Squats; one of the most popular exercises, incorporated into all forms of training. Considered to be the ‘king’’ of all exercises, the mighty squat is unrivalled in its supposed ability to build explosive hip strength and power. But are squats the revered staple exercise that we all thought them to be? Let’s dig a little deeper and find out.
Squats are often a prescribed remedy for hip pain, but often why are people suffering from hip pain after squats? In this article, we will be exploring this idea and asking: are squats good for hip pain? Can you get hip pain from squats? Why are you experiencing hip pain from squats? As well as providing a guide to long-term solutions using Functional Patterns alternatives to squats.
WHY DOES MY HIP HURT WHEN DOING SQUATS?
When you squat, the hip bears the brunt of the force and undergoes several actions such as hip flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, internal and external rotation. As the hip is a ball and socket joint, muscles and ligaments need to work together to stabilise the joint during the movement otherwise this can lead to hip pain during squats. A popular thought is if muscles are tight, they should be stretched and if they are weak, they should be strengthened. For example, someone might experience hip flexor pain from squatting and think they need to stretch their hip flexors to fix the issue. Although there’s some truth to this, it is in fact more complex than first thought. We need to look at our bodies as an integrated system, rather than individual moving parts. Why is addressing hip flexor pain by stretching not advised? Check out the article Dysfunctions of stretching, which gives an in depth, look at the mechanics of stretching and why learning how to move properly is more effective in becoming pain free.
More often than not, hip pain is due to poor biomechanics. Among adults who play sports, the incidence of chronic hip pain is 30 to 40 per cent, meaning that keeping active, as we have all been taught, is important for longevity and can actually be a cause of pain. We also find that in adults over the age of 60, the incidence of hip pain is 12 to 15 percent, so simply aging will be a cause of pain. This second statistic may be less surprising to read but at FP, we like to examine why this pain should occur at any age.
Now, the squat is often a recommended exercise to help with hip pain as it is thought to build strength in the hip, knee and ankle regions by targeting the quadriceps, hamstrings and gluts which are the biggest muscles in the lower body. Though, squats themselves can at times be the culprit of what is causing the hip pain in the first place (below we will explore why this might be the case). We agree with the rationale of creating strength to help manage pain, we ask the question whether the squat is part of our foundational blueprint movement design. Should we prioritise this movement? Or are there alternatives to squats in building lower limb strength and eliminating pain?
Functional Patterns seeks to look at our bodies in accordance with how we’ve evolved to move. While this might sound like a strange concept, consider any animal species on earth; we can unquestionably agree that all animals have an environment that they will thrive in which respects their biological needs. Why then, is it so far-fetched to accept that all humans have an optimal environment in which they will thrive? Part of this environment is the blueprint with which we have been designed to move through space. Standing, walking, running and throwing are the key components to this blueprint and FP uses these movement patterns to assess what might be going wrong with your body.
How is your movement pattern deviating from the design?
If we take a look at the fundamentals of a squat we can see first and foremost that it is a bilateral (two-legged) exercise. We bend at the hip and knee and load our hamstrings and gluts through our posterior chain keeping the weight on equal footing. At best, this is thought to increase the strength in our body’s lower muscles and increase mineral density assisting in the prevention of osteoporosis. While this may be partially true, as humans, a lot of our blueprint movements involve unilateral positions. When we walk, we barely spend any time being on two legs (approximately only 20%) and when we run we never spend any time with two feet on the ground. Interesting right? So why do we spend most of our time exercising on two legs? People then like to do their squats with weights. The concern with this is the way the added weight is being loaded onto the body. If we analyse the barbell squat, by placing a weighted bar on your back it loads the body in a compressive manner, which puts undue pressure on the spine and worsens existing asymmetries and imbalances.
If our asymmetries are not addressed, then there’s a possibility we could experience hip pain after squats because of the imbalances in our mechanics that we are not accounting for. Other squat alternatives are often used because of hip pain such as front squats, sissy squats, pistol squats and split squats. Again, the issue is that these alternatives to squats don't respect our movement design as a human being.
SO HOW DO I GET RID OF MY HIP PAIN FROM SQUATS OR HIP PAIN IN GENERAL?
If we honor our biological movement patterns, the traditional squatting motions might not be the smartest way to address hip problems. That’s not to say that it won’t help at all, but when there are a range of enhanced movements on offer that will not only address your hip issues but also respect your blueprint, why would you want to accept second-best? The Functional Training System offers many squat alternatives such as the pendulum squat, which also honours our blueprint. Training in this more precise squat movement can be helpful because you learn how to hinge in proper ratios, create intra-abdominal pressure, and generate force with the entire body.
You can further enhance your approach to dealing with hip pain or hip pain when squatting by examining the foundational principles of movement, such as your standing posture, weight distribution and unilateral stances all of which are covered in the 10 week course.
Unilateral stance from 10 week course
Looking at one of those foundational principles, standing, a common problem that we see people present with is an anterior hip shift. An anterior hip shift is when the hips/pelvis is shifted forward relative to the other joints. This places excessive vertical pressure on the spine and excessive horizontal force on the hips. There are many other presentations we see people present with such as hip hikes, lordosis, or a kyphosis, which can create different stressors on the body and cause hip pain. Functional patterns takes a systems thinking approach to training rather than just addressing the symptoms. So your hip pain could be caused by how you stand, and if you relate to the below picture (left side) then you will need to address your standing posture before you look into any sort of squatting movement. Think about how much time we spend standing throughout the day so the importance of an optimal standing posture cannot be over emphasized.
Results by Functional Patterns Practitioner Christoper Lacklan
The Functional Patterns 10 week course takes an in-depth look at our biomechanics and the function of our muscles to keep us moving well. It starts with myofascial release techniques that aims to restore motions to the restrictions limiting your movement and causing you pain. Try the following myofascial release from the 10-week course that may give you some relief for your hip pain. You will need a hard ball like a lacrosse or tennis ball for the following.
Tensor Fascia Release
While there may be benefits to squats, they can also cause people to experience hip pain so we want to remember our evolutionary design when exercising. Although the squat is a fundamental exercise we should know how to perform well, there are other functions and movements we do as a human that we should prioritise when wanting to address our hip pain we may experience from squatting. Functional patterns respects our blueprint when it comes to training and has produced world wide results with its clients in dealing with hip pain. If you experience any sort of hip flexor pain or hip pain when squatting, then the functional patterns 10-week course is the best place to start in finding alternative methods to squats to solve your issues.