Squats are bad for your knees. You don't need to squat. You shouldn't go below parallel. You should only do quarter squats.
These are all misconceptions I hear. Often when a patient comes in with back pain or knee pain it is at least partially because of the inability to squat or poor squat form. If you do not have the ability to squat you will overuse your low back and/or knees. These structures were not intended to take that kind of load. As far as the 'we shouldn't be squatting' belief, pick up any National Geographic Magazine and look at the native people in the pics - I guarantee that you will see someone in a full squat.
So why have we lost the ability to squat fully and properly?
It is a use it or lose it principle. Your body is smart. If it doesn't need to do something it will transfer that energy elsewhere. If all we squat to is the height of a chair, that is all we will be able to do. Most of us don't do that properly and just fall the last foot.
So what is good squat form? Good squat form is a movement that will allow you to lower your hips as low as necessary while sparing your spine and knees.
There are a variety of squat types: air squats, front squats, overhead squats, power squats, olympic squats, to name a few. They all carry with them the same general movements. What I will describe below is a basic squat form that anyone can benefit from. Whether it be as part of a workout or something as simple as getting in and out of a chair, knowing proper form will help develop power and minimize possibility of injury.
So how do we acomplish this?
- Find a comfortable stance. Try standing with your feet about shoulder width and a half a part. You might have to move them in or out a little bit.
- Rotate your feet outward about 20 degrees.
- Without changing the position of your low back, intitiate the movement by hinging backwards at your hips.
- Proceed to lower your hips as if sitting down on the toilet.
- As you lower your hips your weight should shift onto your heels.
- Keep your chest bone (sternum) perpendicular to the floor.
- Lower yourself as low as you can until you lose the ability to maintain the position of the low back. There should be little movement in the low back.
- Once you reach the lowest you can power yourself back to a standing position by pushing through your heels driving your hips forward and upward until you are standing straight up.
- You should be able to go a little lower each repetition.
Things that can go wrong:
- Rounding of the back
- Knees collapsing inward
- Allowing the knees to drift forward of the toes
- Shifting weight onto one leg.
The Squat is a powerful athletic maneuver that incorporates the gluteus maximus to generate the force. Your glutes are big strong muscles - use them. If you look at the vast majority of sports the squat is the foundation of the sport. Think about a volleyball player preparing to jump, a baseball shortstop, a football player ready to make a tackle, or a golfer ready to hit a shot. They are all in a form of a squat.
If you have trouble getting below parallel, just keep working on it. It takes time. If you have pain during the movement I would recommend you follow up with a qualified healthcare professional that is familiar with movement patterns. I think your best bet would be a chiropractor or physical therapist.
I would like to thank Robyn Kretschy for helping with this video.