by Bret Contreras – 8/12/2013
Here's what you need to know...
• Squatting wide builds the hips and can help you lift more weight, but don't forget about flaring the knees.
• Geared powerlifters should go wide. Raw lifters should squat narrower. And if you can safely squat deep, then do so.
• Hip break versus knee break, hip drive versus knee drive? Forget it! A great squat will have a more even motion.
1. Knee Flare or No Knee Flare?
Many lifters find that squatting with a wider stance allows them to hoist heavier loads. As Louie Simmons says, squatting wide develops the all-important hip muscles.
However, many individuals widen their squat stance but don't concomitantly flare their knees outward throughout the squat, which can be problematic.
If the knees track in line with the feet during the squat, chances of encountering chronic knee injury – such as patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), knee osteoarthritis, medial collateral ligament sprains, and damage to the knee cartilage and meniscus – all increase.
The PFPS and osteoarthritis risk increases are largely due to an alteration in compressive forces during the movement. Both femoral internal rotation and increased q-angles lead to significantly higher patellofemoral joint contact forces, which are further increased if the tibia rotates internally. These higher contact forces can lead to chondral degeneration and eventually knee pain.
Medial knee displacement (MKD), or knee valgus, can also lead to acute ACL injuries during sports, and if coupled with tibial internal rotation, the risk is amplified. In short, if you care about your knee health, then you want to limit MKD.
The next time you squat, try this simple correction:
- Take your stance in slightly.
- Force your knees out aggressively.
If you're not used to doing this, it'll feel a bit awkward at first. The muscles responsible for carrying out the task of forcing the knees out will be weak, but you'll be strengthening lower limb and hip rotator muscles that are integral for squatting in this fashion.
Within a few weeks, squatting in this manner will feel very natural and your knees will thank you on account of the more even distribution of contact forces.
Check out the photo below: notice where the red shoes are positioned relative to the femurs? You want to squat like the picture on the right, not the left.
Here's a video that will aid in your understanding of this topic:
2. Wide or Narrow Stance?
Geared powerlifters should go wide. Raw lifters should squat a bit narrower to protect their hips. Athletes and gym rats that possess the mobility to full squat should continue to full squat to retain their mobility and train their legs and hips through a full ROM (range of motion).
However, a full squat requires a narrower stance. Lately many raw powerlifters are having tremendous success squatting far deeper than parallel. Therefore, the answer to the wide or narrow question is, it depends.
3. High Bar or Low Bar?
Both are excellent choices. Many raw powerlifters are currently thriving with high-bar squats, despite the common belief that every lifter is stronger in the low-bar position. High bar will work more quad while low bar will work more hip. Use both in your training throughout the year.
4. Neutral Feet or a 15-30 Degree Flare?
Either is fine. If neutral feels best for you, then go ahead and point the feet straight ahead. But if a flare up to 30 degrees feels better to you, then feel free to flare. Flaring the feet 15-30 degrees feels best for the majority of lifters, and this is a good position for knee health.
However, some lifters with particular hip anatomy do better pointing their feet straight ahead. Tinker around and do what works for you.
5. To Screw or Not to Screw the Feet into the Floor?
Either is fine. I personally don't feel that you need to create hip external rotation torque by screwing the feet into the ground when you squat, and most of my incredibly strong powerlifting friends don't do it.
However, the practice helps some lifters learn to activate their hips, so do it if you need it. Just make sure to force the knees outward throughout the squatting motion.
6. Hip Break or Knee Break?
Neither. Break at the same time when deep squatting. A great squat will have a rather even motion at the hips and knees, but with a deep squat you'll be sitting straight down in between your hips while forcing the legs out. Your torso will indeed lean forward at the bottom, but it shouldn't exceed a 45-degree lean. If it does, then you're sitting back too far.
7. Hip Drive or Knee Drive?
Neither. When you drive upward, you want an even motion at the hips and knees. You don't want the hips to shoot up, so drive with both joints for optimal performance.
Optimal deep squat form is just common sense. You don't need an advanced understanding of biomechanics. You just need to understand that it's in your best interest to properly distribute the forces across and within the different joints involved in squatting.
Try these tips and see if they help your performance. And always remember to lighten up the load when learning new techniques.