T Nation

Squat: Depth w/ Proper Form

As the title implies, I’m having issues getting proper depth without compensating with my back. A trusted personal trainer in the gym I train at informed me about it (I’ve never seen such perfect squat form from anyone in person including when I lifted at a PL gym).

No matter how hard I try to push my knees out, my low back always does this dip thing instead of staying arched really hard and yes I’m actively focused on doing that. I feel like I’m losing power b/c of this.

This is only an issue with free back squats. Front, goblet, split, and any box squat are fine without issues. I can maintain back position throughout a deadlift (including deficits) too.

I’ve got it boiled down to these potential issues:

  1. From too much box squatting, the timing of my muscles is off for free squatting

  2. My hamstrings aren’t flexible enough, I can barely touch my toes (so my hams are winning the ‘tug of war’ between them and my low back)

  3. My adductors aren’t flexible enough so they pull me forward in the bottom (when I try to do a split, I’m about a 1.5ft off the ground

  4. Poor hip internal rotation (this is a real bad one for me, but despite lots of improvement here, no difference in the squat form but my hips and hip flexors are thanking me)

  5. Long femurs and a short torso

The only way to improve my anthropometry (#4) is to to gain weight (close to 181 atm, 5’10") and I don’t want to do that at this moment.

I don’t know if it could have anything to do with it, but I have had an SI joint injury December 09 that took over half a year to get my numbers before the injury. No other injuries to my legs, hips, back, or groin that took longer than a couple weeks to heal up.

I did a squat workout using Mark Ripptoe style squat (as close as I could anyway), doing first box squats w/ pause w/ same free squat form against bands for speed for 5x2, then took the box away for 5x2, then did 5x10 185, 175, 165, 165, 155. Now, mostly my quads are sore, then glutes, then hams with no noticable lower back soreness (but I did have a low-back pump in the gym).

For now, I’m assuming it’s a form issue since I can do box squats without the problem. What do ya’ll think. Sorry about not having a video, I don’t have the funds at this moment. I hope this isn’t information overload. Lemme know, and I’ll try to condense it.

There is no excuse for inflexible hamstrings, IMO. You know it’s a problem, so do something about it! But maybe for troubleshooting purposes, try a few sets of SLDLs before free squatting next to get the hammies warmed up and stretched. If your back still breaks form, it’s probably something else.

Doing direct mobility work on my adductors and hip flexors (especially psoas) completely changed my squat. Start with DeFranco’s Agile 8 exactly as written, several times a week for about a month and you’ll see huge improvements.

It could also be that you’re going TOO deep, which could facilitate a “loosening” of everything that needs to remain tight when you’re at max depth. If you’re competing for powerlifting make sure you’re “just below parallel.”

Do you squat with a narrow stance or wider?

Feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Any narrower and I have to elevate my heel to get depth (either through a shoe with an appreciable heel or a 5-10lb plate depending on narrowness. I need the 10’s to have a stance inside my shoulders. Bare in mind I have narrow clavicles.

Another thing I didn’t mention is that I have to have my feet at to beyond a 45 degree angle out to get depth.

For your adductors:

That was so brutal for me for a bit, that my feet would start to cramp up when I was doing it. You can also put loop a band around a knee then behind your back then around the other knee to help pull out. I didn’t like the direction of force with that, but you can give it a shot if you have bands, and would just use my hands to push my legs out.

Then there is this one,

but do it laying on your back and put a 45lb on one leg and use your arms to push the other leg out. The other thing I would do, is instead of laying the plate flat I’d put the edge of it into my hip flexor as trigger point work then use the other leg to tension it.

[quote]Fletch1986 wrote:
Another thing I didn’t mention is that I have to have my feet at to beyond a 45 degree angle out to get depth.[/quote]

There goes my idea…

I actually had my first squat session at WFAC today, I had a “dip” issue with my butt/hips. Juli, one of the trainers, said I was just not keeping my low back set before I started my descent. Also, I was taught to start the squat with my hips when I started lifting and today was told to drive my knees to my toes as a break at the hips, not after. That, along with constantly being reminded to keep my gut tight, took my “dip/rock” motion away at the bottom. And my feet are close to breaking 45 degrees with a fairly close stance.

[quote]TheTexican wrote:
I actually had my first squat session at WFAC today, I had a “dip” issue with my butt/hips. Juli, one of the trainers, said I was just not keeping my low back set before I started my descent. Also, I was taught to start the squat with my hips when I started lifting and today was told to drive my knees to my toes as a break at the hips, not after. That, along with constantly being reminded to keep my gut tight, took my “dip/rock” motion away at the bottom. And my feet are close to breaking 45 degrees with a fairly close stance. [/quote]

That made so much sense. Thanks. I think I’m going to have to get my abs stronger to maintain that position better.

Where are you located, Fletch?

Nacogdoches. East Texas.

And my ab strength wasn’t the problem, it was just focusing on staying solid and not over emphasizing the movement.

Does anyone know any good vids of raw powerlifters with good form who have long legs and a short torso? I’m thinking it’ll give me an idea of how much back angle and how much I need to sit back.

edit: IPF single-ply would probably be fine too.

I would also be very interested in any thoughts on the long femurs and short torso issue as i have exactly that and i am struggling for depth .

Long femurs. First, it helps to understand the problem, which can be so frustrating. For starters, fundamentally, in the squat the bar must remain over the base of support (i.e., in the space between the ball of your foot and your heel), or you tip over.

Holding constant everything else (bar position on your back, tibia and torso lengths, ankle and hip angles, etc.) the longer your femur, the further back the bar will travel (relative to your base of support) compared to where it would be if your femur was shorter. If you squat with an upright torso with any significant load, you get partway down and feel like you are going to fall backward, right? Right. Its physics.

What you often see with folks with femurs that are long, relative to the other two major levers (lower leg and torso), at least those who are not great squatters yet, is compensation for that backward bar travel with significant forward lean. (Frequently accompanied by some numbskull health club trainer in a polo shirt imploring them to keep an upright torso . . . shortly followed by the trainee adopting the leg press. . . .) Why do these folks lean forward? Because they are trying to keep the bar over the base of support, as they must. And that mechanical necessity leads to all sorts of other problems: (1) they cut the depth short, when they can no longer incline the trunk without rounding their backs (they sense they will tip over if they go “deeper,” which means the bar moving even further back); (2) worse, they compromise their back arch and round it; (3) with their trunks leaning so far forward and the hip angle getting tighter and tighter, their tight hamstrings win the stabilization battle with their erectors, and the pelvis tilts under (the so-called “butt wink”); (4) their heels come off the floor, because they are tryig to incline the shins (flex the ankle joint) in an effort to get the load back over their feet; or some combo of the above. All of it can be driven by the physical fact of femurs that are significantly longer than the tibia, torso, or both.

It can be dealt with, and good squat form achieved, for long-thighed folks, even those with femurs several inches out of whack relative to the other two major levers. Some combination of the following usually do the trick.

  1. Widening the stance, and/or turning out the feet. (Picture yourself squatting inside a 24" deep box, feet hip width, toes straight ahead - your butt hits the walls a quarter way down - but if you widen your stance and turn your toes out 45 degrees, you can squat without hitting the walls.) How wide and how much turnout you can use will be limited by your hip architecture and flexibility - for many people, at some point your hip joint will feel like it is “binding up” (because it is) and you won’t be able to get deeper. But some widening and turnout is almost always necessary for long-femured lifters.

  2. Heels in your shoes, and/or improving ankle mobility. Heels, as in Olympic lifting shoes, make your tibia effectively longer relative to your femur and torso lengths, so that any given degree of ankle flexion translates the load further forward, balancing out the excessive rearward translation that your long femurs create, and so allowing you to stay over the base of support without so much forward lean in the torso. More ankle mobility does the same thing. Its why Olympic liftes wear those shoes - they have to be deep, with upright torsos, or they dump the bar. You’ll squat better when you can push through the entire foot, from heel to ball, without doing the tippy-toe, plates under the heels thing.

  3. Improving your hip mobility (especially ham and glute groups). Unless you have a long torso to match your long femurs, you’re going to lean forward more than somebody with short femurs or evenly matched levers, because, again, you have to do so to keep the bar over your feet. That forward lean and increase hip angle magnifies the tension contest going on between your erectors (working to keep your lumbar arched and your pelvis tilted one way) and your hamstrings (which are getting stretched further and further and pulling on your pelvis in the opposite direction). To maintain your correct, tight neutral spine in the hole, you have to have enough flexibility in the hips to prevent your hamstrings from surpassing the tension your erectors and causing your butt (pelvis) to tuck under. Look up “Agile 8” - a hip mobility sequence on Joe DeFranco’s site, and the mobility and stretching exercises on the “Squat Rx” channel on YouTube or the site of the same name. Effective stuff that you can do everyday and see major improvements in a few weeks time.

The fix(es) are to (1) work on your glute-ham and ankle flexibility (goblet squats, squats holding onto a pole or the side of a power rack, Agile 8, etc.); (2) experiment with widening and turnout of the stance, finding the best tradeoff between whatever depth you need to achieve for your goals, balance, and hip mobility - somewhere between just outside the hips and sumo-ish wide will work best - find the sweet spot for your anatomy and goals; (3) if you can, and you know your tibias are short relative to you femurs, try WL shoes with a 3/4 to 1 inch heel; and (4) most important, practice squat technique as frequently as possible, going as low as possible, with the best possible form, sitting in the hole as deep as you can get without losing your arch. The best mobility exerise for the back squat is . . . the back squat. Just squat a lot, throughout the day, with or without barbell, working on getting deep, with an arch, and your feet flat on the floor. Improve a couple of millimeters every day, and in a month your solid form will be two inches plus deeper.

Since you’ll always have a little more forward torso lean than your short-femured brethen and sistren (which is fine, as long as you maintain a tight arch from ass to brainbucket), of course make sure you are making your erectors and hip extensors strong and mobile - good mornings, back extensions, RDLs, all the usual stuff that you should be doing anyway - and those too, done with absolutely no compromise of the tight neutral spine / arch.

Lots of people overcome this anatomical issue and become accomplished squatters, powerlifters, and Oly lifters. It is rarely a deal breaker for the persistent - just takes some understanding of the lift, and a few weeks to a couple months worth of dedicated effort to optimize your form. (The payoff is a lifetime of superior lower body strength.)

Hope that helps.

thanks very much for your description of point #2! i have been trying to figure out how extra heel raise helps me (i have next to no dorsiflexion and very long femurs). realized it shifted my balance forwards somehow preventing me falling on my butt - but yours is the most detailed explanation of this that i’ve seen.

IF your box is to depth AND you are touch and going from it rather than falling onto it THEN this shows you that you DO have the required flexibility and mobility to squat and your problem is one of activation.

i found this really helpful on muscular control of the pelvis:

You should post more cbc12. So when’s your first book about squatting coming out? lol

I’ve been tinkering with my form and what I’m liking at the moment is to have my feet flared a out a quite a bit, my heels about where the outside edge of my shoulders are and a medium hand width false grip kind of snaking the bar to pull my elbows forward. I’ve noticed the larger I am, the farther out I like to have my stance.