Successful squatting starts with a good setup.
Getting into a good starting position allows for the other pieces to do their job.
It is hard to build a house with a poor foundation and it is also difficult to squat real weight with a sloppy base.
Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to squatting stances. Everyone is different and what works for someone might not work for another 6 people.
What Influences Squat Depth and Width?
1. Pelvic/femur arrangement
Structural differences account for the biggest discrepancies in squat form.
The angle at which the femur leaves the pelvis is one way that people are different. The same goes for a wider pelvis.
Evidence of this is seen with performing a split. Some people can drop into them no problem.
Others will try to get into the position and get stuck. It could be tight muscles but a narrow pelvis would not allow for a split to happen.
A lot of women are very flexible into splits because anatomically, they have wider hips.
I, on the other hand, do not have wide hips and the idea of me getting into a split is comical. No amount of stretching that I do is going to get me any lower to the ground if the bones are running into each other.
You cannot stretch out bone and it is impossible to get lower when that is the case.
I can, however, hit a full squat with a narrow stance.
Those that can bang out a split are going to typically struggle with a narrow squat.
Now, tightness comes into play.
A lot of times coaches and trainers will go to mobility restrictions right away.
If the structure is not cleared to begin with then we cannot assume that mobility is the culprit.
Once we have determined that a squat is possible with the given person’s bony alignment, we can look to mobility.
Tight hips, t spine, and ankles are usually the big three when it comes to mobility restrictions in a squat.
Starting with an overhead squat with a dowel/PVC pipe, we can make a few changes to test for these three areas.
If the squat looks ugly to begin with, take the dowel to the back or drop the dowel and cross the hands in front. If the squat gets better then we can assume it is the T spine, or core stability (more on that later).
Mobilize the thoracic spine by performing extensions on a roller and test the squat again. If it gets better then a tight T spine is in play.
To test the ankles after a bad overhead squat, elevate the heels on small plates and squat again. A better squat indicates tight ankles.
Lastly, hips can be mobilized by rolling or other movements and if the squat improves after the chosen technique, you can assume tight hips.
Always test and retest when determining the potential cause of a poor pattern.
Stability can be seen in a number of ways but it can get confusing when trying to differentiate from mobility.
Like I said earlier, if moving the hands closer to the body makes the squat look better it could be core stability.
Instead take a light med ball and have the person squat with the arms extended. This activates the core and if they can sit significantly lower, stability training is warranted.
This can also be seen while the person is going their squats. If someone is getting stuck before parallel, how they get there is important.
If someone can drop quickly (and controlled) and it seems like they just hit a wall at one point it is probably tightness in the hips.
If the squat looks slower and gets to the point where the person cannot achieve any more depth, it can be the core.
How to Test for Depth and Width of the Feet
Enter the rockback.
The rockback is an exercise that can be used as an assessment tool or as a corrective exercise.
This is how you can find your squat depth/width with the rockback.
1. Start knees together on all fours on the floor. Push the hips back to the heels. Most likely the back is going to round here. That is what we are trying to avoid.
2. Widen the knees and brace the core. Then push the hips back to heels.
3. Repeat until you can reach hips past a parallel squat with the spine in neutral. This is where you want to be squatting from.
The rockback is a useful tool because it is pretty much a horizontal squat. It is unloaded so there are no stability requirements on the movement. Simply, it allows you to move freely.
If you have any structural restrictions they will appear in this. The inability to get to parallel in any stance would suggest a bony restriction.
This means that squats may never get to parallel despite any kind of mobility training. As a result a change in focus to tons of single leg movements would allow for optimal lower body training.
Test out where you should be squatting with the rockback. The next step is to get under the bar and feel what is comfortable. The rockback can show the minimum width you need but you must also feel out the movement.