5 Reasons Why You Can’t Squat!
Squats are, in my opinion, an awesome exercise for just about anything! However, as with all exercises this is only the case when the squat is performed correctly. With this in mind here's my take on why most people have difficulty squatting. For common squat faults click here.
#1 - You have bad posture!
Game stations, sitting at work, repetitive manual jobs, and genetic predispositions (blame your parents!). The list is long but if your posture is too far from the 'norm' then you'll struggle to squat correctly. If you're not sure what the 'norm' is, most health professionals will be able to do a quick test for you.
Standing more at work, reducing game station time, gym programmes to off-set work-related imbalances (particularly for manual jobs). In most cases a good sports massage and some guided mobility exercises work wonders for bad posture (see a qualified health professional).
#2 - There isn't enough ankle joint mobility
If your ankles have limited range, particularly in dorsiflexion (pulling your toes up towards the knee), then you're not going to be able to squat correctly. This has a knock-on effect further up the movement chain and in most cases will create excessive upper-body 'forward lean' to counter a natural 'falling back' sensation.
Try these mobility exercises as part of your warm-up...simples!
#3 - The ankle/s collapse inwards
One thing I can say with certainty is squatting with collapsed arches (below image - left) is really going to cause you harm! Wearing weightlifting shoes, supportive shoes and/or insoles (orthotics) is not the answer either because it's all about muscle recruitment. What I mean is, your arches will collapse onto whatever you're wearing on your feet if you let them. When the arches collapse inwards unfortunately so do the knees (below image - left) - this is bad news - and it will also affect what's going on at the hip too.
Focus on staying off the arch of the foot i.e. roll the foot out slightly when you're executing the squat, particularly during the upward (drive) phase of the movement. Also, focus on pushing the knees outwards (below right).
#4 - The mid-section (or 'core') is weak
A lack of mid-section (or 'core') control/strength will definitely hinder your ability to squat. The spine/pelvis area can have a mind of its own if there's weakness here, and the knock-on effects can be very severe indeed, particularly if you're attempting heavy lifts! However, it's all relative so a heavy lift can be anything from your bodyweight to 180kgs.
No matter what you're lifting get used to 'bracing' your mid-section. Imagine you're about to be punched in the stomach...that's what I mean by bracing. Brace on the way down and hold your breath, then on the way up simultaneously brace and exhale. This adds that all important stiffness to your body for a better squat.
#5 - You've not been shown how!
You may not have a strength & conditioning coach, personal trainer, group exercise instructor or physiotherapist; or your personal trainer, group exercise instructor and physiotherapist don't know how to squat either! Either way, proper coaching to get the most out of the squat is essential because the feedback you receive, whether verbal or physical, cannot be substituted by technology.
Finding someone who can coach a correct squat can be difficult. I have witnessed many highly qualified personal trainers, group exercise instructors and physiotherapist totally get this wrong. Not everyone will look the same when they squat because of different torso and limb lengths; this makes the popular, but erroneous, coaching point 'your knees shouldn't pass your toes' completely redundant - who started that anyway? Therefore, make sure you find someone who can spot your errors and correct them. It doesn't matter if you're squatting your bodyweight or 180kgs, get instruction on safe and correct squatting technique.
There are many factors that effect performance of the squat. I've only listed the ones I see most often but there are more subtle ones which require an expert eye. Because the squat is such a fundamental human movement it makes sense to invest time and effort in making sure you're squatting properly, not only for performance but to make sure you're not harming yourself.
Happy and safe squatting!