The Best Kept Secret: Why People HAVE to Squat Differently

Intro

There is absolutely no one size fits all squat position. If you don’t believe me, you are in for a treat. This article will help show you why athlete comfort should dictate squat width, why some people’s (not EVERYONE) feet point out (no matter how much “mobility” work they do), why some people have a really hard time squatting deep, and why some people are amazing at pistols while others can’t do them at all.

Basic Anatomy

The hip joint is basically made up of a “socket” on the pelvis (called the acetabulum) and a “ball” at the top of your thigh bone (femur), which we call the femoral head. Around the hip joint are a lot of muscles, a joint capsule, and connective tissue. There are many other anatomical considerations when considering a squat, but let’s focus on the hip.

Anatomical Variations

When someone has difficulty squatting, or their feet turn out, or they like a wide stance, we all want to jump on the bandwagon and say “your hips are tight, you need to mobilize them”. If we say that without considering anatomical variations of the hip joint, we can be misled. Let’s take a look at this first picture. Here we have two femurs from two different people. One points more upwards, the other points more downwards. Do you think these people will squat the same when they have that much bony difference? Pic 1
If you aren’t convinced yet, take picture 2. Clearly one of the “balls” in the ball and socket joint is extended longer off the femur than the other. This will absolutely change the mechanics of squatting between these two people. No amount of soft tissue treatment will change that.
pic 2 Now look at picture number 3. Look at how different the angle is that the ball is pointing between these two femurs. Guess what? One of these people will have a bony block when they try to squat narrow while the other can squat narrow like a champ. Alternatively, one will squat wide and the other will have pain with wide squatting. But doesn’t the difference in the shape of the “ball” make that seem obvious? Maybe your piriformis isn’t the limitation after all. pic 3 Things get even more interesting when you start looking at the socket. Take a look at picture number 4. On the left, you can see into the socket. This person will likely be able to squat with a narrow stance vs. the person on the right who literally run into themselves when squatting with a narrow stance. pic 4 Now look at picture 5. Again we see the difference in how much of the hip socket we can see. There is no way these two people will squat the same. The bony anatomy literally won’t let them. pic 5 Picture 6 is a view looking at the hip socket from the side. One is pointing straight out, the other is pointing down and in the front. My guess is one of these people will be better at pistols and one will be worse. pic 6

Conclusion

Athlete’s won’t squat the same, and they SHOULDN’T! I hope I shed some light on the WHY. Athlete comfort will dictate the stance that puts their hip in a better bony position. There are narrow squatters and there are wide squatters. That may have nothing to do with tight muscles or “tight” joint capsules and have more to do with bony hip anatomy.

Very few people are at the end range of their hip motion, so hip mobility drills are definitely a good idea.

People will express their hip mobility in different planes, and that is not a bad thing.

All photos were used with permission from http://www.paulgrilley.com/bone-photo-gallery


 
  • Miranda Bressler

    Okay so someone who doesn’t have a personal trainer and is reading up on squats, how do you know if that person is doing their squats right? I love squats but it would be good to know if I am doing them correctly with my body. I have also read up on it a lot. I have flat feet and my feet turn out a bit, the right more then the left. Anyone know any information I can read up on that would help?

  • Matt Ford

    Unlock your ankles! Using a lacrosse ball, work on the soft tissue in the anterior shin. Both sides of the shin bone. Not on the shin bone, but the tissue surrounding it. Hope this helps!

  • Sy D’Vooh

    Picture 6, quote, “My guess is that one of these people will be better at pistols and one will be worse.” You can say that about any two people without seeing their bones. In fact this is all guess work. Today with MRI you can see living people’s bones, then test how well they can squat. Different stance may apply, but everyone should be able to squat deep, as that is how humans have been defecating for tens of thousands of years, and how most humans alive today still do.

  • http://www.pankokefitness.com Alex Pankoke
  • James

    Your feet should turn out when you squat. If your toes are pointing forward and your feet are parallel, then you’re going to put a lot of stress on your knees.

    Make note of the person talking about defecation. When you squat down without a bar; as if to make poopy on the ground, then you’re looking at a great and balanced example of how your feet should be placed during a high or low bar squat.

  • kona2576

    Since you have so much insight on the bone structure….what crunched/popped in my inner, lower butt cheek when I went down doing a cossack squat? The shooting pain crunching happened in the cheek of my bent leg. This morning my lower back now hurts, and a bit down my hamstring but the injury def felt like it was in my lower, inner butt cheek/pelvic joint area. I looked at several pelvic anatomy pics and I can’t see what it might have been.

  • Sheldon Kreger

    Do these differences have an impact on a person’s ability to do front and/or side splits?

  • CW

    This article is very true, there is no one size fits all when it comes to form on a squat. I was a gymnast for years and I can move my legs from my hips in very strange and obviously flexible ways, however, on a parallel squat I just cannot hold a narrow stance comfortably. I have to have a wide stance with my feet turned out slightly to feel my glutes involved in the upward momentum, and to feel like I’m sitting back on my glutes and using them to stabilize instead of using my quads the most when I’m going down. It all comes down to personal comfort and personalized muscle activation. I believe you should adjust your stance to feel the right muscles activating. If I were to do a narrow stance I would just be using my quads. Strangely enough when I am doing ass to ankles squats I can use a narrower stance and still feel the activation in the right places. Nothing worse than doing squats in the wrong stance for your body and using your quads for everything. You need to position so you feel it in your glutes. There is a way to make it work for you, you just need to shift around a bit and practise different stances until you actually feel and see the raise and contraction your glutes do when your on your way up from the squat, and in that position you should also be activating your glutes and hamstrings for balance and control on the way down.

  • Michael Shane Kersten

    Very cool! I can imagine what my pelvis must look like based on my strengths and limitations.

  • Michael Terry

    In many asian countries, everyone can do full depth squats like nothing, and it doesn’t appear that their stance width is rigidly defined. And I’ve seen video of an African hunter gatherer tribe where everyone full depth squats around the fire, and they even “walk” in a full squat. Those are two completely different sets of bone structures where virtually every member of the group has no limitation on squatting mechanics. I think it’s pretty likely that the vast majority of white people would be super flexible squatters, too, if they grew up with it. And I think most people could get back to that if their lives depended on it.