The Thing No One Seems To Say About Squatting (Body Mechanics)

I have a serious love-hate relationship with squats. They’re damn tough work, but I love the feeling and results they give.

The squat is an amazing exercise. There is no better workout for your legs. It works your quadraceps (thighs), glutes (butt), hamstrings (back of your legs), gastrocnemius (calves), and core mucles just to name a few!

If you are new to squat exercises you might find them quite difficult and get a lot of conflicting information on how to do it correctly. Not to mention the different variations of the squat; front squat, back squat, pile squat, pistol squat, box squats, overhead squat, zercher squat, hack squat, you name it!

I’m going to mainly talk about the regular back squat but you will see how this applies to all squats. One massive aspect of squatting which is often overlooked or even unheard of: tailoring your squat to you!

You Are Made To Squat

Squatting is actually a very natural movement. You squat when you get up from the ground, sit down, and stand up. That said, doing it repeatedly as an exercise, with or without weights, does take focussed effort to do correctly.

By correctly, I mean a way that gives you a workout and won’t lead to injury.

In truth, how you squat correctly is largely dependent on your body proportions.

In gereral you’re trying to:

  • Keep that natural curve to your spine

  • Keep your back as close to vertical as possible

  • Stand with feet roughly a shoulder and a half width apart (this is body proportion dependent, I’ll get on to that)

  • Shoulders back

  • Chin up

  • Butt out

  • Your knees are to bend outward. Never to bend inward. Your feet should point the same outward direction as you knees

  • Aim to bring your thighs down to about horizontal with the ground (this is also body proportion dependent)

This might seem like a lot, it does take practice and focus, but it quickly becomes second nature.

While there is a certainly a component of flexibility involved in the movement, many people (including personal trainers), will overlook the effect of your body proportions on your ability to squat.

There are variations that have to be accounted for in your body proportions.

It's Body Mechanics

Imagine how you look from side on as you squat.

In general, if your thighs are longer than your lower-legs, as you squat down, you will feel a greater inclination to lean forward more. This is because longer thighs are placing your butt and knees further away from your center of gravity as you lower yourself. To keep your balance, you have to lean forward more; you naturally lean your torso further from your center of gravity as a counter balance.

If you have a short torso in combination with relatively long thighs, you will have an even harder time squatting because your torso can’t provide as much counterbalance by being further from your center of mass.

In contrast, if you have very short thighs, a long torso, and long lower legs, you will find your knees and butt don’t travel very far from your center of mass through the movement. You will find squatting much easier.

These variations in body proportions are also why some people will feel squats involving some muscles more than another person would.

Many personal trainers and fitness enthusiasts will not realise this and it can lead to lots of arguments in the sport science community. Many blame flexibility when it is simply a case of body mechanics.

If that doesn’t quite make sense to you, I don’t blame you. It helps to see it in action. Tom Purvis will help to explain in this YouTube video.

How You Squat Is Specific To You

If you are one of the unfortunate people that are in the “longer thighs” situation, there are ways to work around it!

Like the model Tom Purvis uses in his video, the side-on view of your squat is how you want to imagine the mechanics in action.

Workaround 1

Stand with your feel further apart and point your knees further out to your left and right. From a side-on view this gives the impression that your thighs are shorter.

Your torso will not have to tip forward as much. You should be able to keep your back closer to vertical.

You will almost certainly feel your inner thighs being worked out more. Start off taking it easy with this one.

Workaround 2

Put something under your heels.

That’s it. Just find something about an inch thick. Maybe a bit less.

Weight plates are perfect for this because they come in different thicknesses. You can find the perfect height for your heel.

What is happening here is you are effectively making your lower-leg longer, as far as the side-on view goes. Tom even points this mechanism out at about 2:36 in the video above.

This is why you can squat really well in high heels (for those of you that have worn high heels).

Combine this with Method 1 and you can get your ass to the grass!

You Can’t Rely On Having Weight Plates Under Your Heels All The Time

If you have ever heard of weightlifting boots (or squatting boots as I like to call them) a raised heel is the main feature that makes them so functional. They are Workaround 2, made portable.

Squatting/weightlifting boots are designed with:

  • A raised heel to help you squat lower.

  • Flat soles for grip and stability.

  • Solid soles, with minimal compression, so that they do not move under your feet.

  • Straps (either instead of or with laces) to give stability and mobility. Your feet won’t move around in your shoes.

Side note: if you are trying to squat in running shoes or trainers with squishy soles, kick them off right now. You are better off squatting with your bare feet. No joke, that is what I did for years before I got my weightlifting boots.

If you are not keen on squatting in your socks or barefoot, at least squat in flat thin soled shoes. Converse All Stars are a perfect example.

Squatting boots are a real game changer. Really, I was amazed when I first went to Greaves in Glasgow and tried on all the different squatting boots. While some boots were more comfortable than others, they all had a thick heel and flat soles, that simple design really transforms your squat form.

The boots that I settled on, and continue to use to this day are the Addidas Power Perfect. Not to be confused with the Adidas Adipower or Powerlift which have a lower heel. I was aiming for as high a heel as possible and about ¾ inch high is about as large as they are made.

The Adidas Power Perfects have the 3/4inch raised heels that give you that extra range of motion. With the straps and flat solid soles, my feet stay put exactly where I stand.

These squatting boots give a solid base to push against the ground.

These Boots Are (Not Just) Made For Squatting

You don’t just squat with them. Any movement which involves you lifting weight, pushing against the ground with your legs, will benefit from weightlifting boots.

Exercises which absolutely benefit from weightlifting boots are:

  • Squat (obviously)

  • Clean

  • Jerk

  • Snatch

Some people even like to deadlift in weightlifting boots, but that is down to personal preference. Try it out for yourself and see what you think.

My Favourite Benefit

To really drive the effectiveness of these boots home: You will be able to lift more weight.

Yep, you will literally lift heavier masses. It comes down to the solid soles.

If you lift in running shoes, they are squashy, they will compress and absorb impact. The weightlifting boots have solid soles, so they don’t compress. That extra force, which would be absorbed in the compression, can then go straight into your lift.

Simple as that. Weightlifting boots will make it much easier to squat.

You will have better form and will literally lift more.
Your improvements will compound over time making you better, sooner.

Why do you not have a pair of these things already?

  • 19mm raised heel (3/4inch)
  • Breathable
  • Most people will need to go up a half shoe size
  • Unisex (Despite the Amazon listing)
  • 16.5mm raised heel (2/3inch)
  • Light weight

The lower heel and lightness makes these more tuned toward functional fitness than weightlifting

  • 16.5mm raised heel (2/3inch)
  • Light weight

The lower heel and lightness makes these more tuned toward functional fitness than weightlifting

If you enjoyed this article make sure to share it on social media with friends and family.

Have you found squatting to be difficult? Leave a comment below!

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