T Nation

Squat Form (Female Friend - Getting Frustrated)


#1

Hi,

I've posted this in the female forum as only my friend (Helen) seems to have this issue. I've not met anyone who has the same problem so it could just be a newbie's issue. Would be good to get your input:

So me and three friends (including Helen) moved in together on the 1st of Aug. We've been training for a few years now and Helen joined us. Monkey see Monkey do (not that I'm complaining). We are doing WS4SB routine, just fits with everyone's schedule.

It's been near 10 weeks and we still can't get her to squat near parallel. She's a good 6 inches above. When she gets to about 6 inches off parallel the only movement she does is rock forward. She's a complete beginner to weights and has progressed massively in just 10 weeks except for this one thing that has not budged. Her strength has improved in the squat. Used to be just bar and now bar + 20kg. Other wights are up too, DB Press, Bench, Deads you name it climbing and climbing fast.

I've checked:

  • Flexibility; she's got no issues there
  • Goblet squat and she's perfectly fine
  • Body weight squats and she starts to lose balance (fall backwards unless she tilts forward but that's what we're trying to prevent to get depth).
  • Box squats; perfectly fine
  • Gone with a wider stance, spread the floor knees out all that shabang and still depth is lacking.

As soon as the bar is put on her back she just can't go down to parallel without falling backwards, hence leans forward to accommodate.

Has anyone had this issue or knows the problem muscles and thus recommend a solution? Is it core, glutes, flexors etc...

She's very determined, making tons of progress elsewhere and cleaning her diet. She's a girl in OK shape (decently lean) but needs to add muscle. I'm worried that 10 weeks on and she still can't squat to parallel is going to frustrate her too much if it continues much longer, so much that it would lead to a silly decision.

Thanks in advance.


#2

[quote]TrapsLatsnHat wrote:
Hi,

I’ve posted this in the female forum as only my friend (Helen) seems to have this issue. I’ve not met anyone who has the same problem so it could just be a newbie’s issue. Would be good to get your input:

So me and three friends (including Helen) moved in together on the 1st of Aug. We’ve been training for a few years now and Helen joined us. Monkey see Monkey do (not that I’m complaining). We are doing WS4SB routine, just fits with everyone’s schedule.

It’s been near 10 weeks and we still can’t get her to squat near parallel. She’s a good 6 inches above. When she gets to about 6 inches off parallel the only movement she does is rock forward. She’s a complete beginner to weights and has progressed massively in just 10 weeks except for this one thing that has not budged. Her strength has improved in the squat. Used to be just bar and now bar + 20kg. Other wights are up too, DB Press, Bench, Deads you name it climbing and climbing fast.

I’ve checked:

  • Flexibility; she’s got no issues there
  • Goblet squat and she’s perfectly fine
  • Body weight squats and she starts to lose balance (fall backwards unless she tilts forward but that’s what we’re trying to prevent to get depth).
  • Box squats; perfectly fine
  • Gone with a wider stance, spread the floor knees out all that shabang and still depth is lacking.

As soon as the bar is put on her back she just can’t go down to parallel without falling backwards, hence leans forward to accommodate.

Has anyone had this issue or knows the problem muscles and thus recommend a solution? Is it core, glutes, flexors etc…

She’s very determined, making tons of progress elsewhere and cleaning her diet. She’s a girl in OK shape (decently lean) but needs to add muscle. I’m worried that 10 weeks on and she still can’t squat to parallel is going to frustrate her too much if it continues much longer, so much that it would lead to a silly decision.

Thanks in advance.[/quote]

Can you post a video by any chance?

Maybe a narrower stance (about shoulder width) and get her to point her toes slightly outwards. Really emphasize for her to keep her chest up and push with her heels throughout the movement. Another idea would be front squats because it’ll force her to sit back more and keep her upper body tight in order to keep the weight up in position.

Before increasing the weight she should feel comfortable doing it without weight so she doesn’t develop bad habits from the beginning. Having her sit down in the bottom position is also a good idea so she can feel more stability and know where she needs to be.


#3

Have her squat from the bottom up. Get her ATG in the bottom position. This may require flaring of feet, and changing width of stance. Find out where her hip capsule can go deepest with spine extended.

Now you can add a light bar, partner assisted, and have her squat it up. Take the bar, and reset her in the bottom. When she crushes this every time, start adding in the negative, top to bottom. Voila.

She likely just doesn’t know how to descend, like a cat stuck in the tree. Learn from the botttom up.


#4

Hi Bron,

Thanks for the response. I have the ‘coaches eye’ app so will post a video as soon as I can. I’ve found that a narrow stance leads to greater forward lean. We got her to go wider and focus on sitting down (rather than back) - power lifter style, keeping knees behind toes if possible. It helped ever so slight, but still not where we want to be. Completely agree with the comment about not learning bad habits.

Thanks again, poise for video :slight_smile:


#5

possibly…
weak lower back (overall erector spinae)
inhibited anterior tibialis
overactive psoas

And beginners just don’t know how to fire their core correctly…

don’t load a weight on her back if you don’t know wtf you’re doing.


#6

Hey, I’m not any kind of coach or PT, but foward lean in the squat seems like an effort to shift the load to the middle back. It’s like the body trying to turn the squat into a good morning. To paraphrase Dan John, rather than a deep knee bend, the body is going into a hinge.

In order to squat the glutes and abs/hip flexors have to work equally to “balance” or stabilize the pelvis. When the pelvis is stable, the legs can externally rotate. To the observer this kinda looks like the knees pushing out to the sides. But if you are doing it right, it should feel different. The glutes contract to drive the pelvis forward and “turn” the thighs and knees “out.” Then you squat in between the legs, instead of bending over on top of the legs. When you do it right, it feels really natural, and you don’t need to think about it. You rotate you knees out, drive your hips forward and your head back and power up. It’s second nature, and you even get off the couch this way.

But when something is weak, your body finds a different way to move around. For example, instead of rotating out, weak glutes allow the knees to shift way forward, which results in big forward lean and knee and back problems. Weak abs or hip flexors reinforce the bad movement pattern. Then, every lift just overloads the relatively “strong” muscles while under loading the relatively weak muscles. This makes the movement worse, which just continues the cycle.

This happened to me. After an injury, I “forgot” how a squat was supposed to feel. I stopped “screwing my feet into the ground” and forgot how to really generate tension in my hips. This caused me to start leaning forward, and using more back and less hips. This bad position took emphasis off my abs, so after awhile I “forgot” how to use my hip flexors and abs to stay upright. Which lead to more forward lean, weaker glutes, worse technique, and on and on.

If your friend is a true beginner, she may not know how to really “use” all her muscles to set up for the squat. She may not know exactly how things “should” feel because she has no experience trying to feel or flex her deep abdominal muscles or her abductors.

I know this was the case for me, and I consider myself an experienced lifter. It got so bad, I’d box squat and when I sat on the box my feet would come off the floor! I just couldn’t make my body squat right. I’ve tried all kinds of stuff over the past couple months and lots of it didn’t work, but I’ve been making progress lately with a few easy but “targeted” moves.

As a warmup before the weights and as often as I can stand outside the gym
Clamshells x10
Glute Bridges x10
Seated Psoas Holds x10

These moves are easy, but really target the muscles I was having trouble with.

After a couple weeks I began to “feel” my glutes and hips again and added Peterson Step Ups and Terminal Knee Extensions. These two moves really taught me how to use my hips, glutes and quads together. They are pretty easy to do, but really zero in the muscles on the front of my hip (where the pockets are in a pair pants). They taught me to “feel” muscles I had forgotten you to flex.

I kind of rambled on for a minute, I hope this makes some kind of sense.


#7

if everything else seems to be ok check her ankles. I have a hard time keeping my chest up in a squat because my ankles are not very flexible(working on it currently). This tightness/lack of flexibility usually causes the knees to not be able to go far enough forward over the toes, and leaning forward in the squat is the bodys way of compensating to keep from falling backwards.


#8

Good point GetiiUp! If there is tightness anywhere, it will mess up the whole chain.

Lately I’ve been using a band to pull my foot side to side and stretch my calves and rotate my ankles. I’ve been making progress lately, but I didn’t really think much about the calf stretches.

Have you been using any exotic stretches or little known mobility drills?


#9

[quote]FlatsFarmer wrote:
Good point GetiiUp! If there is tightness anywhere, it will mess up the whole chain.

Lately I’ve been using a band to pull my foot side to side and stretch my calves and rotate my ankles. I’ve been making progress lately, but I didn’t really think much about the calf stretches.

Have you been using any exotic stretches or little known mobility drills?

[/quote]

Two that i like are-1. squatting with your back against a wall, with your feet as close to the wall as possible without your heels lifting when you go into a full depth squat. Once in squat position, use the wall to push against and move your knees/shins forward over your toes and hold for 15-20 seconds and release. Once you get more mobile you will be able to hold for longer each time. and #2. squat into position and rest a barbell across the tops of your legs at the knee. Use the barbell to put pressure on the knees, sending them forward and helping raise your torso at the same time. Hold for a short time, rest and repeat.

Try these and let me know what you think. There is a banded distraction stretch that i havent tried yet, may look into that soon as well to see if its any better.


#10

firstly, thanks all for the comments, taking them all on board. We shifted focus to the deadlift for a little while. Largely because we had been squatting twice a week for a couple months and personally I love the deadlift.

I need to get the video of a friend so will try and do that soon so you can all take a look.

I’m not sure I mentioned this in my first post, but she can do a normal body weight squat just fine and even goblet squats…the form or the lack thereof occurs when the bar/weight is behind her rather than in front or simply not present. Again, a video will probably be more useful than anything else so, I’ll get on it.

cheers.


#11

Have you tried box squats?

Sometimes people lack some confidence with going down feeling like they will fall back. The box gives confidence. Maybe start with it higher up and slowly lower it down until she gets to parallel.


#12

Right all advice has been taken on board. We’ve worked on her knees a lot. She used to cave in (valgus) but now hasn’t. But more importantly i have a video, attached. She’s folding forwards with weight she doesn’t feel is heavy and when it’s bodyweight and no bar she has perfect form. Anyway here is the vid


#13

Attached.


#14

Is the video not attached? any suggestions if not?


#15

From what I can see her glutes aren’t firing at the right time/at all - the knees are moving before her backside is pushing her over and tilting her upper body.

I’d suggest a combination of glute training and activation before squats, with a little core work (if not in there already) to help the body function.

HOWEVER, I’d like confirmation from others more knowledgeable than me before doing anything.

Also, another point is that her first rep she seems to be pushing in a straight line from ankle to hip. I’ve always felt that squats are improved if I focus on keeping the shin straight (in a front-to-back plane, rather than horizontal i.e. if I am looking at a squatter front-on, their shins look vertical).

Course, with same disclaimer as above and also the fact I’m studying a woman sideways on with my head tilted at 90 degrees!

Good luck with it though - it’s pretty empowering when things start to work.


#16

Why force to her to back squat? Obliviously she has some issues . Why not try one leg squats? Its easier on the lower back, provides better stability, and in my opinion targets the quads and hamstrings more effectively. I train alot of young women and we no longer back squat. Size and Strength of the legs has been outstanding. Just a thought.


#17

Hey Slim, thanks for your response. The reason we do back squats is the reason anyone does back squats or deadlift or bench, they’re the kings and we want to improve on them. No one squats perfectly firstime, we practise and improve.

Im struggling to isolate what is causing her to not get the depth. You suggest strength where exactly do you think it is? Or is it all round strength?

If the latter then i guess we should do as you’ve suggested; single leg work. Funnily enoigh I’ve already got her doing that on both leg days. It’s what i think helped her knees from caving in.


#18

Take the weight off the bar. Perhaps even take the bar off her back. Get a box that is proper depth (at least parallel). Have her learn how to sit back, touch the box, and fire up. This will teach her the proper movement pattern.


#19

Thanks all… sounds like regression is the best way forward.

Would love to hear from anyone who had this issue and what they did for how long before thsy saw improvements.


#20

Hard to tell from this angle, but it looks like her knees are caving in and not pushing out. Interesting note; If you look at her shadow on the floor you can see that her knees are not aligned with her feet therefore I think her knees still cave. Obviously depends on where the light is coming from but that caught my attention.

Sometimes when people are cued “spread the floor” their knees actually cave in because they are focusing on pushing the floor apart with their feet instead of pushing the knees out. Her stance width looks ok, but she needs to push those knees out MORE.

If she can’t do that, there are a few things to consider:

Have her turn her feet a tiny bit out more; a bit closer to 45 degrees and keep her knees aligned with her feet as she squats down. Tibia doesn’t have to be perfectly vertical but knees should be in line with her feet, and focus to not let them cave. This should allow her to go deeper without losing balance and without too much forward lean.

If she still can’t do that, her hamstrings and/or adductors are not flexible enough. She would have to train her legs in other ways while working on flexibility.

If she does have the flexibility but still can’t do it, it means that she is weak in the end range of the motion so she would have to go back to bodyweight and/or goblet squats making sure to do the correct form and build her strength from there.

She has long legs relative to her torso so a wider stance is more natural for her. If she still can’t hit parallel or slightly below with correct form, a 5 lbs plate under the heels or olympic lifting shoes might be what she needs to reach desired depth.