Do genetics affect how you squat?
Struggling to hit squat depth? This may not be due to ‘tight’ hips, but rather anatomical variations in hip structure. There is a common misconception that there is a ‘perfect’ squat technique, however, for some people this ‘technique’ is structurally unattainable.
So let’s discuss why this happens.
Hip Socket Depth
Let’s start by breaking down the basic anatomy of our hip. Our hip is a ball and socket joint. By this I mean that the head of the femur (or thigh bone) is convex (curves outward) and fits into a concave socket (curves inwards).
A deeper socket means there is more bony coverage around the joint. This causes a bony limitation to movement. Conversely, a shallower socket, with less bony coverage, will achieve a greater range of motion.
This means that those with a deeper socket will find it difficult to get into a deeper squat, irrespective of mobility or strength work.
It is important to note that the depth of your hip socket can relate to your cultural heritage.
Interestingly, those with Chinese heritage were found to have a shallow and narrow hip socket, whereas those with Celtic origins had a deeper hip socket. To put this knowledge into practice, Celtic hips will struggle to squat deeply whereas those of Chinese origins will often easily achieve depth.
Hip Socket Orientation
Next, we will discuss the orientation of the socket, by this, I mean the direction the hip socket faces.
I am going to pre-empt this by asking you to please excuse my attempts at photoshop, as you can tell, my speciality is not in graphic design.
Imagine the hip socket to be the flashlight and the femur (thigh bone) to be the light it emits. If the socket is directed outwardly the flashlight will shine in this direction. If the hip socket is directed more parallel, the light will point straight ahead. The orientation of the hip socket will cause the femur (or thigh bone) to be positioned in this direction.
If the flashlights face forward, the person will tolerate a narrower stance. If the flashlights point outward, the individual may tolerate a more externally rotated stance position.
The length of the femur also plays an important role in the positioning of the squat.
Those with short femurs and long torsos will have a more upright squat position.
Those with long femurs and a shorter torso will have to compensate at the hip, causing them to lean forward to counterbalance the movement.
In addition to this, femoral length may also impact the depth of the squat. In the image, notice how the individual with the long femur must lean forward to achieve the same depth. If this individual were to try and squat deeper, they would have to accommodate by increasing their stance width and externally rotating through the hips. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this, it is an important consideration for every coach or individual when finding an appropriate squat set up.
Ankle Range of Motion
As with the hip, ankle range of motion can be due to structural, bony or injury limitations.
In order to squat deeply, the knees have to translate forward over your toes. For this to happen, a certain amount of dorsiflexion range is required. If there is a limitation to this range, the knees cannot translate forward. To compensate, the individual must hinge more at the hips, and lean their trunk forward.
The difference with this torso lean, compared to the above section on femur length, is there is no concomitant knee translation.
This may put increased stress through the lower back, hips and knees.
Often, ankle range can be improved through mobility and strength work. However, if there is a structural cause for the range deficit, using a wedge/lift under the heels can be a useful tool in improving the squat position.
At the end of the day, no one squats the same… and they shouldn’t!
Understanding this concept will aid in improving the individual’s technique. However, there are certain elements to the squat that should be consistent.
Set Up Phase
- Find a comfortable stance position
- Aim to have 3 points of contact through your foot, also known as the tripod position (base of pinky toe, base of big toe and heel)
- Create tension through your upper back by drawing shoulder blades together and driving elbows down towards your torso
- Breathe into stomach and brace through your torso (imagine someone is punching you in the stomach)
- Hinge at hips and translate knees forward over toes
- Maintain a ‘neutral’ spine (neutral is a zone not a position- there will be variations in what is considered ‘neutral’)
- Knees should track in the direction of the toes
- Create external rotation torque through the hips by screwing feet into the ground and tracking the knees in the direction of the toes
- Drive up through the feet
- Maintain tension through the upper back and midsection
- Return to starting position
At the end of the day, finding a position that is comfortable whilst also allowing the individual to generate the correct force required for the lift, will go a long way.
I hope this helps for your next squat session!