Safety / Injuries
How to Design Corrective Exercise Programs for Better Squats
The squat is one of the most important functional movements for every client a personal trainer works with. If you think about how many times a day we squat, its everywhere in our daily activities. Which is why it is so important to have the proper form on the squat and why it’s worth the effort to make it more efficient.
As a corrective exercise specialist, you can help your client’s squat better. To do this you’ll want to follow the six-step process, which you can read about right here.
Step 1: Individualize the Squat
In this first step, assess your client and help them understand how to do a proper squat. You’ll do this for a few reasons:
- To see how they currently move before you start training
- To determine how much knee flexion is needed for them to sit and stand from a chair
- To see if they are even from one leg to the other
- To determine what their stance on the squat should be
All these factors vary from person to person which is why it is so important to assess each client.
Sit to Stand Test
This assessment is simple and assesses the basic squat form. It gives you a similar but more personalized outlook than an air squat.
- Make sure that your client is sitting in a chair with good spinal posture, arms crossed at the chest, and the torso shifted forward.
- Measure their knee angle before they stand up.
This test is just to create a baseline for each client, then it is up to you, as the personal trainer, to figure out the proper squat depth for each client based on their sport or lifestyle.
Quadruped Rock Back Test
Next, use the quadruped rock back test.
- Have your client begin in the quadruped position with a neutral lumbar spine. The knees should be the same width as the hips.
- Have your client rock back until the lumbar spine flexes and then reverse the motion until the client comes out of flexion. Here is where you measure the knee flexion angle.
- Now, if the client has a knee flexion angle larger than what they had on the sit to stand test, have the client widen the knees and repeat the test.
- Once you have determined the knee width your client needs to have the proper knee flexion angle while maintaining lordosis, measure the distance between the knees.
This is how wide your client’s heels should be when performing a squat.
Step 2: Divide the Exercise into Concentric and Eccentric Phases
For step two, consider both phases of the squat. The squat starts in the eccentric when the client lowers and then switch to the concentric when the client stands back up. When you assess this with your client, it’s best to perform this barefoot so you can see what is going on in the foot and ankle as well as the rest of the body.
Step 3: Identify the Critical Events and Observe
When it comes to evaluating the actual squat movement, we recommend using the goblet squat. This is because the weight is held at the chest and easier on the shoulders, which means it doesn’t require a lot of mobility. Also, this can help with a client’s balance, allowing them to sit back further because their center of gravity is more forward.
A few things to pay attention to on the goblet squat:
- Postural control
- Hip flexion and extension
- Knee flexion that you determined for that client in step one
- Ankle motion, dorsiflexion and plantarflexion specifically
For this test, have your clients perform as many or as few repetitions as it takes for you to record what you see and any compensations you may find. The number of repetitions may vary based on the client and the trainer.
Step 4: Record What You Saw
You can complete this step while performing step three. Write down exactly what you see in your client’s squat. Here are some of the common problems in performing squats:
- Hips pushed back
- Knees traveling forward
- Thoracic spine flexing beyond neutral
- Lumbar spine flexion
- Anterior pelvic tilt
- Posterior pelvic tilt
- Heels coming off the ground
- Falling arch in the foot
- Knees moving excessively inward or outward
- Torso rotation
Step 5: Develop a Hypothesis
Now that you’ve outlined what you are seeing from your client, you can create a plan. Consider the compensations you saw and how each of the muscles and joints work. For example: You saw your client’s knees moving inward. This tells you the hips internally rotate and adduct. So, the muscles that are opposite are likely weak and need to be strengthened.
Think about when saw compensations during the assessment—did they show a strength issue or a mobility issue? Are there ankle mobility issues, or does it potentially come from the knee, hips, or spine?
If your client could stand up from a chair with no compensations but started to have compensations as soon as they began to squat lower than the height of the chair, it is likely a mobility issue.
For a deeper understanding of how to fix each of these compensations, check out ISSA’s Corrective Exercise Specialist that goes through each compensation and how to create a corrective program for your client.
Step 6: Provide the Proper Feedback to Achieve Proper Squat Form
For proper feedback, you need to give your clients coaching cues to help them get into better and safer positions with their squats. Here are a few cues examples to use with your clients:
- “Stand as tall as possible without elevating your chin.” This cue will help your client get their spine into the proper neutral position.
- “Expand your midsection and maintain tension throughout.” This will help your client increase stability in their torso and lumbopelvic control.
- “Spread the floor with your feet.” Use this cue to help your client activate their hip external rotators and supinators to maintain neutral knee alignment.
- “Lift your tailbone during the lower half of the squat.” This will help your clients keep proper alignment between the pelvis and the lumbar spine.
- “Squeeze your glutes at the top of the squat.” This cue helps your client achieve full hip extension at the top of the squat.
Remember, these are just a few of the compensations you may see with the squat and some of the ways you can help your clients improve.
If you are interested in learning more or about different exercise compensations and how to correct them, check out ISSA’s Corrective Exercise Specialist or the Exercise Therapy courses.