Movement errors and transferability part 3 - Depreciating hip function and the squat
Squatting builds on the hip hinge and the push up for movements that are becoming rare for the average western human to perform in the way we once would have, and just like the hip hinge and push up, the movement acts as a diagnostic tool as well as a rehabilitation exercise. For now, let's not even think about the squat as far as a cultural expression of movement - referring to countries that squat to sit, eat, use the toilet, socialise, work... But purely from an anatomical perspective.
Part of the reason sitting is such an issue is because we spend copious amounts of time fixed in one position. Spend enough time doing something and the body will adapt to that, hence populations of people missing substantial amounts of range of motion. To put this into context let's flip the equation to the opposite of sitting, standing. If the amount of hip flexion people were missing (bottom of a squat) was the same with hip extension (standing) then we'd all be walking around like this....
This obviously isn't ok, but why is it ok to not be able to squat?
For the majority of us we don't have a choice but to sit, That's fine. But say your day looks something like this.. Wake up, have breakfast at the table and watch the morning news, drive to work, sit all day in the office, drive home, sit in front of the tv... That's a lot of time spent being a dick, I mean, sitting...
Change your perception of what it means to be able to squat, and what it's purpose is in everyday life.
Don't 'Just Do It' (a checklist for a good squat)
1) Midline organisation and Stability
Just like hinging from the hips and performing push ups, organising the midline (spine, pelvis, rib cage, head) is the priority. Feet straight (ish), squeeze your butt, suck in your belly locking your rib cage to your pelvis. Maintaining this neutral spine position might limit your range of motion depending on how stiff your joints and tissues are, but spinal integrity always comes first. Prioritise this and range of motion will come with time.
2) Rotation = Transfer of force production and badassness
The hip is the big engine of the squat, and the hip has a large rotational component. As the head of the femur moves it doesn't just go up and down as you open and close your hip, but it rotates at the same time. When you set your pelvis in step one by squeezing your butt you'll notice your thighs rotate out, causing the connective tissue around your hip joint to wind up and become stable. As your hip moves towards end range flexion (the bottom of the squat) keep your thighs externally rotated to maintain a stable hip and spine. Just think about squeezing your butt and keeping your knees out. You'll also notice that this strategy works downstream as well. Your knees and ankles stay stable also, you should be able to maintain the arch of your foot by doing this. If your foot is collapsed, so too will you knee and hip.
This guy knows that externally rotating his hips in a lotus pose creates stability (which is just an exaggerated squat shape)
3) Movement sequencing
The squat is the same as the hip hinge. Initiate the movement by pulling the hips and hamstrings backward as if you were going to sit back on a box. Too often I see people squatting by bending the knees forward first (do you have knee pain?). The hips can take and produce a lot more than the knees, load them first. The knees will bend and translate forward as you lower into the bottom of the squat, but the movement is driven with the hips. End range of motion is as far as you can go WITHOUT violating the neutral spine principle.
Things to think about
- Keep your toes on the ground, especially your big toes
- The more your feet turn out, the more your ability to create tension off the ground diminishes
- The more you wear a shoe that removes your heel from the ground, the more you place your tissues in an environment that limits your ability to function optimally
- The more time you spend with your hips stuck at 90 degrees (in a chair), the more something upstream (you spine) is going to compensate, doing a role that it's not designed for
Range of motion road blocks and detours
Your body is always trying to find stability, however there is a difference between finding stability with optimal mechanics that promote longevity of joints and tissue, and stability found down the path of least resistance. A good example of this is sitting. How much easier is it to slouch, you expend less energy doing so and your body still finds stability, it's just the stability is produced by bone on bone at end range of motion. Except now you're not really functioning as human being, more like a dead piece of meat just hanging around with no nervous system input. When you sit with a conscious effort to maintain good positions you create stability by your musculature and connective tissue holding you in place. This isn't exactly the path of least resistance energy wise, but it means you're not wearing your body out.
Think of it like a paper clip. Each time you bend the paper clip represents each time you move without maintaining a good position, whether it be a rounded spine and shoulders or collapsed foot and knee. Sooner or later after enough bends, the paperclip is going to snap. This is that one time you put your back out lifting a pillow. Blaming it on age is bullshit because age just represents repetition. The choice is yours whether repetition makes you stronger or weaker.
Part two of this concept is how a loss of range of motion affects your squatting mechanics. The easiest example is how your body gets around having immobile ankles. Squatting with your feet in a neutral position requires your ankles to have a certain amount of dorsiflexion (taking your foot towards your shin). To reach the bottom of the squat your knees are going to translate forward requiring dorsiflexion of the ankle, however if your ankles are blocked you'll find your feet turn out to buy some slack and reach the bottom of the squat. Turning your feet out removes the tension that was inhibiting the position, but it means that now your feet are collapsed on the floor. This is your body finding stability by bone on bone.
This leads into scaling the squat (or any movement) when mobility is restricting full range of motion. Just like with the push up, I suggest that you always prioritise mechanics, keeping a neutral spine and stable hips shoulders knees and ankles. Modify the movement to suit your body, not the other way around. Full depth is the range of motion that you can move throughout without violating mechanics.
Knowing how to squat and incorporating it into your everyday movement could be one of the biggest changes you can make to increase your spine, hip, knee and ankle health, and is just another way to improve your overall quality of life.