Keys to Mastering the Squat: Part 1

I have coached thousands of people on squatting technique over the last 12 years, from teenage athletes to geriatric patients, and have seen may people have bad form that never get corrected until it’s too late (you know the ones on “Squat fails” that you watch and just hurt seeing them) like this one   In the beginning my best advice was “Yeah just squat down its easy, see? Just squat down there. No like this. Close enough”.  Seemed like a good idea at the time.  It wasn’t until graduate school were I learned more and more about biomechanics, musculoskeletal and neurological dysfunctions, that the “just squat down” method, is the worst way to approach a squat. Therefore, in an effort to be proactive about this problem (and keep you off youtube squat fails 2018) we are going to deconstruct the squat procedure, look at common failures and how to address these at our squat clinic June 24th. (Click here to reserve a spot!) But before we break everything down I want to go over a few things to give you a base of understanding anatomy, biomechanics, and musculoskeletal dysfunctions.

There are many variations of squat, (Zercher, Front squat, Quarter Squat, bodyweight, single leg, pistols, etc.) but they all have the pretty much the same movement, get your butt down.  Squatting is one of the basic functional movements a human must do daily and is one of the best exercises to develop muscle throughout the body.   After reading through this, count how many times you squat in a day, that includes getting in and out of a chair / car, it’s much more than you think.   As a baby progresses past crawling and walking, they learn to squat without any direction, they learn on their own how to properly squat down with knees and toes pointed out, lumbar spine neutral, and weight balanced on the heels.  So where did we go wrong?

Have you ever heard of Kinetic Chain or Closed Kinetic Chain Exercises?  Well if not know you have, and guess what it has to do with squatting (I know, crazy right?).   There are both Open and Closed Chains but for the purposes of this we are going to focus on the Closed Kinetic Chain.  The Kinetic Chain is a term coined by Dr. Arthur Steindler, who adapted a mechanical engineer’s concept and included the analysis of human movement, sport specific activity patterns and exercise.   Steindler’s definition of a closed kinetic chain exercise is when the distal segment meets “considerable” external resistance that prohibits free movement.  Therefore, it is a system where neither the proximal nor the distal segments can move. Movement at one segment in the closed chain produces movement at all the other joints in a predictable manner. For example, during a squat, the movement at the knee joint accompanies movement at the hip and ankle joints.[1][2]   The Closed Kinetic Chain begins in your feet, much like a house starts at the foundation, and progress to your ankle, knees, hip, SI joints, lumbar spine, thoracic spine, neck, and ends at your head.  Any deviation in these areas can cause problems in the segment above and below, for example a recent study found that over pronation (flat feet) caused a change in the lumbar spinal curve.[3]

So now that we know some biomechanics, what does a squat entitle and how do we do it?  Well that’s the easy part ready? All you have to do is:

  1. Set the hips back without bending over.
  2. Spread the knees apart but not excessively.
  3. Keep a neutral spine while maintaining a very slight natural curvature of the back.
  4. Squat somewhere between 90 degrees and parallel (don’t collapse or go ATG).
  5. Pull yourself into the bottom position rather than allowing gravity to push you down.
  6. Brace the core and tense your abs.
  7. Keep the chest out without hyperextending the back.
  8. Screw the feet into the floor by pushing slightly more to the outside of the feet.
  9. Keep the feet relatively straight and aligned with the each other.
  10. Pull the bar into your back by activating your lats.
  11. Keep the head neutral (don’t look up but don’t let the head drop).
  12. Maintain maximal full body tension each on every rep.
  13. Move in a perfectly vertical fashion without shifting horizontally.
  14. Load each leg as symmetrically as possible without favoring one side.
  15. Every rep for sets of 1-20 reps.

See it’s just that easy.  OK maybe not that easy.  Squatting is a multitude of movements working together one on top of the other, similar to breathing, you can breathe right?  You change the pressure differential between the outside air and inside your lungs, while contracting the diaphragm and increasing thoracic… yeah, it’s that complexed, no joke, that’s before talking about blood oxygen regulation centers of the brain and heart.  Breathing is just one of those processes we have been doing for so long that we don’t even think about it.  The same was the case of squatting, until other things got in the way.  The more you think about each movement individually the more likely you are to mess up and end up on youtube.

Can you see know when you hear someone say “just squat down its easy” yeah, its really not, we forgot how to do it.  To relearn the squat it’s not going to be easy, much like a baby falls over 1,000 times before standing up, to relearn one of the most basic movements we must deconstruct it and to make it easier.   At the Squat Clinic June 24th 9AM, we are going to address the most common failures of squatting (bomb diving, butt winking, knee cave ins, etc.) and break down where you are struggling (weak gluts, tight calves, poor posture, etc.) and how to improve on it.

  1. Ellenbecker TS, Davies GJ. Closed kinetic chain exercise: a comprehensive guide to multiple joint exercise. Human Kinetics; 2001. Available From:
  2. Rivera JE. Open versus closed kinetic chain rehabilitation of the lower extremity: a functional and biomechanical analysis. JSR. 2010 Apr 21;3(2).
  3. Farokhmanesh K, Shirzadian T, Mahboubi M, Shahri MN. Effect of foot hyperpronation on lumbar lordosis and thoracic kyphosis in standing position using 3-dimensional ultrasound based motion analysis system.Global Journal Health Science. 2014 Jun 17;6(5):254-60. doi: 10.5539/gjhs.v6n5p254.