If there is one exercise in the gym that is picked apart relentlessly – it’s the barbell squat. Regardless of how long you’ve been lifting or how strong you are; a pleb-tier squat equals a pleb-tier lifter. And you don’t wanna be a pleb-tier lifter now do you?

That’s where we come in! As practitioners, and strength and conditioning coaches, we are able to quickly pick up movement restrictions and weaknesses by looking at a body weight squat.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a friendly neighbourhood Kelly or a Tom nearby however, so by following this guide you might be able to self-assess and fix your own squat!

When it comes down to squat assessment, we tend to look at the body ‘proximal’ (closest to the mid line of the body) to ‘distal’ (moving towards the limbs). Therefore, our first point to address is..

The torso

First and foremost, your ability to control your rib cage and pelvis (or your ‘core’ muscles) is the most important aspect of building a clean squat.

The squat requires the rib cage, diaphragm and pelvis to remain stacked in neutral throughout the entire movement.

Zac Cupples – “How and Why to Stack the Rib Cage and the Pelvis

We cannot emphasise this enough – a neutral rib cage/pelvis allows for more balanced force generation between the anterior and posterior muscles of the trunk. It can also nullify a ‘sleepy’ feeling in..

The hips

The glutei are a powerhouse just waiting to be utilised in a squat, but if you can’t hold a neutral pelvis, you won’t be able to use your glutes or gain effective hip extension.

There are a couple of things that can affect how much of your glutes you will need/use in your squat:

  1. Balance – Excessively drifting forward as you descend into the hole of the squat will not load up your posterior chain evenly with your quadriceps – often resulting in that ‘sleepy’ glute feeling. You want to stay on the red mid foot line for the entire movement
  2. Leverages – Your leverages will impact how far you need to hinge back as you descend into a squat. Generally speaking, the longer your femurs are, compared to your torso (hips to shoulder distance), the more you will have to lean over as you squat. I hate to break it to you, but most people aren’t built to squat like Lu Xiaojun.
Torso and hips positioning – different strokes for different folks!

If you’ve addressed everything at the torso and hips and things still aren’t feeling quite right, you should look at your ankles and feet.

The foot and the ankle

As the foot is your connection to the ground, it has to be a perfect combination of mobile and stable.

Mobile

Generally having 10-12cm of dorsiflexion is a great point to aim for. This can be checked with a ‘Knee to Wall’ test. Not having enough dorsiflexion can cause a feeling of being stuck getting to full depth.

Stable

You want to make sure that your foot is grabbing the ground and making 3 points of contact on the big toe, little toe and heel – tripod foot!

A floppy foot with 200kg on you back can often be the reason why your knees are buckling in, not your ‘weak’ glutes.

Although these may not be the only reasons why your squat ain’t hot, these areas are a great start in addressing your squat performance, and they will often fix 99% of squats if done correctly.

If you want more information on how we assess a squat, or you’re still having trouble building that beautiful ATG squat after reading this blog, please shoot us a message!

Tom Haynes
Accredited Exercise Physiologist at PerforMotion
Follow me on Instagram @tomhaynes_aep