Oh I love this topic! You can literally spend hours and hours debating the 'perfect' squat form.
High vs low bar, narrow vs wide stance, forward facing or turned out feet, keeping or eradicating buttwink....and those are just the basics.
You're all wrong
Recently one of 'those' threads started up on a video my Crossfit box posted of a member hitting a PB back squat. The point of the post was to celebrate their achievement but it got hijacked into a thread about 'correct' squatting form. A certain opinionated member of another gym began openly critiquing the form, pulling apart every bit of the technique, using their own form and lifting technique as the example of good squat technique.
They had been lifting for years, they had been hitting massive lifts, they had been trained by a champion......so their squat technique was right and the Crossfit lifter was wrong.
Ermmmm no, there is no one way to lift. There are safe ways to lift but you cannot state that someone's technique is wrong, and in particular, that they should lift the same way as you. You can argue the benefits of certain styles and positions, but when it comes to a particular individual - one style does NOT fit all. And this thread got me thinking, why is it that people continually argue about the 'perfect' squat form.
And if the 'perfect' squat form existed why haven't we all agreed on it and just coach that one method?
What is your perfect squat position?
Put the bar on your back, you can feel it in your bones
Ok, so a bad play on words there but the crux of the issue really is down to your bones. The structural differences between individuals, and even between your left and right legs, can't be changed. More specifically the differences we find when looking at the ball and socket joint of the hips. So coaching squat technique has to accommodate the huge variety of NORMAL hips. The 4 big players affecting your squat mechanics are:
Femoral neck length
Femoral head angle
Femoral head torsion
Acetabulum depth, size & angle
There are many more factors that can affect squat positioning, like ankle mobility, but these 4 are the main reasons why your squat will never be 'perfect'. And here's the pictures to illustrate why, these are all examples of NORMAL variation in hips:
How does this affect my squat?
These variations in angle, length, torsion etc of your ball & socket joint in the hip will affect factors like:
- Foot width - Narrow vs wide.
- Foot turnout - straight vs turned out.
- Neutral spine - the ability for you to keep a neutral spine at full depth aka whether you are a buttwinker or not.
- Knee positioning - As you move into a squat your knees may stay static or continue to move outwards, this is related to the degree of torsion.
It is possible to have structural differences even between your own hips. This may be due to injury or a congenital difference (structural difference present from birth). So, in rare cases, you may find that someone actually prefers a slightly asymmetrical position to squat. 9 times out of 10 any asymmetry found in squat will be due to soft tissue restrictions or muscle imbalance - so never actively coach an asymmetrical setup!!! It may just explain why someone keeps moving towards one no matter how hard you try to coach them straight!
So the key with this knowledge isn't just to be lazy and give up improving your squat technique. In fact the opposite.
There is a 'perfect' squat technique out there, but it is unique to you and no one can tell you exactly what it will be.
Take the fundamentals of squat technique, get yourself an experienced coach who understands these individual differences and work with a sports massage therapist to release any soft tissue restrictions that are affecting your squat form.
Listen to your body and train by feel. Don't be afraid to try new squat positioning, but also don't be afraid to stick to something if it's working well for you.
Just to illustrate the extremes for squat positions, check out these two clips.
1. Low bar back squat - illustrating the wide stance. This approach reduces the range of motion and is used for lifting extremely heavy loads and utilising more hip strength.
2. Narrow stance back squat - in comparison is much much narrower! This is used by Olympic lifters to help strengthen their pulling position as it replicates the positioning of the pull and works on improving quad strength.