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Long legs, short legs, a long body, stiff ankles, sore knees, tight lower back, all these things will affect your bodyweight squats. It is difficult to describe the perfect form for bodyweight squats in terms of ideal angles or an image, although there are a few key pointers which will help you to keep balance and prevent injury.
Are you in balance?
When the body is unbalanced during bodyweight squats there can be undue load on certain structures which may induce injury. Too much weight into the toes and perhaps the knees will suffer, too much disconnection between the ribcage and the pelvis and the lower back is unduly arched or rounded and unable to bear load effectively. In standing, weight is borne through the midfoot. There is equal distribution between the three main points of contact in the foot, those being the ball of the foot, the base of the last toe and through the heel. Between these points of contact the arches of the foot support (both transversely and longitudinally), like any good bridge, spreads the weight of the body above it evenly. You can picture the centre of balance being between the feet, directly under the torso, with the left side and right side, front side and backside as well as inside and outside of the body all working harmoniously, with no one part doing more than its fair share. When we go to squat, if we remain in balance, with the centre of gravity staying evenly between the feet, the hips, knees and ankles all initially bending at approximately the same rate. If a person were to bend mostly at the knees and the ankles, the lower back will tend to round and the lumbar spine is compromised. If the hips bend far more quickly than the knees, the hips remain high and the torso is pitched forwards. To keep the head up the neck is compressed or the lower back will tend to overly arch, once more becoming liable to injury. If the ankles are very stiff the squat won’t be particularly deep.
How can you tell?
A simple guide might be that if you have to hold the arms out in front of you to maintain your balance when you squat, you can almost guarantee that there is too much weight travelling back behind the centre of gravity. Bring the weight a little forwards toward the ball of your foot. You might feel a little odd but you should be in better balance, so that your arms don’t automatically swing out in front of you. If your toes lift off the floor it will also indicate that your centre of balance is shifting backwards as you move, once more, bring a touch more weight to the midfoot by coming forwards towards the ball of the foot and the toes should stay down as the weight is better distributed. If you glance down and can’t see your toes, chances are you’ve shifted your weight too far forwards and the knees have come forwards over the front of the foot. Whilst in a very deep squat this will need to happen, it isn’t required straight away. Don’t be afraid to let the knee travel forwards but remember that the hips and ankles need to keep moving too.
Preventing stress through the lower back
Without due care and attention of the core muscles during the movement of squatting, the lower back is easily arched or rounded excessively which can cause pain if an action is repeated frequently or with extra load, such as lifting a box or with weights at a gym. Activation of the core musculature will mean that the ribcage and pelvis stay in relative alignment through most of the movement, only allowing the pelvis to tuck slightly at the bottom of a very deep squat. With good core control, the back appears more or less straight, retaining it’s natural curves without exaggeration. It can help to imagine a piece of string taped from the front of the pubic bone to the bottom of the sternum which stays taught throughout without slacking or detaching.
Does squatting require flexibility?
Poor flexibility in the muscles of the legs will not allow for the necessary range of motion in the joints of the hips, knees and particularly so in ankles. If you feel restricted in any of these joints, we particularly recommend stretches for the glutes and hamstrings, adductors and calves.
Where should your feet be?
This will be different for everyone depending on structure and flexibility. Too wide and the tendency will be to lean forwards and stick the bum out, too narrow and it will be harder to squat lower into greater range. A good test to see where is optimal for you is to lie down on your back and pull the knees towards the body but with the knees wide and either side of your torso, the same as they would be in a deep squat. There will be a sweet spot where the leg has more freedom to move in the hip socket and can be drawn in deeper. Flex the feet as they would be if you were squatted down and you should get an approximate indication of where the feet might be positioned in order to achieve this deepest squat position. Melbourne Natural Therapies