The squat is a simple movement, but requires complex interaction between multiple muscle groups to be performed correctly. A small imbalance in strength, control or movement in any area can have a flow on affect impacting other areas.
The squat is a both a great exercise but also a useful assessment tool to highlight areas that may be putting you at risk of injury or holding you back from performing to your potential. For example, your squat technique may indicate that you have poor control of your core muscles. This predisposes you to injury during squatting as well as any other lifting or weighted movements, as well as in sustained postures during your daily activities, work or sport.
While it is best to have your technique assessed by a physiotherapist, there are some common mistakes you can assess and begin to correct yourself. This blog will discuss the two most common dysfunctions seen by physiotherapists and how to begin to correct these dysfunctions to correct squat technique.
Assessing your own squat is difficult, so use a mirror or get someone to observe you completing the movement.
This is best observed from the front. You may find you shift your weight more to one side throughout the squat movement. This increases the risk of overload and injury due to the imbalance of movement.
Unequal weight bearing can result from a number of dysfunctions, but is commonly it is caused by:
Weakness – If the shift occurs early in the movement, this indicates that it is more likely to be caused by weakness in the hip stabilising muscles, the gluteals. This causes a shift to the stronger leg, as your body compensates for the weaker side.
You can start correcting this by completing single leg strengthening exercises. This will highlight the weakness as well as allow you to improve stability and strength. Single leg exercises isolate the weaker side to avoid the stronger side compensating.
Decreased range of motion – If the shift occurs towards the bottom of the movement, it is more likely to be a result of reduced range of motion of the joints in the lower limb. With stiffness in joints, the body shifts to the side with more flexibility or movement available to complete the squat.
This is commonly a reduced range in the ankle, but can also be the knee or hip. Reduced ankle range can be a result of joint stiffness, which needs physiotherapy treatment to be corrected. You can start decrease the effect of short calf muscles on the joint by completing calf stretches.
Incorrect Spinal Posture
The position of the spine is best observed from the side. Throughout the squat movement, the spine should stay in it’s neutral position, from your lower back up to your neck. Commonly the upper back curves and the shoulders hunch forward, also resulting in a forward curving of the lower back. This can lead to a number of issues, including back pain, shoulder injury and tension headaches.
Loss of a neutral spine can result from a number of dysfunctions, but is commonly it is caused by:
Upper back stiffness – A stiffness through the upper back joints results it difficulty getting to and holding an upright posture.
Complete upper back mobility exercises on a roller to ensure that your spine has good movement available.
Upper back weakness – Weakness in the muscles that control posture, the shoulder blades and upper back results in difficulty holding correct posture, especially once weight is added.
Complete ‘pulling’ exercises, such as rows to improve upper back strength and shoulder blade control.
Poor core control – The position of the lower back has a significant impact on the overall spinal position in a squat. A lack of control and stability of the core and trunk muscles translates to a lack of control through the rest of the body.
Core exercises, such as planks, will assist to improve activation and control of trunk stabilising muscles.
While some of these dysfunctions are easy to fix, others are harder to assess and correct. A thorough physiotherapy assessment will identify dysfunctions and provide treatment and exercises to correct them, preventing injuries in the future.
If you notice any of the above during your squats, have pain during squatting, or need advice on any of the above please do not hesitate to book an appointment.
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a popular exercise system developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1920’s to improve strength, flexibility and stability of key muscles in the body. The focus is on correct core activation, isolation of stabilizing muscles and joint stability.
Who benefits from doing Pilates?
Pilates has commonly been stereotyped as only for women. However, all of us would benefit from doing regular Pilates. Everyone needs stability for maintaining good posture (especially those working in desk jobs!), preventing or managing injuries both acute and chronic, as well as improving performance in our chosen sport.
Research has found that Clinical Pilates is effective in reducing pain and disability in several musculoskeletal conditions including low back pain, neck pain and ankylosing spondylosis (a type of arthritis).
What is the difference between Clinical Pilates and Pilates at the gym?
Pilates classes at the gym, run by Pilates instructors, often have 20-25 clients and are a great source of global strengthening and superficial core work. Clinical Pilates classes are run by Physiotherapists for smaller numbers of clients, normally 5-6. This allows closer personalised attention to ensure correct technique and modification of exercises to tailor a program to an individual’s needs. Clinical Pilates is more beneficial for enhancing your deep core activation as well as better for managing specific injuries. If you are new to Pilates, it is recommended to start with a Clinical Pilates program.
What do we REALLY mean by activating your ‘core’?
The ‘core’ is complex. It involves two groups of muscles, one working to stabilise the spine while the other muscles create movement. It is these principles of core activation that underlie the core program in Clinical Pilates.
Why the diaphragm? The diaphragm not only controls our breathing but is directly involved in regulating our abdominal pressure. If we hold our breath, we increase the pressure in our abdomen, providing stabilisation for the lumbar spine. However, this is not practical, as we can’t hold our breath forever! Therefore, we must be able to activate our other deep core muscles to allow relaxed breathing.
Therefore, you may have the misconception that your core is strong because you do lots of ab work at the gym, which is not necessarily the case. The abs can be strong without the deeper core activating correctly, predisposing you to injury.
What do we do in Clinical Pilates at BeachLife Physio?
Our physios run private or two-on-one reformer classes, as well as small group mat work classes, with a maximum of five people.
A reformer is a piece of Pilates equipment that uses springs to provide resistance. The reformer can be used in many positions to work specific muscle groups as well as training the body to maintain a neutral position.
Mat classes mostly use body weight resistance in a wide variety of functional positions to target specific muscle groups. We use different pieces of equipment to further challenge stability and specific muscles. These classes focus on core activation, pelvic stability, posture and balance. It is more difficult to maintain neutral spine in mat work, and for this reason we recommend that beginners ad those with current pain start with reformer classes. Classes are tailored to your individual needs and an exercise program will be developed by a Physiotherapist to focus on YOU!
If you are interested in starting Pilates, please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss what class options would suit you best.
Call us on 9970 7982, or alternatively book online at beachlifephysio.com.
Cruz-Díaz, D., Martínez-Amat, A., Osuna-Pérez, M.C., De la Torre-Cruz, M.J., Hita-Contreras F. (2016). Short- and long-term effects of a six-week clinical Pilates program in addition to physical therapy on postmenopausal women with chronic low back pain: a randomized controlled trial. Disability Rehabilitation, 38 (13):1300-8.
Rydeard, R., Leger, A. and Smith D. (2006). Pilates- Based Therapeutic Exercise: Effect on Subjects With Nonspecific Chronic Low Back Pain and Functional Disability: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 36(7):472-84.
Wells, C., Kolt, G., Marshall, P., Hill, B. and Bialocerkowski A. (2014). The Effectiveness of Pilates Exercise in People with Chronic Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review. PLOS One, 9(7).