Editors Note: This is the fourth post of our series designed to help you run for a lifetime. If you're tired of dealing with injuries every time you start running and wonder if you're even capable of running pain-free, this series is for you. You can find Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, in the hyperlinked text.
Standard #4: Efficient Squatting Technique Today we're tackling one of the running community's most feared movements and exercises: The Squat. Here's the scoop: solid squatting technique means you have full access to the powerhouse that is your hindquarters, namely, your glutes and hamstrings. Without these dogs, you're most likely leaving the bulk of your performance capabilities as a runner on the table, while simultaneously frying your lumbar spine and knees. Contrary to popular belief, good squatting technique actually saves your knees from increased wear and tear. The next time someone tells you to stop squatting, ask them how you're going to get on and off the toilet, in and out of your car, up and down from your chair at work, and up and down your stairs at home. Bad squat form ruins your knees. Quality squats help you harness the natural power and stability your lower body was designed to provide you. We'll use the squat today to reveal two things: First, we'll discover any mobility or strength limits you may have. Second, this test will show you the how well you own an efficient squatting pattern. The ability to squat efficiently and repeatedly has direct implications on your ability to maintain your posture and cadence throughout your run. If your glutes, hamstrings, and trunk stabilizers fail you in our work capacity test, the likelihood of you keeping good posture and running form throughout the entirety of your training run or on race day is little to none. Our first test is the basic Air Squat.
Set-Up Start in standing, with your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. Your toes should point straight ahead. If your feet are turned out more than 10 degrees and you can't point your toes in the same direction your body is facing, you've got issues, man. If your toes point towards each other and you can't correct that position, that's a fault that needs fixing, too. Activation Squeeze your butt hard and imagine you are screwing your hips into the ground, with your right thigh rotating clock-wise and your left thigh rotating counter-clockwise. You should feel your hamstrings turning on and your arches lifting up. Raise your arms in front of your body before you descend into the squat to counter-balance your lower body. Execution Driving your knees outward (and keeping your heels AND toes on the ground), pull yourself down into the squat position, with your hips dropping below the plane of the top of your knees, and your knees safely behind your toes. Note in the picture the depth of a quality Air Squat-your hip crease needs to break the plane of your knees and your knees need to stay behind your toes. Also, note that your back needs to stay straight throughout your squat. If you're struggling with one of the faults we cover below, it's a good bet you haven't properly turned on your abs and glutes before squatting. Without good spine position and bracing, the power output of your lower body will drop significantly. COMMON FAULTS Knees Forward Knees forward (over your toes) is a recipe for disaster in your knees. If you find yourself in this position, stand back up, go through the set-up and bracing sequence and prioritize keeping your shins vertical as you pull yourself down into the squat. Valgus Knees If your knees look like they're in danger of kissing each other at the bottom of your squat, start from the top again. Most likely, you need to squeeze those abs and glutes harder at the top and work hard to drive your knees out as you drop into your squat. Duck Feet Feet spinning out and pointing right and left instead of straight ahead is another problem associated with the valgus knee fault. In addition to driving your knees out, if you have this fault you need to prioritize keeping your arches up and your toes down on the ground while you squat. TEST NUMBER TWO (a.k.a. The Fire Squat Test) Our second test is the Tabata Squat Test. This test is based on the Tabata interval training protocol, 20 seconds of work interspersed with 10 seconds of rest, for 8 rounds, 4 minutes total. The idea here is making the invisible visible: when we add metabolic load to a simple and safe pattern like the Air Squat, we can reveal limits in mobility at the ankle and hip as well as any favoring of the right or left side as the metabolic load on your body increases. Passing this test means that you can perform a minimum of 10 quality Air Squats in every 20-second work interval, for 4 minutes total. If you can do more, go for it-we want you to push yourself- but your count should never drop below 10 during the test. Perform the test like this: 1. Thoroughly warm-up. This is an intense test. You need to be hot and sweaty before you start the test. Jumping rope, push-ups, burpees, air squats, lunges, and any mobility drills you want to add in are appropriate before you start the test. 2. Use a video camera or partner to watch you, as well as a clock or timer. The test goes fast so make sure you're ready to keep time. 3. Keep your feet pointed straight ahead. Feet spinning out, knees collapsing in, partial depth squats, don't count. 4. Start the first 20-second interval. Get as many good squats as you can manage in the first 20 seconds. 5. Rest for 10 seconds. Make sure to take a few good breaths, your next 20-second work interval is coming up quick. 6. Continue this pattern for 4 minutes total. Did you throw down 10 quality Air Squat in every interval for 4 minutes? Nice work! Work this routine into your regular workouts and try to achieve more reps each time. There are few better ways to ingrain a good squat pattern than through the Tabata protocol. This is also a nice spot check to make sure you own the requisite mobility and motor control to squat well, repeatedly. Closing Thoughts It's easy to live as a runner and forget that you're an athlete. Running is a controlled fall in 3 dimensions. If you struggled to complete a full Air Squat or pooped out or started cheating during the Tabata Squat protocol, you need to start squatting with some regularity. And if you struggled to meet the standard in this controlled environment, there's little doubt you operating at less than full capacity when you're running in training or competition outdoors. Don't let that be the end of the story! If you can't solve this standard on your own, we're here to help! Click here to set up a free 15-minute phone consult with one of our awesome Doctors of Physical Therapy! We love working with runners and helping them get back to running pain-free!