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Squat Movement Analysis

Muscles must act together or imbalances will occur.

Bar | Free Weight | Legs | Squats

Nancy Arnold
Bud Gibson

In this squat analysis (Quicktime ipod compatible, 12MB; Google streaming flash video), we look at Bud Gibson's and my (Nancy's) squat form from the front.

As Gibson and I progressed through the medium week (75 and 80% of 1RM) and the high week (80 and 85% of 1RM) I began to develop knee pain on the lateral aspect of my left patella.  Viewing the squat from the front can give some good insight as to why.  I also thought it would be interesting to see how completely different we perform the same movement.

As you watch me (Nancy) complete my 5th set of 5 reps there are certain imbalances that become quite clear.  I begin the squat with a good stance-feet and knees pointed forward.  Repetition #1 is pretty smooth because I haven't dropped down low enough yet.  In rep #2 you begin to see the arch of my right foot drop towards the floor.  In rep #3 the imbalances become even more clear.  My arch once again drops to the floor and this, in turn, pulls my knee in toward the midline of my body (adduction).  This is increasingly more apparant in reps #4 and rep #5.  The adduction of my right knee makes it virtually impossible for my right hip to stabilize properly.  I therefore involuntarily shift my weight to the left leg so I can ascend out of the squat.  This is captured quite nicely in the photo  at the left.   You can clearly see that  my weight is shifted and my left leg is doing much of the work.

These  movement  imbalances point to specific weak muscles and tight muscles.   They are:

IMBALANCE WEAK MUSCLES TIGHT MUSCLES
Arch dropping to floor Posterior tibialis Gastrocnemius
  Anterior tibialis Peroneals
Knee Adductiion Gluteus Medius Adductors
Weight shift Gluteus Maximus Gastrocnemius
  Gluteus Medius Adductors
  Transverse Abdominus Iliopsoas

Let's look at  Gibson's squat.   His stance from the beginning clearly shows what is tight on Bud.  His feet are turned out and his knee's are pointing outward (abducting).  The photo at the left shows this tightness.   As you watch Gibson complete his 5th set of five squats there is only one other imbalance that occurs.  As Bud is transitioning from the lowest point in his squat and beginning to ascend his arches tend to flatten (watch his feet carefully).  This is not surprising given the tightness in his hips and this is consistent throughout his set. 

Gibson's tight muculature indicates it's own set of imbalances.  They are:

IMBALANCE WEAK MUSCLES TIGHT MUSCLES
Feet turned out Gluteus medius Soleus
    Hamstring
    Piriformis
Knees abduct Gluteus medius Hamstring
    Piriformis
Feet Flatten Posterior tibialis Gastrocnemius
  Gluteus medius Peroneals

   Obviously both Gibson and I have some work to do to correct our imbalances.  This shows the importance of neuromuscular efficiency and how tight or weak muscles can affect more than just the joint they act upon. 

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» In the style of Eric Cressey from Michigan Muscle Boy
Nancy has produced an excellent analysis of our very different squat routines. But, it seems I've had some of these issues all my life. I wonder what I can really do about it. [Read More]

» Bodybuilding Periodization — New 1RMs in Bench, Deadlift, and Squat from Muscle Ventures Podcasts
We made some new 1RMs, and our form was generally better. As usual, there is continued room for improvement. Overall, we think our periodization training program is working for us. [Read More]

Comments (6)

Nancy, that's an excellent write-up, and I'll undoubtedly be referring to it in the future. One quick question : would you suggest stretching the known tight muscles (and only those) prior to squatting?

It'll be very interesting to watch the effects of targetting the weak areas.

Gibson, excellent point. Even thought we all have the same basic structural anatomy many factors play into the biomechanics of that anatomy. Factors such as height, muscle origin and insertion, and even ligament and tendon "placement" on the bones. Even slight differences in all of these can change the biomechanics dramatically. That said, getting the tight muscles looser and the weak muscles stronger can help ease stress on the joints and help the body move more efficiently. The goal being to get as close to "ideal" as possible. Some may reach ideal and most probably will not simply because of biomechanics.

Scott, I would stretch only tight muscles prior to squatting (and after proper warmup) and do a complete stretch after exercise.

Nancy, I'm thinking we need to continue the series by focusing on some specific exercises we are both doing.

So, as we discussed yesterday, I think this could become a series. I'll post our 1RMs today.

Have you guys tried box squatting? I think it would really help both of you. It would teach you to sit back and give you a target to hit to make sure you are hitting depth.

Stinn, we actually have the Cressey video on getting mobility up. We are definitely thinking of box squats for our next effort at getting the squat down. Based on everyone's comments, it's clear we have some remedial work to do.

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