How to Improve Squat Depth & Mechanics - The Biomechanics of Squatting

mobility training Mar 22, 2021
Improve Squat Mechanics

The squat is a measurement of the hip’s ability to go through their full range of motion. A good squat usually means the individual can generally access the joint ranges of motion available at the pelvis and femurs. And here’s why: The squat has three phases:

0-60 Degrees of Hip Flexion

This first portion of a squat is biased to external rotation (ER) of the pelvis and counternutation of the sacrum bone.

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What this image is showing is the pelvic innominate bones moving into flexion, abduction, and external rotation relative to the sacrum tipping backward.

60-90 Degrees of Hip Flexion

60 to about 90 degrees of hip flexion (parallel), the pelvis is biased to more internal rotation (IR) and sacrum nutation.

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This internal rotation is necessary for producing force through the sticking point of a squat. When someone is lacking proper internal rotation of the hips, you’ll often see them push their hips forward and arch their low back.

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This anterior pelvic tilt allows the femurs to pick up internal rotation, but if taken too far, can put increased stress on the low back. Also, trainees who are missing IR of the hips often “fall through” or drop without control into the bottom of a squat as they create a strategy to bypass IR.

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Beyond 100 (ish) Degrees of Hip Flexion

After we break parallel, we start to need to re-access pelvic external rotation and counter-nutation of the sacrum.

The reason why I say “ish” is because people have varying hip anatomy and there is about a +/- 15 degree difference between individuals when they need to find that counter-nutation again.

This is why people who can squat deep comfortably often have a flat back. The sacrum tips back which influences the entire position of the spine above it.

Deepen Your Bodyweight Squat: Tutorial to Get Low | GMB Fitness

If they can’t get the relative motion of their sacrum and pelvis to occur, then they will probably go into a “butt-wink” where the pelvis as an entire unit rolls backward and under them.

My current belief is that this is the pelvis trying to find that counter-nutation.

Understanding The Butt Wink: How To Fix Your Squat

What Can We Do To Improve Squat Mobility?

We know that in order to get into a deep squat, we need pelvic external rotation and sacral counter-nutation.

This will be very hard to accomplish if we are stuck in an anterior pelvic tilt and/or are missing those joint actions.

To help restore that, I am a big fan of a Jefferson Split Squat in a front-foot elevated position where they are biasing high levels of hip flexion. The load in between the legs helps bias our pelvis on the front leg to be in more external rotation.

Try 2-3 sets of 15 reps each side and then follow it up with loaded squat where you can then “own” that new range of motion.

I recommend a heels-elevated banded squat, as the elevation helps bias our pelvis towards external rotation and allows for a more forward knee translation over the feet.

Yes, this is totally okay as long as you’re keeping your whole foot evenly distributed with your bodyweight.

The "high zercher" position will also allow for you to keep your "stacked" ribcage over a neutral pelvis to train yourself to maintain a good squat pattern and positioning throughout the movement. The anterior (front-side) load provides a counterbalance to allow you to do exactly that! Just be sure to go relatively light - even 15-20 lbs in each hand cooked both of us when we filmed this! You should feel a good amount of abs and no low back.

The band (if the knees are kept in-line with the toes) allows for us to bias a little bit of external rotation as well. Please do not jame your knees outside your toes. This will do the opposite of what you want to accomplish as you’ll be tightening your glutes which need to lengthen as you get deep into a squat.

Yes, this is totally okay as long as you’re keeping your whole foot evenly distributed with your bodyweight.

Give this 2 sets of 15 reps getting as deep as you comfortably can without pain, compensation, or pushing your hips back.

Then go do your main squat (back squat, front squat, SSB, etc) and see what happens.

If you want to learn more, we cover this extensively with many more examples & specific exercise selection in the Biomechanics Program!

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