend to condense into this neat little video.

Pretty groovy track, huh? 🎶Ft. The XX vs. Biggie Remix

Let's break down the different stages, filmed over our first two sessions together:

Stage 1: In our first session together, Leroy demonstrates what has been his normal squat movement to date. There are a number of factors here that concerned me, mainly:

  • Knees breaking (bending) before hips, indicating a preference for using quadriceps (thigh) muscles over the gluteal (buttock) muscles. 
  • Leroy's toes are turned out nicely but his thighs are pointing directly forward as he descends to the bottom of his squat, leading to nasty torque through the knees.
  • Pelvis rolling backwards and forwards through the movement. 

Each of these points individually are indicators of poor gluteal and abdominal engagement, so when all three are present we can be confident we're looking at significant gluteal dysfunction and a high chance of knee and/or low back pain in Leroy's future if he were to continue squatting like this.

Stage 2: After a few minutes instruction we see important changes in the movement, notably:

  • Hips breaking earlier. This places more load in the hips from the first moment the squat begins, creating far better glute engagement.
  • Thighs pushed out so they're pointing in line with the feet. This is critical to prevent placing a rotational force through the knee joint, but also indicates better glute engagement due to the fact that our glutes are largely responsible for pulling our knees out wider when we're squatting.
  • More stability in the pelvis. Better gluteal and abdominal engagement have acted to prevent the pelvis tilting unnecessarily. This has a myriad of follow-on effects throughout the body including better balance and more even muscle engagement between our quadriceps and our glutes.

Stage 3: In our second session together we see Leroy squatting with far more stability. All of the above points have been addressed; his knees are now pushed out so that his thighs point in line with his feet, his pelvis is now incredibly stable throughout the movement, and his hips are now driving backwards instead of dropping directly down, indicating a more glute-dominant squat pattern.

Stage 4: Once we've established a strong, stable body-weight squat we start to add load. Leroy is an experienced gym-user who wants to progress his barbell back-squat, so we put him under the bar to see how it looked. I think the results are obvious. Placed side-by-side we can see the enormous improvement made in only two sessions - Leroy's first squat attempt now looks incredibly wobbly beside the later attempt. The 'after' squat on the right seems infinitely stronger and more stable, largely due to the dramatically increased gluteal and abdominal engagement throughout the movement. It's easy to forget when watching the comparison that these clips were taken less than a week apart!