Determining Squat Depth – Part 1
The many variations of the squat commonly make up a major component of training programs, regardless of the athlete you are working with. A commonly recurring question related to the squat is, how deep is deep enough? This question will be looked at from a couple of different perspectives over a couple blog posts. This first rendition will focus on major cues as it relates to injury prevention through the squat. Regardless of the athlete’s sport, training goals or training age, the following are the major aspects I will gravitate towards when cuing squat technique, commonly following a ‘bottom-up’ approach.
Pressure on the Foot. The major focus here is making sure the athlete does not roll forward on to the toes. When the majority of pressure is through the toes, the athlete’s heel will commonly lift off the ground and excess force/stress will be put on the knees as they will push forward past the toes. The cue, “pressure through the heels” will commonly fix this to the ideal situation of equal pressure through the whole foot, not truly, all pressure through the heels.
Knee Tracking. Most knee tracking issues are commonly fixed with the previous, “pressure through the heels” cue. This will help fix the excessive forward knee movement past the toes. The focus with knee tracking is to keep the knees in line with the toes (point forward) without going past the toes. Thinking of twisting the feet into the ground will also deter individuals from moving into a valgus (inward) or varus (outward) knee position.
Pelvic Tilt. If you sift through Instagram, majority of squats that you see follow the adage of “a#$ to grass.” As most of these individuals reach the bottom position of there squat, you can see their hips/glutes tuck underneath their torso. This is referred to as Posterior Pelvic Tilt. When this occurs there is shearing force that occurs in the lower sections of the spine (L3-L4) and inhibits the spinal extensor muscles from supporting against the shear force that occurs (Potvin, Norman & McGill, 1991). Therefore, in general, I will commonly limit depth to just before this Posterior Tilt to limit this shear stress. Pelvic tilt will be a major focus in later posts when relating squat depth to specific sport performance.
Torso Position. Torso position will also commonly be fixed by modifying the common lower body (foot and knee) issues as poor torso positions are usually found to maintain an adequate center of mass. A very upright torso position will commonly lead to knees moving anteriorly and excessive torso hinges will be present with a very vertical shin angle. A slight hinge forward in the torso as the athlete squats is normal to maintain an adequate center of mass (Nielsen, 2015). The major focus on the torso should be maintaining a neutral spine and strong through the core, the rest will likely be corrected from the lower limb positioning.
As mentioned, this is the first entry on determining squat depth. Stay tuned for more situational/sport-specific determinants of optimizing squat depth.
Nielsen, S.R. (2015). Posterior Pelvic Tilt in Barbell Back Squats. A Biomechanical Analyisis (Master’s Thesis). Retrieved from Google Scholar. https://nih.brage.unit.no/nih-xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/2357511/Nielsen%20SR%202015v.pdf?sequence=1
Potvin, J.R., Norman, R.W., McGill, S.M. (1994). Reduction in Anterior Shear Forces on the L4/L5 Disc by the Lumbar Musculature. Clinical Biomechanics, 6, 88-96.
Trevor Bartoli (CSCS; CSEP-CEP & High Performance Specialist) is a Human Kinetics (B.Sc) graduate of St. Francis Xavier University and University of Calgary (Master of Kinesiology) where he competed as a varsity rower for the X-men and Dino’s. While at the U of C he completed a practicum placement in Strength and Conditioning with the Calgary Flames and spent time helping with Dino’s Rowing and the Calgary Rowing Club strength programs. Trevor currently works as a S&C Coach at the Duckett Performance Center, with Orka Performance and coaches at the Calgary Rowing Club. Trevor grew up playing predominately hockey and soccer in his hometown of Peterborough, Ontario.