T Nation

Squat Check, Feels Asymmetric (with Video)


#1

I feel like when I squat that I twist my hips a bit at the bottom and my spine isn't vertical. I surf a lot, and it would make sense as I am always twisted on a board. Does this look bad? I'd also appreciate any other technique tips, I only started weight training a few months ago


#2

It doesn’t look that bad. Do some goblet squats to strengthen your hips every session. You can do this at the beginning or end of your session - doesn’t matter to me. Really focus on bracing you abs and engaging you hip flexors and gluteus medius. Do this by taking in the biggest breath possible every rep and bracing to create as much pressure as possible in you mid-section (should feel like your eyes are going to pop out). You should feel tightness in your groin throughout the rep and tightness on the side of your ass while shoving your knees out the entire time (still over your toes). If you don’t know how tightness in your groin feels like, do 20-50 knee raises to feel it. If you don’t know how to use your gluteus medius, do some side lying clamshells or fire hydrant exercises. If I ever asked you to pause at any point in the lift, you should feel tension in all of these areas and be able to hold the position without trouble.

Work in the 5-15 rep range for a few sets and increase the weight over time, never at the expense of losing tension in the above muscle groups. Treat this as an add-on to whatever you’re currently doing. Do it for a few months and over time those muscle will be easier to recruit in your main lifts.


#3

Thanks for the advice! I tried the goblet squats last night before the main squat work and it definitely left me feeling weaker in the back squat. My glutes are really sore today, I guess I kind of pre-exhausted them. Going to do them after the back squat next time.


#4

[quote]dobster88 wrote:
Thanks for the advice! I tried the goblet squats last night before the main squat work and it definitely left me feeling weaker in the back squat. My glutes are really sore today, I guess I kind of pre-exhausted them. Going to do them after the back squat next time.[/quote]

No problem, glad to help. It’s probably a better idea to do them after so you can still put in effort without affecting your main work. It’ll take some time to build those hip stabilizers so there’s no need to rush. Throw in some random pauses from time to time at any point in the lift to ensure you’re always firing all muscle groups. Once it becomes automatic, you’ll likely begin to have better control of your hips during the main lift. No need to overthink the hip work or overdo it to the point that it affects your training progress. Continue to get everything else strong and it’ll just be a matter of time for your hip strength to catch up.

For your back squat, it’ll be beneficial to practice taking in a deep breath and bracing your abs hard throughout the entire rep so focus on that as soon as you can.


#5

I just checked your previous posts out of curiosity. You mentioned that you worked with a physio a few months ago who got you into lifting to fix imbalances. Did you ask about your hips and if so, what did he recommend?


#6

[quote]lift206 wrote:

No problem, glad to help. It’s probably a better idea to do them after so you can still put in effort without affecting your main work. It’ll take some time to build those hip stabilizers so there’s no need to rush. Throw in some random pauses from time to time at any point in the lift to ensure you’re always firing all muscle groups. Once it becomes automatic, you’ll likely begin to have better control of your hips during the main lift. No need to overthink the hip work or overdo it to the point that it affects your training progress. Continue to get everything else strong and it’ll just be a matter of time for your hip strength to catch up.

For your back squat, it’ll be beneficial to practice taking in a deep breath and bracing your abs hard throughout the entire rep so focus on that as soon as you can.[/quote]

Wouldn’t moving weight that causes these imbalances to show themselves defeat the purpose of moving weight that is meant to solve them?

The heavy weights will cause the imbalanced areas to continue growing stronger in their imbalanced state.

I ask because I’m dealing with a similar dilemma here. I recently noticed that I have much tighter hip flexors on my left side, and so my hip shoots down slightly to the right. When I squat heavy or do any sort of squat that starts to tire me out, the lean becomes more and more noticeable.

I’m trying to combat it by doing barbell/goblet squats with as perfect a form as I can and haven’t been doing any real heavy weights. Should I be?


#7

I not really had any physio advice about my hips, no. Physio was always focused on my shoulders, I’ve had a couple shoulder injuries and they have been the only real joint I’ve ever had problems with. I was seeing a shoulder specialist who is one of the top guys in the country. One of the main things he got me into was shoulder pressing. I started to enjoy it, and asked a lot of questions about programs and what exersizes he thought would benefit me most.

I did go to a different physio a couple years ago after my knee hurt on a hike, and he said I have really tight hip flexors, which I’ve worked on a bit, and weak inner quad (it had another name I think), which he got me doing one-legged quarter pistol squats basically, which I did for a couple months, but it wasn’t very exciting and I wasn’t training at all so I kind of stopped.


#8

Dude, I was like WTF when you were topless, then I almost threw my phone out the window when you started wrapping your t-shirt around the bar. I’d have to keep one eye open for a 45 pounder coming at my head if I was doing that at some of my former gyms.

Anyway, tiny bit of lean. Nothing some mobility drills and being conscious of the movement won’t fix.

For me, closer in grip, mayhaps stance and getting your elbows under the bar would be where I’m looking as you seem to lose lower back tightness.


#9

[quote]magick wrote:

[quote]lift206 wrote:

No problem, glad to help. It’s probably a better idea to do them after so you can still put in effort without affecting your main work. It’ll take some time to build those hip stabilizers so there’s no need to rush. Throw in some random pauses from time to time at any point in the lift to ensure you’re always firing all muscle groups. Once it becomes automatic, you’ll likely begin to have better control of your hips during the main lift. No need to overthink the hip work or overdo it to the point that it affects your training progress. Continue to get everything else strong and it’ll just be a matter of time for your hip strength to catch up.

For your back squat, it’ll be beneficial to practice taking in a deep breath and bracing your abs hard throughout the entire rep so focus on that as soon as you can.[/quote]

Wouldn’t moving weight that causes these imbalances to show themselves defeat the purpose of moving weight that is meant to solve them?

The heavy weights will cause the imbalanced areas to continue growing stronger in their imbalanced state.

I ask because I’m dealing with a similar dilemma here. I recently noticed that I have much tighter hip flexors on my left side, and so my hip shoots down slightly to the right. When I squat heavy or do any sort of squat that starts to tire me out, the lean becomes more and more noticeable.

I’m trying to combat it by doing barbell/goblet squats with as perfect a form as I can and haven’t been doing any real heavy weights. Should I be?[/quote]

The reason why I said not to stop squatting is because I believe all muscle groups should always be getting bigger and stronger. When the hip muscles are weak, it shouldn’t take that long to build it up by isolating it - maybe 3-6 months for a full transition. And with the isolation work, the goal is still to get those muscles bigger and stronger so eventually going heavy is necessary to force those muscles to work hard.

I could suggest someone to drop their training max low enough so they can get their hips involved but people are less likely to do that if it means dropping their training max by 20% or more. So I came to the conclusion that instead of suggesting to someone to build technique with a weak muscle group, forcing other muscles to drop down in training load to allow those weak muscles to work, and interrupting someone’s training plan; it’s probably better to just stick with the status quo and add on the isolation work to make the hips strong enough that it can eventually work with the stronger muscle groups in time. Technique relies on the ability to recruit muscles and muscles that are weak relative to other groups can be very hard to recruit - this introduces a possibility that the person might not engage the muscle in the main work even with a reduction in training max. That’s often why you’ll see people unable to engage their hips by “screwing/spreading the floor” when someone suggests this to them in a form check - I have been guilty of this. Isolation work removes distractions.

It’s extremely important to make sure all four muscle groups are working together: the erectors, abs, hip flexors and glutes. These muscles all work together to keep the hips stable while force is transferred from the upper body to lower body. It doesn’t really matter how the goblet squat looks because it can look good even when you aren’t engaging and training the intended muscles. However, it does matter how it feels because that’s how you know you’re engaging the muscles and it’ll likely look good if it feels good.

It took me 9 months to solve my imbalance and inability to brace my abs. My left shoulder would drop and my left knee would push out all because imbalances that started from high school sports where I did wrestling and pole vaulting and mainly jumped off my left leg. I spent a couple months focusing on ab bracing with beltless low bar squat, a couple months focusing on engaging glutes and abs with front squats, and a couple months focusing on hip flexor engagement with beltless high bar squat. Each time I didn’t have much carryover to my main lift until I realized that I focused too much on one aspect. I finally brought it all together in the past few months and now feel more even loading and soreness throughout my back, abs, quads, glutes, etc. Everything feels good now and I’m back to hitting PRs after a long plateau. That’s the reason why I keep stressing to load all four muscle groups in order to train them together. Working on only one area instead of the entire system didn’t work well for me.

It’s up to you if you want to build the technique with your main work. I would suggest doing cycles to spend time with different variations such as front squat, high bar and low bar squats when building technique because the hip mechanics should feel the same for all the lifts even if the torso angle changes. The abs should be braced just as hard for all of them. The loading might be slightly different but the way the hip works is the same.

With isolation work you want to train with medium to heavy weights and vary the rep ranges because the goal is to make those muscles grow in size and strength. They are important muscles for moving big weights. IMO, the hip stabilizers shouldn’t be the limiting factor when squatting.

Aside from the hips, shoulder stabilization and lat engagement may also come into play and it’s hard to say whether that’s contributing to the issue for you. A weakness in one point in the kinetic chain can possibly cause problems down the chain as muscles get overloaded.


#10

[quote]dobster88 wrote:
I not really had any physio advice about my hips, no. Physio was always focused on my shoulders, I’ve had a couple shoulder injuries and they have been the only real joint I’ve ever had problems with. I was seeing a shoulder specialist who is one of the top guys in the country. One of the main things he got me into was shoulder pressing. I started to enjoy it, and asked a lot of questions about programs and what exersizes he thought would benefit me most.

I did go to a different physio a couple years ago after my knee hurt on a hike, and he said I have really tight hip flexors, which I’ve worked on a bit, and weak inner quad (it had another name I think), which he got me doing one-legged quarter pistol squats basically, which I did for a couple months, but it wasn’t very exciting and I wasn’t training at all so I kind of stopped. [/quote]

Ah, that makes sense. Overhead pressing will help build the traps. Building other muscles tied to the shoulder blades will help too. Close grip and wide grip pull-downs (e.g., chin-ups and wide grip pull-ups), and close grip and wide grip rows (e.g., dumbbell rows and barbell rows) can all help build those shoulder stabilization muscles. It might be useful to focus on the one you suck at and depress your shoulder blades when doing them, if you haven’t already.

Pistol squats can be great at building the hip muscles but it’s possible to do them in a way that doesn’t engage them all. Similarly, goblet squats can be done without an emphasis on the hips. It depends on your intentions and how you execute them. I have found goblet squats to be a great training tool for hip development.


#11

There is some good info coming out.

I think the 1 legged quarter pistol squat is a “Peterson Step Up.” It’s for knee stability, getting the VMO going and something to do with the patella. I’ve been doing thousands of them this year. They are OK, but if my hips are “off” working on my knees is just treating a symptom, not the cause. I had to do a bunch of clam shells and hip flexor stretches to get my glutes and hips working better.

My hips were all over the place too. For my “heavy squatting” I did box squats. I started with the box high, at a level where I could keep my hips square. I totally agree with 206 that you need to work isolation lifts, and compound lifts where everything works together also.

I did the same for deadlifts. Partials from a level where I didn’t get over top of one leg, or start pulling crooked.


#12

[quote]FlatsFarmer wrote:
There is some good info coming out.

I think the 1 legged quarter pistol squat is a “Peterson Step Up.” It’s for knee stability, getting the VMO going and something to do with the patella. I’ve been doing thousands of them this year. They are OK, but if my hips are “off” working on my knees is just treating a symptom, not the cause. I had to do a bunch of clam shells and hip flexor stretches to get my glutes and hips working better.

My hips were all over the place too. For my “heavy squatting” I did box squats. I started with the box high, at a level where I could keep my hips square. I totally agree with 206 that you need to work isolation lifts, and compound lifts where everything works together also.

I did the same for deadlifts. Partials from a level where I didn’t get over top of one leg, or start pulling crooked.

[/quote]

That makes sense for the pistol squat to be used to target more of the knee joint. I agree that in general the knee problems are the symptom because the hips ultimately control knee position (helping to keep them symmetrical) and can help distribute load more evenly between the quads and hamstrings.

After helping a few people learn to squat, the two exercises I recommend most are goblet squats and lunging in place. Lunging in place removes the distraction of repeatable foot placement and helps to focus more on the muscles of interest. Mastering those early on sets up a strong foundation for weight training and generating power in the hips for sports.

I agree that partial ROM squats and deadlifts are effective at teaching and reinforcing good technique. The bottom of the squat and deadlift are where the stabilizers are needed most but are likely weakest at that position. The partial ROM work can teach a person to keep tight throughout the ROM they’re working with. IMO, it’s better to do a good job with partial ROM than do a crappy job going through the full ROM. ROM progression is a great way to train.


#13

Lunging in place is legit. Then lunging in place with 1 side loaded with a dumbbell or something.

Now I’m thinking about step ups, with a band anchored then looped around my waist. Like a hip thrust step up combo.

Maybe wearing Yoga pants?


#14

Lots of great advice in here, thanks guys!


#15

[quote]tsantos wrote:
Dude, I was like WTF when you were topless, then I almost threw my phone out the window when you started wrapping your t-shirt around the bar. I’d have to keep one eye open for a 45 pounder coming at my head if I was doing that at some of my former gyms.

Anyway, tiny bit of lean. Nothing some mobility drills and being conscious of the movement won’t fix.

For me, closer in grip, mayhaps stance and getting your elbows under the bar would be where I’m looking as you seem to lose lower back tightness.[/quote]

Thanks for the advice.

And Haha as for the shirtless/wrapping t shirt around bar I live in a town of about 1000 people and train fairly late at night, the tiny little basement gym I go to I always have to myself. The dude who you half see in the video walking in is the only other guy I’ve ever seen there at the time I go. So I can basically do whatever I want… The shirtless was so you could actually see my spine, and I’m a pussy and didn’t like the really rough sharp knurling of the bar against my bare skin. Usually I just have a shirt on


#16

For the sake of completeness I’ll include a few more details to provide a better idea of the big picture:

My progression involved:

  • 2 months of beltless low bar squat
    — Focus on abs

  • 2 months of belted front squat
    — Focus on abs and glutes
    — I worked on thoracic extension and began to learn about scapular depression
    — Began doing A LOT of pull-down and rowing movements

  • 2 months of beltless high bar squat
    — Focus on abs, glutes and hip flexors
    — Even more pull-down and rowing movements

  • 3 months of belted high bar squat
    — Focus on abs, glutes, hip flexors, scapular depression, lats and chest
    — Still more pull-down and rowing movements

The final three months were key because that’s when I achieved full body tightness. In the final two months I really only focused on keeping my entire upper body as tight as possible and no longer thought about my hips - my hips just work. I believe this is the point you want to get to.

With the goblet squat and lunge, you can achieve the same goal of recruiting all these muscle groups. The process in which you do this is functional progression where you may spend a few sessions focusing on one muscle and over time keep integrating a new muscle group. Focusing on one muscle group at a time will help build a strong mind-muscle connection. Trying to do it all at once will be difficult. So if the weight doesn’t increase but you add in more muscle groups over time, you’re still making progress. Once you get all the muscle groups above involved then you can aggressively progress in weight. This is pretty much my approach for teaching someone how to lift weights.


#17

[quote]lift206 wrote:

Aside from the hips, shoulder stabilization and lat engagement may also come into play and it’s hard to say whether that’s contributing to the issue for you. A weakness in one point in the kinetic chain can possibly cause problems down the chain as muscles get overloaded.[/quote]

You were right on this. It appears that, in addition to a tight hip flexor causing me lean my hips slightly to the right, some tightness in the areas around my right scapula/upper-back in general is also causes my left shoulder to drop! It’s silly. I’ve always known that my left scapula is fucked up in comparison to my right, to the point that my elbows are in noticeably different positions when I go for back-squats, but it appears that the issues are a lot bigger than I thought. These are all probably related, and I really should go meet some professional sooner or later.

In any case, it appears that I can actually do easy singles with weights that should be in the 85-90% of my current 1rm. I wouldn’t have bothered to go up to such weights if it weren’t for you, so thanks =D


#18

[quote]magick wrote:

[quote]lift206 wrote:

Aside from the hips, shoulder stabilization and lat engagement may also come into play and it’s hard to say whether that’s contributing to the issue for you. A weakness in one point in the kinetic chain can possibly cause problems down the chain as muscles get overloaded.[/quote]

You were right on this. It appears that, in addition to a tight hip flexor causing me lean my hips slightly to the right, some tightness in the areas around my right scapula/upper-back in general is also causes my left shoulder to drop! It’s silly. I’ve always known that my left scapula is fucked up in comparison to my right, to the point that my elbows are in noticeably different positions when I go for back-squats, but it appears that the issues are a lot bigger than I thought. These are all probably related, and I really should go meet some professional sooner or later.

In any case, it appears that I can actually do easy singles with weights that should be in the 85-90% of my current 1rm. I wouldn’t have bothered to go up to such weights if it weren’t for you, so thanks =D
[/quote]

No problem. Just keep at it with strengthening your hips and plenty of volume for vertical pull-down work. All that pull-down work will carryover to the squat when you pull your shoulders and the bar down together with your lower traps, serratus anterior and lats. If it’s difficult to get in much volume then focus on getting in a lot of sets for low reps and high frequency to get in a lot of total reps per week. It’ll make a huge difference over time. I used to have the same problem too with different elbow position because one side was weaker than the other.


#19

[quote]lift206 wrote:

No problem. Just keep at it with strengthening your hips and plenty of volume for vertical pull-down work. All that pull-down work will carryover to the squat when you pull your shoulders and the bar down together with your lower traps, serratus anterior and lats. If it’s difficult to get in much volume then focus on getting in a lot of sets for low reps and high frequency to get in a lot of total reps per week. It’ll make a huge difference over time. I used to have the same problem too with different elbow position because one side was weaker than the other.[/quote]

What kind of grip/width did you use with your pull-downs? Did you mix them up throughout the sets or stick with the same?

I’ve been trying to be a lot more even with my chin-ups (another thing I noticed is that I tend to pull up earlier with my right side), and my left shoulders more or less gave out during weighted chin-ups today.

So I just did a bunch of sets with pull-downs afterwards. Light weight with a pronated grip, wider than shoulder width. Now the entire area around my right scapula aches.

I need to find the time to do more pull-downs and goblet squats. They really do get right at my problem areas.


#20

Try some 1 arm pull downs, 1 arm rows, and 1 arm shrugs. Aim for symmetry in your movements.

If you are really crooked, you could link 2 or 3 of these boring single sided exercises with the goblet squat, into a circuit. Then run through it 2-3 times as a warm up before lifting.

I don’t have the balls to skip around the parking lot in front of the gym before workouts. But I feel like if you alternated skipping and 1 arms farmers walks it would be awesome.