An often popular topic of discussion is the proper technique for a squat. Squats are one of the most common exercises being done at the gym in modern society and said to be one of the most optimal ways to build lower body strength. Your average gym goer would incorporate some sort of squats into their routine. Due to it being seen as one of the ‘’king’’ of all exercises, proper squat technique is frequently discussed within fitness and training circles. A well known training method, Squat University, dedicates most of its training regime in improving one’s ability to squat.
At Functional Patterns, we incorporate squats and proper squat technique into our training, but what sets us apart from other training methods is what aspect of the squat we focus on. In this article we will be exploring what is proper squat technique and looking at why respecting our evolutionary traits when it comes to training should be a priority rather than focusing solely on improving your squat technique.
HOW LOW SHOULD YOU GO WHEN YOU SQUAT?
To answer this, we must look into what the intent behind doing the squat as an exercise is. The squat is known to build strength in the hip, knee and ankle regions by targeting the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes, which are the biggest muscles in the lower body. Although there may be some truth to this, we ask if the squat is part of our foundational blueprint movement design as human beings. At Functional Patterns, we believe in looking at how our bodies have evolved to move and respect those biological traits. Fish swim, birds fly, dogs walk on four legs, so what do humans do? Anthropologists have confirmed that standing, walking, running and throwing are the four most important movements for human survival. They are also the movements we should be doing most of in our day (of course we have become much more sedentary in modern times but our training patterns should be working to honor our biology.)
Keeping this in mind, we see that the squat isn’t necessarily a staple exercise, more like a supplementary one and therefore spending great amounts of time discussing squat technique in depth is a moot point. When you optimize the FP Big 4 (standing, walking, running and throwing), the squat then becomes a derivative of these movements. The squat may be used from time to time to improve aspects of these movements, but not with the focus of learning to squat better. When we run better, our ability to squat in daily life becomes automatically better without the need to train it much at all.
If we break down a squat, it is a bilateral (two-legged) exercise. We bend at the hip and knee and load our hamstrings and glutes through our posterior chain keeping the weight on equal footing. Looking at walking, we barely spend any time being on two legs (approximately only 20%(s)) and when we run we never spend any time with two feet on the ground. If our evolutionary design is to stand, walk, and run, shouldn't we focus on exercises and concepts which will enhance those movements as a human?
If we look at most sports, yes building lower leg strength is necessary for getting into low positions, but looking at most positions in sport you would find yourself in a unilateral position rather than a bilateral position. At Functional Patterns, we train the squat as an entry point exercise to prepare you to train unilateral positions. The focus is on preparing your body to be able to move dynamically, and the only way you can do that well is from a unilateral stance. Your body needs to be able to transfer its weight from one leg to the other so it has the ability to propel in the direction it wants to.
WHAT IS GOOD PROPER SQUAT TECHNIQUE?
The Functional Patterns blueprint for a squat involves simulating what you would find in athletic positions i.e focusing on hinging in proper ratios, creating intra-abdominal pressure, and generating force with the entire body. Even though there is some emphasis on joint angles and joint position, the focus is on what the squat is working towards in relation to the reality we encounter i.e everyday life or athletic positions rather than a finite number (5) of general cues that may not apply to different body types, and calling them absolute.
Functional Patterns also focuses on bio rhythmic movements, such as pendulum squats. By teaching how to move with a rhythm, your movement and athletic performance will improve greatly such as having a better ability to generate force when jumping, or improve your leg strength whilst integrating your arms and spine, which is needed for running optimally. When you run there’s a specific cadence, or when swinging a baseball bat or throwing punches in boxing, there’s a rhythm and tempo for the movement. Rhythm and tempo are one of the most fundamental things in developing good movement.
Here is an example of a squat variation that the Functional Training System teaches in an attempt to improve athletic performance. The dumbbell is swung in a parabolic motion and the body reciprocates the weight by dropping down into a hinging pattern. As an upward momentum is pushing your body down, it will enhance your ability to explode back up. Being able to drop into a squat faster than the rate of gravity will enable you to move faster in space and give you an advantage in your sport.
As mentioned above, during movement we spend a lot of our time in unilateral positions. Functional patterns aims to train this position so that our training crosses over to the realities of life that we encounter, whether it be day to day movement or on the sporting field. Below is a picture of the finishing position of the Step Press found in the Functional Patterns 10 week online course. You can see that Naudi is in a unilateral position and is simulating the stance you find in the end phase of running.
The proper technique for a squat is an over-analyzed concept that should be focused on less and the level of thought considered for it should be channelled into improving our gait mechanics (walking and running). Rather than just focusing on your squat technique like Squats University, your squat technique will improve as a result by improving your gait mechanics. Functional Patterns has demonstrated hundreds of results with this way of thinking from helping people with severe disabilities such as cerebral palsy and Parkinson’s improve their function, to people who’ve had chronic pain becoming pain free to high level athletes functioning more optimally. By understanding what is our priority as a human being, Functional Patterns has understood what the fundamental principles are and created a training system for you to learn to live an optimal pain free life. If you want to investigate further, look into the Functional Patterns 10 Week Course as a starting point to help you address your body's ailments and set you up for the rest of your life.