The Squat. Along with the deadlift, it is proverbial king of lower body exercises. The question often rises, “what variation of the squat is the best for me?” The most common variation of the movement is the back squat, where a barbell is loaded across the shoulders behind the neck. Proper execution of this exercise will result in dramatic gains in strength and muscle throughout your back, hips, and legs. However, improper execution of this lift (very common) can result in chronic knee and lower back issues, often times scaring people away from the squat forever. Also, spinal loaded exercises can be extremely dangerous for those with excessive spinal lordotic curve (many women).
What are the options? Lucky for you, there are many! The front squat, split squat, single leg squat, pistol squat, Bulgarian split squat, and sumo squat just to name a few are great alternatives to back loaded squats. In fact, you can load your legs just as much, if not more than a traditional back squat, along with simultaneously engaging more core muscle groups. More and more people are coming to the realization that non-traditional squats are the only way to go. In fact, many of the top trainers in the country have entirely eliminated back squats from their programming models.
In the following illustrations, we will demonstrate a few of these exercises with some pointers on how your body should align during varied squat patterns. A perfect Squat pattern will demonstrate parallel planes in the slope of the shin and torso. This will help pinpoint areas of concern while squatting, as well as narrow down which squat(s) suit your body type the best!
Shawna was kind enough to demonstrate squat form across several different squat modalities. Shawna is uber athletic, naturally muscular and strong, but suffers from what many woman suffer from. Tight hip flexors, and pretty significant lordosis in the lower back region. Heavy back squats are looked down on for women with these issues. The bearing of heavy weight in a vertical plane on the spine can be a recipe for disaster. Chronic and acute injuries are far too common to justify this exercise in many people; women in particular.
From the top of the squat, the angles of vectors demonstrate the natural tightness in Shawna’s hip flexors. This tightness is again demonstrated during the lift, as you can see the vectors cross slightly above her heard. In a perfect squat, these vectors would run parallel, never crossing.
Barbell Front Squat Perfect Vectors
This movement allows Shawna to properly align her vectors, resulting in near-perfect squat form.
Bulgarian Split Squat Perfect Vectors
Again, this exercise fits Shawna great. Perfect alignment of vectors.
Split Squat Vectors Cross below body
Coaching Cue: With this exercise, simply moving the front foot forward slightly would correct this movement pattern.
Pistol Squat from Box: Sharp crossing of vectors-
Coaching cues: Regress to a single squat to box, focus on core stability, loading the hip, keeping the knee behind the toe.
Sumo Squat: Vectors nearly parallel
Coaching Cues: Slightly sit back on the heals, focus on raising chest slightly.
Single Leg Squat to box Vectors nearly parallel.
Coaching Cues: Focus on flattening out the back, often times a light weight held goblet style can help activate back musculature to improve posture