The squat is one of the best exercises to improve performance, period. Athletes incorporate the squat into their workout regimen because it increases strength and power of the entire lower extremity and significantly activates the core muscles. Unfortunately, performing the squat improperly can lead to significant injury.
Without getting into too much detail, there are 4 main reasons why a person may not be able to squat with good technique.
- Poor ankle mobility, primarily dorsiflexion
- Poor hip mobility, primarily hip flexion and external rotation
- Muscle weakness/muscle imbalance of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex
- Long femur (a high femur to torso length ratio or high femur to short tibia ratio)
Three of the above can be fixed with corrective exercise. This might shock you but there is no corrective exercise program that will lengthen the torso and shorten your femur (yes, that is sarcasm). Unless you are skilled at removing portions of the femur with a chainsaw you’re not going to fix #4.
Squatting with a long femur can lead to low back injury. In the image here you can see that the individual with the long femur has an increased forward lean. The excessive lean increases load at the low back.
I love the video here. If you move to the 3:40 mark the video shows an individual squatting with long femurs squatting.
It drives me bonkers when a provider (athletic trainer, personal trainer, therapist, etc.,) attempts to correct a client’s squat mechanics by forcing changes in items 1, 2, or 3 when the real problem is the unfixable number 4. Before you waste a client’s running them through a corrective exercise program make sure it is something that can be fixed.
If you have a long femur to short torso ratio you do have options!
- Widen the stance
- Externally rotate the legs
- Raise the heels
If you continue watching the video (around the 5:30 mark) you will notice how the individual’s squat mechanics are improved by making subtle changes in body positioning.
All of these options change the lever arms and evenly distribute the weight between the low back, knees, and feet. Thus, one joint is not excessively loaded more than the others. You can try adjusting one of the above items or mix and match any three of the above.