Most coaches have a handful of mobility and motor control drills that they can employ to quickly fix most athletes squats. But every so often, that train wreck squatter shows up. Knee valgus, foot collapse, low back rounding, and nowhere near full depth! When you watch this athlete squat, its hard to even know where to start!
Next time you see this type of squat, try one of the following drills which will often rapidly help the immature squat get back on track.
Squat Fix 1: Bottoms Up Squat
The athlete starts standing upright and then bends forward, reaching his or her hands to the ground while the hips remain high. With the hands remaining on the ground, the athlete then drops their hips down with his or her knees going outside of the arms, placing them in a position similar to the bottom of a squat. The coach then instructs the athlete to lift their hands off the ground, cues them into a more neutral spine position, and instructs the athlete to rise. While this will be far from a perfect squat, the athlete will be forced to avoid valgus collapse (the arms will block the knees in the bottom), will be cued towards better spine positioning, and will begin learning to balance deep in the squat.
Squat Fix 2: Sitting Squats
Similar to the bottoms up in that the athlete starts the squat at the bottom, the sitting squat will quickly help athletes learn to be comfortable and stable deep in the squat. The athlete starts by sitting on an appropriately heighted medicine ball or box. The coach will help the athlete get positioned so that their feet and knees are positioned correctly and then cue the athlete into proper spine positioning. The athlete is then instructed to press their legs into the ground enough to feel tension but not enough to rise off the ball. After holding this for a second, the coach then has the athlete rise SLIGHTLY off the ball and hold for a few seconds before sitting back down and repeating the above steps. There will be considerable muscle tension in the thighs and hips during this drill, teaching the athlete rapidly how to load and maintaining position in the bottom of a squat.
Squat Fix 3: Wall Facing Squats
Wall facing squats have two purposes: prevent excessive trunk lean, prevent excessive spinal flexion during squats, and preventing excessive forward knee movement. The athlete will face a wall with his or her feet a few inches away and then squat. If the athlete has any of the above faults then the wall will provide immediate feedback of poor technique (in the form of hitting their head or knees on the wall!).
Squat Fix 4: Goblet Squats
Goblet squats are perhaps the most valuable squat variation for improving squat form. By holding a weight anterior to the body the athlete’s center of gravity is shifted forward, allowing the athlete to find anterior to posterior balance more easily as they squat. A wide variety of squat faults from lack of depth, to spine flexion, to rising onto their toes can be immediately fixed with the goblet squat.
For most athletes, it is the typically the first exercise I go to when correcting squat form and I routinely program it in the warm ups for my athletes.
While individual joints and muscles will often need to be addressed to perfect a squat the above exercises will often provide rapid results for the train wreck squat! If used to get the athlete performing a decent (although still far from perfect) squat, athletes will often figure out the remaining fixes within a few short weeks of working through these movements.