If you want to learn how to squat properly you have to learn the right cues. In this video, I’m going to cover one of the more popular squat form fix tips that you have likely been told that is hurting your performance on squats more than helping it. If you have ever been told to “turn your toes out” on squats, then you need to watch this video.
The issue with focusing on the toes when squatting is that the foot has some independent motion in relation to the knees and hips. By concentrating on the position of the feet and toes, it does not guarantee that you are getting the effect you are looking for from using the cue in the first place. The real purpose of the “toes out” cue is to externally rotate the hips in order to assist with proper squat depth and take strain off the knees and low back.
Instead of focusing on the toes, you need to look further up the kinetic chain to the knees. This hinge joint is a consequential joint that is impacted by the ankle below and the hips above. If you want to have an impact on the hips or ankles however, you can make sure you are aware of what the knee is doing at all times. So here, I’m recommending that you turn your knees out to externally rotate the hips and let the foot and toes come along for the ride.
When you do this, two important things happen to fix your squat.
First, you will get greater activation of the all important adductors when you turn your knees out. At the bottom of the squat, the adductors are supposed to be recruited in order to assist you with hip extension out of the hole. In fact, some argue that the adductors are stronger hip extensors from the bottom of the squat than the hamstrings, making them a critical muscle to recruit.
If your knees are not rotated out and are pointed straight ahead, then you are shifting a lot of the load to the hip joint. Whenever someone has hip pain when squatting from either an impingement or a history of degeneration, I ask if they ever get sore adductors and groin muscles after doing a squat. If the answer is no, it becomes obvious what form fix they need to correct in order to squat properly and without pain.
The second thing the knees out position does when doing squats is it helps to better engage the glutes at the bottom of the lift. The glutes act as the powerhouse that drives the pelvis back to the top of the squat. When you can turn the movement into more than just a sagittal plane exercise however, the sum of the parts (in this case the additional contribution from the glute medius) allows the lifter to explode out of the bottom of the hole with more strength and stability.
The external rotation at the hips allows the glute medius to better contribute to the strength and stability of the squat on every repetition. If you aren’t sure this will work for you, try this test. Stand up and turn your toes in as much as you can. From here, try and squeeze your glutes as hard as possible. You likely won’t be able to create much of a strong contraction of your glutes. Now, without doing anything else, simply rotate your knees out (which will bring your feet along with you) and try and contract your glutes once again. You will likely notice a huge increase in the strength of the contraction.
The best way to reinforce this proper squat cue is to revise the way you think about it and then be sure to do two things to ensure you can achieve proper positioning.
First, the better cue is to place your hands on the inside creases of your hip joints (like making a karate chop to the groin). With the fingers pointed straight down, squat down. Attempt to drop the pelvis between the femurs. The thighs will rotate out and roll up as you drop your hips down between them straight to the floor. You will instantly see an increase and ease of getting into a deeper squat.
The two things you want to focus on is increasing the flexibility of your adductors, which you can do with a traditional standing groin stretch and get stronger hips into rotation. For the latter, I like to lay on my side with a band just above and around my knees. Externally rotate the top hip by doing the clamshell exercise. Focus on good quality contractions and activation of the glute medius for most carryover and benefit.
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