Now that we understand why squatting goes hand-in-hand with athletic success and overall well-being let us examine the ‘how.’ (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read Building the Foundation Part I: Why We Squat – then come back!)
Our first teaching point is instilling the importance of proper foot placement. For the entire squat progression, feet should be placed with heels slightly wider than shoulder width, toes turned out slightly at a 5-10 degree angle. Our athletes are then taught to activate their glutes during the squat by externally rotating their femurs, often cued as ‘corkscrewing’ their feet or ‘spreading the floor.’ This ensures that from the get-go the posterior chain is activated, something that many chair-borne athletes may initially lack the ability to perform.
Next, our athletes are taught to brace their abdominal structure. This is first taught with our diaphragmatic breathing warm ups and ensures spinal integrity through the full range of motion. Athletes are to take a deep breath in using their diaphragm, or ‘belly breathing’, as opposed to merely inflating the upper portion of their lungs by only breathing with the chest. Once the entire lung cavity is filled, our athletes then push that interstitial pressure down and into their lower back, effectively activating their deep abdominal support structures.
After bracing, our athletes begin the squat by first breaking at the hips and then descending straight down between the ankles, while at the same time keeping the chest as upright as possible. Making sure to continue to externally rotate the femurs, the athlete descends with balance kept towards the heel of the midfoot and makes sure the patella of the knees track towards the second toes. It is imperative that the knees maintain this position and do not collapse inward. Inward (valgus) collapse puts undue sheer stress forces on the ligaments of the knees and should be avoided.
Many athletes first undergoing squat correction may experience difficulty in maintaining an upright chest angle during the descent and at the bottom position. There are a variety of factors at play here, and our PIT coaches are adept at determining the cause and solution to this movement restriction. Once athletes reach the bottom position, they drive forcefully through the heels and midfoot and returns to the starting position.
Stay tuned for the final section of our foundation lesson, Building the Foundation Part III: What We Squat.