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Creating YOUR Perfect Squat Stance by Testing Your Anatomy (super easy)
As far as I know this is the ONLY beginners guide to squatting that teaches you how to squat based on your own individual anatomy. Most beginners guides are generic because most beginners don’t want to be overloaded with information so they give a very GENERAL idea on how to squat. The problem with general is everyone’s anatomical structure is VASTLY intricate. Which means we must all squat in very different ways ESPECIALLY when it comes to your stance position (both toe angle and width of stance). If you are a female with retroverted hips and long legs, the typical toes to 15 degrees out WILL NOT work for you. While there are more advanced guides available, my own included, they focus too much on details that do not matter to beginners. If you are concerned with getting stronger, squatting safely, and developing your legs the easiest way based on your genetics, this guide is for you! I promise this will be EASY to understand while ensuring you are starting on the right feet (pun intended) for your squats.
HIP ROTATION TESTING
Now before we we even dive into what to do on the barbell we need to test your hips! Everyone’s hips are designed differently. My advanced guides go into details on the specifics of how we are all designed uniquely but that isn’t important to you! Beginners just need something they can do that is very customized to their own needs while being simple to understand. Truth be told I have had advanced squatters come to me in pain because they skipped this part of their squat form journey! So let’s keep this SIMPLE and PRACTICAL. Please understand I am reducing down a complex topic so technically this isn’t the full picture but it will teach you what you need to start squatting better NOW.
In the squat our hips must do what is called external rotation. This just means pushing the knees out slightly as we descend down into the hole of the squat. I will cover this thoroughly in the “on the bar” section. For now just realize how much our hips open up is determined by the angle at which we set our feet. Let me show you some pictures of what I mean.
This picture is OLD! Lol this is from a collaboration video I did with Omar Isuf in 2016… and still to this day the hip testing I show in that video is what I do albeit a little more simplified! During the video I was demonstrating different toe angles elite squatters take. My toes on the right are VERY flared. THis has nothing to do with the width of my feet in fact Taras on the far left is MUCH wider than me but you will notice his toes are slightly less flared out than mine. Gina in the middle is nearly straight with her toes. All of us are elite squatters yet if I tried standing like Gina I would get hurt. I know this because I TRIED. When I became a personal trainer in 2012 I was forced by my gym to go by NASM’s recommendation. They’re a personal training certification that no one who actually lifts takes seriously. Sadly they’re recognized across the US in gyms and by those who aren’t educated as the premiere personal training certification. I could rant on this for hours but if you want proof they don’t know what they are doing, just look at the top coaches in the world. NONE have PT certifications because they are a money scheme with bad info. Now unfortunately that money conglomerate made us teach squats with toes forward. We were told if you can’t squat toes forward it’s because you are “immobile”. I knew better from my coaches I worked with at the time but our gym manager saw me teaching a squat the right way just one time and nearly fired me on the spot. He forcefully through me into a “free session” of training to “teach me” how to squat. He would even harass me if I tried squatting at our gym the way I knew to work from my elite coaches at the time. I was young and afraid to stand up for myself which led to me squatting that way for a while and I got injured. I quit that job not long after that experience lol. ALso worth noting that manager NEVER did squats… or trained legs for that manner LOL.
Now let me explain why this injured me. There is a spectrum of hip rotation mobility and joint access in each human. I have what are called RETROverted hips. Others have what are called ANTEverted hips. Some people have completely neutral hips. The more retroversion a person naturally has from their hip structure (at birth) the more they will squat with toes turned out like I do. The more anteversion the hips the more you will squat like Gina in the middle picture, toes almost forward. Neutral hip are in between like Taras. Now a sharp person might say “wouldn’t neutral be toes forward and anteversion toes inward?” That would be a smart deduction but you have to understand that EVERYONE needs to point their toes slightly out to squat well because you cue what is called “external rotation” meaning rotating the hips outward to the sides as you go down. This means your knees go out as you descend. To help this we slightly point the toes outward PAST our neutral position. If we cut Gina’s hips open you would see her neutral position aligns her thigh bones and (therefore her toes) slightly inward, similar to how people who are pigeon toed have their hips turned in. Likewise you cut me open you’ll see my “neutral” is toes slightly out. Thus when I point my toes out it looks dramatic but it is only a few degrees outside of my hip neutral state. Same with Gina, it seems as if she’s barely pointing her toes out yet this is more flared out in relation to HER neutral state. Funny enough if you see my father, sister and myself standing next to each other we all stand duck footed. This is just a genetic issue not mobility like dumb personal trainers will tell you.
Now to recap the spectrum goes from extreme retroversion to extreme anteversion. Most people are somewhere in the middle but you will often see a slight bias towards one or the other.
Now realize MOST of you will NOT be on the extreme end of either position. You are probably somewhere in the middle. What is awesome is we can find out exactly where your hips are with two tests!
The first test we are going to perform is called a “hip rotation test”. It tests two basic principles, internal rotation access and external rotation access. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the terminology. All it means is that we determine how well your hips rotate inward towards the inside of the body and outward towards the outside of the body! The second test is call a hip scour. This tests what position your feet should be in during the squat for the easiest deepest squats based on your hip flexion which is determined by your hip anatomy. Watch the video below and you will learn these easy tests!
After that video is a second video from an old youtube instructional I made in 2016. That is how effective these test are! I have been doing them with elite athletes like Gina for over half a decade.
Anatomical Hip Testing
PERFECTING THE DETAILS AS AN INTERMEDIATE
As you progress through your training career you will realize you can change the stance and toe position slightly to accommodate various strengths and weaknesses. For instance you may find that after improving strength in certain muscles groups you are actually stronger by going slightly against your most accessible position. The initial testing is a baseline for understanding where your hips want to go naturally but do realize you can perfect your strength by understanding a few variables. Let’s take a look at what each stance position offers when you alter the details.
TOES OUT VS IN
If you are a beginner reading this portion of the article don’t sweat the details! Start with the testing above because this next part will over complicate things for you until you are an intermediate. For all my intermediate and advanced athletes listen up! Let’s discuss “toes in” vs “toes out” benefits.
Toes out more: Generally the more you flare your toes out, the more access you gain in hip external rotation meaning it is EASIER to open your hips (knees out) as you descend down in the squat. However more flare isn’t better because with more position access you lose stability. Whenever mobility is increased you have more ROM to stabilize and thus it is harder to control. Basically the more your hips can open outward, the more you can squat upright on the way down but this takes away from stability on the way up because your knees will want to rotate inward. I don’t have time in this guide to explain the complexity of squat ascents and knee joint stacking but contrary to popular belief, moderate knee cave is a GOOD THING on the squat. When it is bad is when the knees go INSIDE of the toe box. That is excessive internal rotation however some internal rotation on the way up lets the quads fire because the knees is now stacked over the feet. So if you just flare your toes out too much you will have a much harder time controlling the internal rotation (AKA knees in) movement that happens as a counter force on the ascent of the squat. This means if you now have a spectrum of toe flare to play with. If you are lacking stability you may want to flare your toes out to your natural point AND THEN slightly turn them in 5 degrees or so to gain a little more stability rather than hip mobility.
EXAMPLE: You are a female with good mobility who has hips that test close to neutral. Your hips display a nearly even internal rotation and external rotation and the hip scour points you to about a shoulder width squat stance and 15 degree toe flare. You squat like this for two years and as you are nearing a 2x bodyweight squat you are starting to notice your naturally high mobility is making squat maxes hard to control stability wise. You find anything above 85% of your max is causing knee cave and asymmetry from left to right. You can try pointing your toes inward slightly to approximately 10-12 degrees to add more stability by slightly restricting your hip external rotation.
Toes in more: Generally the more you turn your toes in the more knee stacking you get and internal rotation bias. It is worth noting some squatters (like gina in the video) actually hit depth better by having their hips internally rotate. That issue is much more complex and will be saved for later guides but usually if you are someone who biases a toe position naturally below 15 degrees of toes flare you probably have this happen! However regardless of which you are, the more you turn toes in the more quad power and stability (joint stacking of knees over toes) you will have. Usually this means less mobility in opening the hips outward and less glute involvement. Perhaps even a slightly less upright squat but that also has a lot to do with ankles. Generally if you bias toes in more but are finding as you get stronger it is harder to hit depth, harder to use and feel your glutes and harder to squat upright some more toe flare may benefit you.
EXAMPLE: You are a male athlete who is at a 2.5x bodyweight squat and tested for internal rotation bias. You stand with a 10 degree to flare and have a very knee stacked over toe box squat position. You are finding hitting depth to be more difficult as you have gained more muscle mass and you tend to have to bend over more to hit depth limiting your back recovery in the squat. Likewise you seem to develop slight knee overuse injuries and have a hard time feeling your glutes. Slightly turning your toes out more can benefit the depth and prevent the back fatigue you are receiving from having to bend over more to hit depth. This will also increase glute activation while removing some tension from the quad tendons which are currently your prime movers in the squat.
Wider stance squats: Generally the wider you stand the more stability you have and the more access to the adductors to be used as hip extensors. In layman terms your adductor magnus (big adductor) acts as a hip extensor (locks the hips out) in the squat more as you stand wider. This is beneficial for females who tend to have excessive mobility or trainees that seem to tip over a lot in the squat.
EXAMPLE: You are a female squatter with a 2.5x bodyweight squat. Your hip scout test displaced a shoulder width squat stance on you. You have always had amazing mobility even as your legs have developed in muscle mass. You are entering into the advanced stage of squatting but you are finding you cannot stay upright as you near a 3x bodyweight squat. You miss most of your squats by tipping forward and losing stability in the hole of the squat. You feel “out of control” almost as if you have to dive bomb your squats and pray you come up. Standing even just 1-2 inches wider can alleviate this issue while still allowing for optimal depth and power.
Narrower stance squats: Generally the narrower you stand the more access to depth and quad power you gain. A narrower stance stacks the knees and feet on top of one another to allow more vertical force transfer into the ground. This increase quad demand and force transfer ability in the knees. You also gain the ability to hit depth easier (unless you stand excessively narrower). This is beneficial for lifters who are dealing with adductor overuse injuries or have hard time producing leg force and hitting depth.
EXAMPLE: You are a male athlete who is just entering the intermediate stage. You have a 2x bodyweight squat but are a large individual who was overweight before training. You have always had mobility restrictions even as you have lost body fat. Your hip scout and testing displaced you to a shoulder wide squatting position but you find while you can hit depth your adductors get beat up easily. Likewise you feel a bit lacking in power from the quads and you don’t have issues staying upright. You may find narrowing your stance by an inch or two benefits the quad force transfer as well as your adductor issues.
ADVANCED ATHLETES & THE EVOLUTION OF YOUR PHYSICAL BODY
While we rarely have advanced athletes in our group coaching I do want to touch on this topic lightly as well as explain some fundamentals about your squat journey.
You are an evolving human. From one second to the next millions of your cells are dying and regenerating. You quite literally are not the same human from one second to the next. Likewise when we are discussing the topic of stimulating large amounts of muscular hypertrophy and neural adaptations we have to understand this means you are going to MAJORLY change over the course of your training career. Your muscle mass changes not just in size but in dominances. When I started lifting over a decade ago, my pecs were a noticeable deficiency however these days they are a strong point both in size and strength. Your coordination will change. My beginner years found me a MASTER at all things posterior chain. However I lacked anterior awareness in movement patterns. Over the course of training these weak points I improved my anterior to the point it is no longer a deficiency. This means my strongest positions and movement patterns in squats or other exercises is SURELY different than it used to be a decade ago. The point I am making is that we are expecting you to change. The most important mindset you can maintain into your advanced training age is that what worked before may not work today.
An example of this acutely is my squat. For years a slightly wider position beyond my normal hip testing felt good. I squatted all the way into my advanced stage of a 3x bodyweight squat like this. For whatever reason the last months my adductors have been in non stop overuse pain. Likewise I have had many tears over the years. I finally gave in a switched to a narrow squat position and of course now squats are feeling AMAZING. They are different for sure and if I could squat without pain wider I would but that is the irony of the advance stage. Everyone thinks advanced athletes need more fancy shit and beginners needs basics. I disagree! While beginners need info to be easily digested, I think more complex fine tuning happens in the beginning and intermediate stage. The advanced stage is about one thing. PRAGMATICS.
Pragmatic definition off of google: “dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practicality rather than theoretical consideration. “
Advanced athletes WAY overthink it. Beginners way underthink it. Squat in ways that doesn’t hurt when your advanced. While of course this applies to beginners, how many beginners deal with pain when squatting? If you are you are doing something horribly wrong. It’s a cliche to be injured constantly as you near a 3x bodyweight squat. That is why so few athletes surpass that range. So if you are advanced and reading this, DON’T overthink it. FInd a way to progress practically NOT optimally because ironically practical will be optimal.
I hope you guys enjoyed this guide. If you found this useful PLEASE encourage your friends to check out Prime Strength. The more we grow this family the more I can offer you guys in resources! Let’s kick some ass squatting this year! See you guys at the barbell! We are now offering a month free of group coaching if you get a friend to sign up! Just simply email me who your friend is that is signing up and I will send you a free month!