Friday, January 12, 2018

Does It Matter If You Can Deep Squat?

A friend asked me an excellent question last night:

“How do you feel about the deep squat as a movement screen and the information you get from it?”

I’ve actually been preparing a talk on movement screening for the upcoming Inland Empire Fitness Conference (April 7, 2018, in Spokane, Washington). So I’ve been thinking a lot about the deep squat (among other movements). As a result, I went a little buckwild with my answer to his question. Here’s what I told him…

You can get a lot of useful information from the deep squat. With just one movement, it can tell you whether a person has good ankle dorsiflexion range of motion, hip mobility, thoracic spine extension, and shoulder flexion.

But that’s only if the person does the squat well (based on whatever your predetermined standards are for how you want a squat to look). On the other hand, if the person looks like a sack of potatoes when they squat, it’s not always immediately obvious whether the issue is coming from their ankles, their hips, their t-spine, or their shoulders.

Basically, if someone struggles with the deep squat, it means you should probably do further testing to see what’s up.

That “breakout testing” often starts with having them squat with their heels elevated. It can also mean having them squat to a box, squat holding a light weight in front of them, or squat with a mini-band around their knees. You might also look independently at ankle mobility in half-kneeling, hip flexion in quadruped or supine, and active and/or passive shoulder mobility in standing or supine.

Sometimes, you might even look at all of those things and not find any red flags. In that case, there could be a couple of other reasons that the squat is shite. Maybe the person hasn’t practiced a deep squat lately. (That’s an easy fix.) But it could also be that their bony anatomy or lever lengths just don’t allow them to sink into a pristine ass-to-grass squat.

Suppose you have one of those sack-of-potato squats in front of you. Knees caving, butt winking, shoulders dislocating, the whole bit. Does that mean the person is destined for injury?

Not necessarily. There are plenty of people out there who couldn’t squat well if their firstborn’s life depended on it and are injury-free. Conversely, there are people who squat like babies and are walking band-aids. When it comes to injury, there are too many moving parts to try to predict it based on one isolated factor.

For this reason, technically speaking, what we’re doing when we’re looking at a squat like this isn't a “screen” for injury risk. A true screen would do a better job of separating the people who get injured from the ones who don’t. A more appropriate word might simply be a movement “test.”

(Note: we *can* screen for pain. The person either has pain when they squat or they don’t.)

One final thing to be aware of is this: If a person has a great-looking bodyweight squat (as per your predetermined movement standard), that doesn’t guarantee they’ll look the same with weight on their back. Or in a squat jump.

Granted, a person has a better shot at moving well with load or speed if they moved well in the slow bodyweight condition. But to know for sure, you’d need to test those other movement conditions, too.

In the end, I use the deep squat test to tell me whether a person is ready to train the squat with added load. If I deem them ill-prepared, I’ll have them work a version of the squat that they can do well (e.g. heels raised, to a box, and/or band around the knees) until they’re proficient enough to progress.

Share This