Rebuild Your Squat
The squat is one of the 7 fundamental movement patterns that we incorporate into not only our workouts but everyday life. But go up to anyone that has wonky knees and ask them to squat and they might run away screaming. There is this preconceived notion that performing squats are bad for the knees, especially if it happens to go beyond 90 degrees or past parallel. Then faces melt and minds get blown.
What you may not be thinking is that you squat every single day, multiple times a day. You're just not aware of it. In and out of chairs, on and off the toilet, maybe sitting to pick something off the floor. And not once was the thought: "oh I shouldn't do this, it's gonna hurt my knees." As a coach for 16+ years, when I meet with a new client for the first time, one of the common things I hear is: "I can't squat because of my knees." And while I take that to heart, I'm always wondering if there's a variation to try that will not have this clients knees hurt. Can we find a position that works?
There are numerous factors that can go into squatting, from tense muscles to structural issues, to just not having the necessary motor plan to actually do it. Not knowing how to squat is different from not being able to squat. So in many cases, learning is the first step and some of these exercises will be helpful.
Regress to Progress
Mastering these regressions in order to progress can develop the movement pattern so that we can move on to different loading strategies in the future. If your squat looks like one of those wacky inflatable guys outside car dealerships, or a new born giraffe walking for the first time, then you're going to see benefits to these.
**Disclaimer: There is NO perfect form. From narrow to wide stance, to feet turned out or straight. We are all built differently, so find what works for you.**
A good looking squat requires a good deal of mobility at the ankle, so by setting ourselves up in a quadruped position we already place the ankle in an optimal position at the ankle. The rock-back allows us to see if there are any major breakdowns in the movement, from the ankles, on up through the core.
In the video, you can see that I keep a neutral spine throughout the rocking. If something went a little wonky there, we might work on say our core stability. But this is a safe place to start building your squat up as you avoid some of the hip & knee issues when vertically loaded. The quadruped position also allows you to get an idea of how deep into a squat you'll actually be able to go.
Once you control the rockback, try elevating the knees and repeat the drill. All of the sudden you find yourself squatting, without ya know, squatting.
After learning our pattern without having to deal with the likes of gravity (freakin Newton), we can move towards a supported squat. Using a bar or a TRX, we can support some of our bodyweight and make it easier to get into the squat position. This solves a few issues that we may see in the squat. By holding onto the bar, there is a reduction in the amount of load the body needs to support, which can be great for those coming off a lower body injury so it can be a great exercise to reintroduce the squat pattern.
Additionally, the assisted squat can manage the control issues many have with the squat, specifically in that decent portion. Once you're able to find the stability at the bottom, you can let go and stand up.
Our last regression actually puts some weight in our hands, however not necessarily equal to a loaded squat, but getting closer. One common fault that can happen during the squat is the knees lead the movement. By adding in the plate, we're provided with a counterbalance. which encourages us to push our hips/butt back. The plate can also help create a little core tension which will allow us to maintain a more upright position, rather than folding like a beach chair.