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Personal Training Client Can't Squat


I train at my college and managed to pick up a pair clients (we do "partner training"). Anyway, I'm trying to work on one of the guys and am having some major problems. His lower body is useless. I can't get him to squat worth shit. Goblets, zercher, single leg (all of which are assisted as much as possible, even me grabbing him and trying to manipulate him).

Outside of having problems with everything, the major ones are super tight adductors (he feels them stretch a LOT when he lunges) and zero core control. I can't even get him to a quarter squat without him looking like quasimodo.

Obviously this limits our training to a great degree, but continuing training is not a problem. I've been working at this for about a month now with TONS of mobility, stretching and foam rolling after I realized the problem was so bad.

Do you guys have any suggestions or ideas? I'll take what I can get, any and all advise is appreciated. Thank you!


have you tried body weight box squats? that´s where i'd start


you will find that most of the people that hire you will not be able to squat properly (or do a lot of other movements correctly). I am a novice personal trainer myself, but I would also recommend body weight box squats. Alternatively, you could use the leg press to build some initial leg strength and help him understand the motor pattern.

Especially if you have him use a higher, wider foot placement, so that he uses more hamstring and glute. From there, maybe using single leg leg presses in combination with those bodyweight box squats will help. One more suggestion: I find when people are new to an exercise, it really helps if you increase frequency and repetitions.




Ya, tried those too, it's still pretty ugly.

Those were are the most successful so far, not sure why I didn't mention them. The only way he can squat down with a more neutral back (not very neutral though) causes him to bring his knees out WAY too wide, which means that he cannot push his hips back. This of course is just as bad as "knee squatting", just a different angle.

Also, to get the better back alignment I have him place a weight plate on his back and tell him not to let it leave his back. Helps his upper back, not lower, but also makes him too tired. I'm going to try a PVC pipe and cross my fingers.

His biggest problem is the lack of motor patterning. My problem is, I'm not sure where to go from this severity.


Can't do a box squat?....

Stick with the leg press or hip sled. Those are the only two squat-like movements I can think of that would be easier then a box squat.

^^ Do you also do core exercises that would address the issue? A strong core will take stress off of the lumbar.

If his legs are this weak I would give him homework each week, like walk X-miles.
Practice sitting in a chair and getting out everyday X times. (no holding onto the arm rest)

If things are this bad he needs to focus on it more then just a few hours a week at the gym.


He doesn't have a lot of coordination/strength from his core, either. He can only do about 30 second planks and his core gets tired very very fast after that. Homework may be needed. I have him walking about 90 minutes each week right now.


Try regressing further and having him work on the squat pattern while holding onto something stable in front of him such as the squat rack or something similar. If he has unstable core then that should be an area that you hit hard and consistently until it's up to par, if he has excessive lumbar flexion at a specific depth then limit him to just before it happens and work down from there as he progresses. Further progressions could be squatting with a plate held out in front with straight arms then work towards a goblet squat bringing the load closer to his natural center. Just some ideas.


i trained a short, very large woman last year, zero flexibility, zero core strength, shocking balance and co-ordination etc had her doing stretching (obviously) but also had her do box squats, back against the wall squats, assisted squats ie band overhead on bar and all at bw. Worked at treat for her and we easily progressed onto a barbell.


Maybe Wall Slides, progressing into High (above Parallel) Box Squats, progressively lowering the box as he becomes accustomed to the motion.
Also for the knee issue if you have access to smaller exercise balls, holding one of them between the legs for bodyweight reps might reinforce the motor pattern.


Start with the wall squats and transition into box squats. Standing cable crunches and/or hanging leg raises with arms locked out to establish core stability and strength.


Try doing stability work on a bosu ball and also do jump work even if it starts out more like step work. If you have access to a large swiss ball or a good elite fts band put it in the middle of a something like a squat rack and have them do touch and go using the ball/band for some assistance.


Invest in Cressey and Robertson's "Assess and Correct..." a dvd set no personal trainer should be without. The boy can't squat...your solution is not in finding variations of the squat motion he can do, but to correct his limiting factors so that he can do a bodyweight squat...working from the ground up.


Well, try a bodyweight assessment. I've used this to tire the shit out of some very raw beginners, but it also helps connect mind/muscle....

Use the squat cage and have him grab the uprights to balance himself. Focus him on a) chest pointed at the ceiling (not pointing outwards, but UP) b) back shoulder blades scrunched together tight, c) the big one: tell him to try to touch his shoulder blades to his ass, and not leave that position.

Then have him walk himself down with his hands on the upright to balance, finding the spots that are difficult as he goes down and correcting. Get him to sit in the bottom squat position and force everything tight. This should be easier because he doesn't need core stability with his hands pulling on the uprights to balance himself.

He probably has trouble "internalizing" what it means to try to touch his shoulder blades to his ass. So, have him do sets of "supermans" on the floor for sets of 6-10 reps between the upright form testing. Hold each rep for about 5 seconds. He's going to cramp like a mother, but he will definitely feel his low back contract. Tell him that cramping feeling is what you want him to feel at all times when squatting, then have him use the uprights again. I have absolutely made raw novices sore as hell just using this as their only "squat" work. After a little while, they start to understand what you want, and because they can feel what is happening in their muscles now it is easier to replicate.

When you get tissue quality issues sorted with the foam rolling you're doing, this is going to make it a lot easier for him to move.

The other things I would suggest are db or kettlebell swings for hamstrings and glutes, and goodmornings/back extensions for low back--obviously with extremely light weight to focus on form and repetition. For guys it's often hard to "feel" what is supposed to happen, which is of course a major problem that compounds already existing motor pattern problems! Hard to say without watching him squat, but it sounds like in addition to motor pattern problems he just has a really fucking weak low back and hamstrings. If there's no strength to tap, there's no strength to stabilize a squat pattern, no matter how light.

You can't recruit a muscle that you can't feel effectively...

Anyway, I'm sure you already know and do this so I am preaching to the choir by suggesting this, but I would say hammer ab work (specifically anti-flexion or anti-rotation work) and hamstring/glute/low back work with appropriate isolation exercises, working on gradually integrating slightly more complex exercises until you can get him to start squatting with a posterior chain he can feel working. I would say do a set of ab work in between every damn set of every day you train together. Well, at least for the first exercise or two of every day. frequent work needs to happen for this guy.


Consistency is key. Keep doing goblet squats. The goblet squat, praised by the best coaches, are always the best place to start. The more he does them, the more he'll get used to them. The law of repetitive motion. Get him to do the third world squat everyday as well. Simply holding onto a pole. You say they don't work but they always do something. The squat itself is a stretch


^ This is good advice.

I had a client that might have been in a similar situation. He could not go down past quarter squat depth without his lower back rounding out. The issue was hamstring flexibility (very common for people that do not workout regularly). PNF stretch the hamstrings every workout (every day if possible) for one month and I guarantee you that this person will be able to squat to parallel without rounding.


Assuming that his hip flexors and adductors are flexible. Just asking cause I know a lot of people that have flexible hamstrings yet their back still rounds.


x2 Especially if he's like 90% of the population which sits in anterior pelvic tilt. Hamstring flexibility is rarely the issue and it's kind of annoying that this is just the go to assumption when more probable culprits are lack of hip mobility, and core and glute weakness.

The hamstrings don't have to be that flexible to perform a full depth squat. We are a society that sits all fuckin' day for crying out loud. The hamstrings are stretched about as much as they'd ever be for a squat that entire time.


This all sounds good. Some of what I'm already doing, but ill add these ideas to their current routine. thanks again


what really helped me with my squatting was to take my shoes off and regress. doing lot of hip mobility and learning to squat between your legs and not back. (i read that in a dan john article and it forever changed the way i squat)

something that helps keep my hips nice and mobile is to sit on the floor when im at home for a while.

  • when your clients at home tell them to spend some time sitting on the floor (cross legged is a good position) tell them to make sure they are sitting on their sitz bones and their back cannot be supported. a good sitting position is to sit on the floor with your legs laying flat on the floor in front of you.

i dunno why this works for me, but my hips feel so much more mobile after ive been sitting on the floor for a while