T Nation

Squat problems

The other day I finally discovered what I was doing wrong on the squat. I lift in a new gym where the squat racks are in the corner and you can see your form from the side as well as the front. I’ve never been able to watch from the side view, and have always had lower back problems after squatting any real weight. What I found was that my pelvis rotates back at the bottom of the movement where I try to go deep and I can’t seem to get it to stay straight. On the way up, the pelvis rotates back to neutral first, then I can go up. I never saw this before and now think this may be my problem. I guess this sounds like tight hamstrings, but even after stretching out and getting really loosened up, it still does this. I can’t seem to lean back far enough, without falling over, to keep everything straight. I know that for real assistance, I need a good coach to actually watch me, but does anyone think this is maybe the reason for my back problems? Front squats are fine by the way… no problems with form or back pain… but every week I read the new issue of T-mag and feel like I need to be squatting. Please don’t say to do them in the smith rack. Damn peer pressure! Thanks in advance for any advice.

Take a look at Box squats great for teaching you correct form.

It’s NOT tight hamstrings! In fact, by stretching them you might even increased the problem. You must streghten them in fact!

Also work HARD on psoas and rectus femoris felxibility and make a conscious effort to keep your lower back arched throughout the movement. Only go as low as you can without rounding your lower back, increase range of motion as you get more flexible.

When you say “rotates back” do you mean the front is tilting forward and there is a hyper-lordosis occuring in the lowest portion of the movement? And as you come up that is one of the first things that corrects itself? I have a similar problem. I have attributed it to multiple things:

  1. poor flexibility in hip flexors - obvious remedy is stretching, strengthening in “new” range of motion, and avoiding situations that would leave them excessively tight

  2. Physiology - I’m not sure that I have good “weightlifting” levers for things like squats or pullups (damn 38" arms and 23" femurs)… I don’t think this would ever prevent me from working hard and lifting with safe form, but I find it very difficult to do squats with good form no matter how intensely i work on it. the technique of a good back squat has been elusive to me despite my vigilance… So I’ve made them less of a workout staple than something like deadlift variations, or various portions of olympic lifts. Hopefully some day I will find someone with a golden eye and they will point out precisely where I am going wrong in my technique, but until then I think my hamstrings really appreciate my efforts.

  3. I think some part of my proprioceptive/psychological linkup COULD be sending messages to my body that hitting that depth with my back up is going to result in me hurting myself… i don’t know about it, but i think its a possibilty.

I had the same problem; no matter how hard I tried I couldn?t go much lower than parallel.
My solution was doing the following as recommended by Mell Siff on the supertraining newsgroup.
Mell Siff recommends that you do the Overhead squat with emphasis on range of motion. This is a great way of increasing dynamic hip flexibility, as well as being a killer exercise if adequate loading is applied.
Secondly a very specific stretch: during your warm-up (use 40-60% of 1rm) arch your lower back by tilting your pelvis anteriorly and keeping your “chest up”. Then squat down until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings and/or adductors hold the stretch for a couple of seconds and repeat for several reps/sets. You arch to make it easier to feel when you can?t go any lower without rounding your lower back.
The great thing about this stretch is it is very specific and it is easy to monitor changes with regards to volume/intensity of the stretch.
Finally: are you sure your form is correct?
Get this checked out by a qualified coach (preferably an Olympic lifting coach, as I assume you aren?t power lifting)

Aside from getting my deadlift form sorted out, my ART/chiro (he’s a serious weightlifter) gave me some important pointers about getting my squat right.

a) Lighten the weight to focus on getting the movement and “feel” right. Stop the reps and sets when fatigue sets in, and leave it for the next session.

b) Lots of thigh, psoas and femoris stretches

c) On the way down make sure the knees move in the same line as the way your feet are pointing (not twisting inwards directly towards the front - even think of gently pushing the knees outward as you go up and down). You may not need to space your feet out apart as far as you think after trying this. And concentrate on pushing DOWN through the heels rather than UP with the back and legs.

d) Practice doing “gut sucks” as a way to strengthen the core muscle of the abs and lower back. That will help with reducing the pelvic tilt you experience. ChristianT posted a good program a little while ago for this.

e) Get yourself some Converse All-Star (US$35) flat shoes - they don’t have any cushion padding in the heels, they lie flat to the ground, and you can really “feel” the ground so you can focus on maintaining an even pressure across the sole or perhaps a little on the heel as you make your way up. They look daggy, but they are best training shoe I’ve ever found. Great for deadlifts too.

If you can get someone experienced to watch your form, they can demonstrate some finer points as well. Good coaches are hard to come by, but are worth the $ investment for a few sessions.

I’m not saying your form can’t be improved, but I must comment that I’m of the opinion that when one squats truly “ass to the floor”, some posterior rotation of the hips is unavoidable.

Thanks for all the comments. What happens is that the top of the pelvis rotates back and the bottom forward when I go down and then that same action reverses itself as soon as I start to go back up. I’d love to find a strength coach but I live in Vienna, Austria and haven’t the slightest idea where to start looking. As you all know, you can’t really see your form by yourself in technical lifts and a coach is necessary. Christain T… thanks for the advice and I know that my hamstrings need strengthening. How do you feel about the hip-emphasis and seperate quad-emphasis days for lower body work like Ian King has reccommended in the past? I’ll be doing the hip day first in the week and I think I’ll start off right away with your latest article on developing hamstring strength. Any specifics you would recommend for this individual case? I appreciate any advice you could give and would like to thank everybody else for their input as well.

One more question…
Could this have something to do with the fact that I have a lot of back pain with a lot of abdominal exercises. Would that also be due to the psoas being too tight? Thanks again in advance.

There may be something else going on here. How wide is your stance? If you’re going narrow with the stance, your stomach may be interfering with your thighs, causing you to round your back to get depth. If you suspect this may be happening, widen your stance a bit and think of sinking down between your legs. Working on sucking your stomach in may help soe as well. Don’t know if this is the case, but thought I’d throw it out there any way.

I’m sure my form isn’t 100% but from what I’ve been reading, especially in BRAWN which promotes the 20 rep squat as the foundation for any bulking routine, going beyond parallel is considered quite dangerous and doesn’t really help that much.

I’m with brinder here, I think your stance is too narrow. GO WIDE!! and push your stomach out tighten the lower back and break at the hips first and keep your head up. I truley think it boils down to your form. What I described is the west side style and it works look it up for more info.

Sorry Raul, you are wrong. There is no problem in going below parallel as long as squatting techniqe is correct. There are wayyyyy to many myths about squatting depth, rounding back, involving hip flexors being dangerous, free weights being dangerous, high protein destroying your kidneys, creatine causing cramps and the lists go on. Check out Mell Siff?s fitness fallacies, it will set you straight!

Thanks again for all the help, everybody. I do have better luck when I go wide, but I still can’t get very far down without the back rounding. I guess I’ll start with CT’s advice on those weak-ass hamstrings of mine. Any other advice is welcome…

Gary E, I know it’s a ride, but maybe contact someone at the Olympic Training Center in Igles, just outside Innsbruck. There should be someone there that can help you. When I get a moment of free time later on tonight I’ll try to help you with your squat technique. It can be fixed with a little work.

I agree with Ike. I have been making sure to go as deep as possible with my squats to ensure that I don’t get red lighted at my next squat meet and some rounding of the lower back is unavoidable if you go deep enough(unless you are a freak with perfect leverages for squatting). Work on strengthening your posterior chain and your back will be fine. I reccomend good mornings, hyper extensions with band resistance, and stiff leg deads.

Box Squats Box Squats and more Box Squats

Thanks for the tip. I’ll try to look the place up, but I have to admit that I need to do a it of pride swallowing beforehand. My weak ass in an olympic training center asking for advice just seems embarassing. Where do you live? Somewhere here in Europe?
Good mornings give me the exact same problems as the squats do, but I can do the stiff-legged deadlifts fine. I don’t know why that is, but it is. Also, I’m too short to use any of the benches for box squats. I’ve tried them, but my stumpy little legs don’t let me even get to parallel. Keep the advice coming in everybody, this is helping more than I imagined. Thanks all…

Gary, what you seem to describe sounds like a round back squat. Nothing wrong with performing this movement unless you are trying to max out. Ask yourself why you need to go down so low and force your lower back to round. There are some lifters due to anthropometric reasons who cannot perform full deep squats without the pelvis rotating somewhat. Try squatting with the heels elevated and see how you go. Raising the heels may distribute more of the load onto the knees and less on the hips thus allowing your thighs to go down further than otherwise while maintaining a high chest. Note: There are many elite Weightlifters who lift with elevated heels.

I’ve tried to do it with elevated heels and that does seem to help a bit with the balance. This is mostly a pride issue when I get down to it. I’m only 29 years old and don’t like the idea that I can’t do something physically. The gym is my second home and I hate to be limited there. I injured my back about 5 years ago and have had problems with squats and bent over rows since then. I don’t know why, but the olympic style lifts are fine for my back. Just when you think you have a good base of knowledge, a new issue of T-mag comes out and it’s study time all over again. It never ends…
Thanks again, guys, for all the replies.