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Terrible Squat Form - Weakness or Poor Mobility?


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I started lifting few months ago and have progressed just fine in terms of strength in 3 out of 4 major movements. I can deadlift 245 lb for 5 reps without any problem, so I'm quite sure it's not weakness, but my squat really sucks. I can't go past 175 lb without my form breaking down terribly.

 

I believe it is my mobility. After some analysis of my form, I noticed the following flaws:

 

- My knees go well past my toes, even when I point my toes out and have a stance wider than my shoulders

- My torso leans forward, even in a high bar squat

- I can't keep an upright torso without putting the weight on my toes instead of keeping it on my heels

- I can't keep the weight on my heels, go below parallel while keeping an upright torso without falling back on my butt

 

Some of the possible reasons for this:

 

- I have incredibly tight hamstrings and calves, hindering my hip and ankle mobility. I can't touch my toes without bending my knees. I can only reach till my shins with my knees locked.

- I have a significantly heavier lower body (big quads, hamstrings and ass, with skinny arms and torso), which means my center of gravity is significantly behind my feet, causing me to fall back when I force myself to stay on my heels in a squat. I can't completely collapse my torso in such a case, but that's far from ideal.

 

However, I can squat properly - with my torso at no less than 45 degrees with the floor, knees not going too far forward, etc, if I raise my heels.

 

What is the most likely cause? Are my hips and legs too weak to haul myself up from a "good" squat position or is my lack of mobility to blame? Should I work on stretching my calves and hamstrings to increase mobility or should I scrap all weight I was previous squatting and start all over again - relearn the squat? Or should I work on upper body hypertrophy and add some weight to it, culling the possibility of the center of gravity problem I mentioned?

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Without a form video, I feel confident in making some recommendations:

 

1. Work on your lower body flexibility.  Hips, ankles, all of it.  You might want to check out caveman or "third world" squats.  There are also plenty of threads on this board covering hip/ankle mobility and stretching programs.

 

2. You either squat til: thighs are parallel or ATG.  You don't mention which one you're aiming for.

 

3.  A purely upright torso is *primarily* a goal for high bar squatting - and usually, but not always, paired with ATG.

 

4. If you use a low bar position, your body is going to lean forward some - the forward momentum is absorbed by the mass of your body.  (Compared to a high bar where you have nothing but your neck to absorb the mass - hence a straight back is better).

 

This is a video of Rippetoe: he coaches a low bar position and thighs parallel to the ground.  

 

All that said, a form check video would be better so we can see what you *are* doing rather than what you *think* you're doing.  Self-diagnosis in mid-form is a god-awful pain.

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Thanks all! I just tried the goblet squat. It seems like mobility really is the issue. I felt my calves pulling my heels up as I went near parallel.

 

Another question:

 

Is it advisable to entirely ditch heavy squats for the time being and work on my form and mobility using the goblet squat and stretches? I plan to increase my deadlift volume instead.

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I love my squats and had some issues hitting proper depth when I first started. I didn't ditch the squats entirely though. I still did them and had no qualms about dropping weights to focus on the form.  Can't get better at something you don't do ;)  Also while deadlifts are still a stellar full body, Squat are fantastic too and they do not work the same muscles in the same way, so it would not be an apples to apples training trade.

 

Also, I thought I had incredibly tight calves/Achilles area.  They always felt 'tight' and I had some severe cramping issues.  This stopped for me entirely when I started taking magnesium supplements. Just something to think about.  Sometimes your diet (vitamins and minerals you may be deficient in) can royally screw up ones training too.

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Thanks all! I just tried the goblet squat. It seems like mobility really is the issue. I felt my calves pulling my heels up as I went near parallel.

 

Another question:

 

Is it advisable to entirely ditch heavy squats for the time being and work on my form and mobility using the goblet squat and stretches? I plan to increase my deadlift volume instead.

If you are struggling to reach parallel, I would recommend stopping simply because an incomplete squat with weight puts tons of shear forces on your knee. Instead, grab a bench/box and start doing box squats (with bodyweight and with a dumbbell/kettlebell) until you have some control over the movement.

Once you can easily achieve parallel, you can start adding heavy weights again.

"No-one tells a T-Rex when to go to sleep".

- Jim Wendler

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If you're consistent with your mobility work and really put time and effort into it you'll probably see pretty rapid improvement. Mobility issues can actually be a much faster fix than strength or muscle control problems, provided you actually work on it. The other thing is that mobility issues cause form issues, and there's a good chance you'll need to put some focus and effort into retraining yourself to actually use your improving mobility. 

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When I read your analysis of your form flaws, I wonder if there is some misunderstanding about form.

 

- Knees past toes is not a bad thing

- Forward lean is not necessarily a bad thing. The angle of your torso is going to be determined by low or high bar position and your body's segment lengths. What you want to see is the bar path staying over the mid foot. What angle this requires will vary.

- The idea of keeping the weight on your heels might be a problematic idea. You really want to be in balance over the middle of your foot and not explicitly trying to favor your heels.

 

I would personally pick a bar position (high or low) and get the ideas straight in your head of what constitutes good form. Then film it, analyze it yourself, and consider posting it here or somewhere else for objective analysis. Given your assumptions about bad form, I'm just not sure how correct your initial assumption is that you have a big problem. Make sure you're attempting to do it correctly first, and then let's see if you're hitting parallel or not.

The iron never lies.

 

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If you are struggling to reach parallel, I would recommend stopping simply because an incomplete squat with weight puts tons of shear forces on your knee. Instead, grab a bench/box and start doing box squats (with bodyweight and with a dumbbell/kettlebell) until you have some control over the movement.

Once you can easily achieve parallel, you can start adding heavy weights again.

 

I don't have much of a problem reaching parallel provided I keep my stance pretty wide, which completely burns out my adductors at the end of my squats more than anything, but yes, I have stopped doing back squats and am now focusing on goblet squats and light front squats to improve mobility and form

 

 

When I read your analysis of your form flaws, I wonder if there is some misunderstanding about form.

 

- Knees past toes is not a bad thing

- Forward lean is not necessarily a bad thing. The angle of your torso is going to be determined by low or high bar position and your body's segment lengths. What you want to see is the bar path staying over the mid foot. What angle this requires will vary.

- The idea of keeping the weight on your heels might be a problematic idea. You really want to be in balance over the middle of your foot and not explicitly trying to favor your heels.

 

I would personally pick a bar position (high or low) and get the ideas straight in your head of what constitutes good form. Then film it, analyze it yourself, and consider posting it here or somewhere else for objective analysis. Given your assumptions about bad form, I'm just not sure how correct your initial assumption is that you have a big problem. Make sure you're attempting to do it correctly first, and then let's see if you're hitting parallel or not.

 

I think yes, my knees going over my toes is not really a bad thing since my femur is quite long compared to my shin, so unless I let my knees go over my toes, I simply cannot keep the bar directly in line with my feet. The problem with forward lean is that I have a low-bar degree of lean while squatting high bar and I simply cannot do a low bar without my back feeling like it's about to break in half. I give myself a mental cue of keeping the weight on my heels because I tend to go up on my toes at a certain point in the squat, which is to blame on my mobility. I am yet to film myself properly, but I will do so in my next training session and post it here.

 

 

Anyway, thanks everyone, for your input. Squat is being a major pain for me and it sucks considering how most serious lifters are really good at it.

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I started lifting few months ago

 

Squat is being a major pain for me and it sucks considering how most serious lifters are really good at it.

 

There's your problem. Serious lifters have years, not one or two, years of experience honing in their squat and everyone has different trials and tribulations along the way. Most people are still developing well into their second decade of training. Very few freaks of nature are truly good at the squat without thousands and thousands of reps and even they aren't close to their potential until they put in their time, same as everyone else.

 

So bottom line, don't worry about that and just embrace the process. You're already ahead of the game following sound advice here and paying attention to your form this early in the game so don't be discouraged. Not only will it get better but if you're smart and stay dialed in it'll get better for a very, very long time. Hell, most people spend five times as long training like fools and only pretending to squat so you're really ahead of the game.

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Yeah I know what you mean by long femur. Have you tried torquing your knees like in this video?:

Is it your shoulders? Quick test | Feat. Kelly St…: http://youtu.be/Q_qGF2l8rvQ

That helped me a lot in staying upright at the bottom when I was high bar squatting with chucks.

If that still doesnt work, weightlifting shoes are an excellent investment. These dramatically improves how upright you can get at the bottom.

No body, no mind.

My Battle Log: A Weightlifting Story

 

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I would add to the conversation, that favoring a slightly more forward stance in a squat is not necessarily a mobility issue either.  I favored a more 'weight forward' stance on squats and in the receiving position for my snatch because my quads were way more developed than my hamstrings (yay for starting lifting on your own).  I added in RDLs to help correct that and to be able to be more comfortable in a more solid landing/bottom position.

 

Also some of the newer folks I lift with have issue keeping their backs up straight in front squats, squats, and at the receiving position of the clean.  Once again I would say that this might be an issue with the back muscles needing to be strengthened and not necessarily mobility issue either.

 

Not saying this is what it is or isn't, just how I fixed my issues with similar form descriptions. :)

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