The overarching takeaway(s) of this article are -
How everyone's hip structure is unique, thus determining differing end ranges of motion.
Subsequently defining how everyone's squat stance needs to be individually tailored.
How forcing a square peg into a round hole can lead to joint pain up and down the chain.
How to play around with your own squat & deadlift stance for better ranges of motion, less pain and more gains.
How to dodge bullets like Neo.
Obviously you're all here for the Neo bit. But let's look at the squat stuff first.
How in the what now?
I'm going to use a small case study to illustrate the how in the what now with a marvellous Yoga instructor named Lucy. It just so happens that Lucy has had some angry hips for a while now. So we decided to look at her posture from a point of loaded motion. <-- Big deal.
Lucy has already been told about static posture, and potentially twisted hips and what have you. Which is fine, it's not to say that static posture isn't a good starting point for figuring stuff out. It's just that, posture while loaded and/or in motion can be far more telling in why stuff isn't working so well, or why shit hurts.
However, whilst I'd love to go full nerd, making you roll your eyes in excess while launching your phone/tablet/laptop across the room - We won't go into the why stuff may or may not hurt realm. Let's just stick to improving squat depth.
Show me your squat, drop it like it's hot.
Whilst I'm going to be taking you through the four different squats we tried, the first squat you'll see is not the first squat Lucy showed me. In order to demonstrate the changes in position and depth you can achieve by altering your stance and getting out of this it-must-be-symmetrical mindset - We'll go worst to best in terms of comfort & access to range of motion.
The other important point is where I ask Lucy to stop. Each frame is snapped at the exact point that the hips begin to go into a posterior tilt. Or more commonly known as a Butt Wink.
We stop here because the Butt Wink is indicative of bony structure getting in the way. Which is entirely the reason why we may be missing out on some instant squat depth. You might not be optimally built to squat the way you're squatting.
In fairness, it's not the only reason butt wink can happen. It can also happen because of a lack of stability (strength to hold the position) Easy way to figure that out is if you can get into a certain position on the floor, but you can't hold it actively when stood up?
That's a stability issue. Not a structural/mobility issue. But discussing stability/mobility/structure and how to troubleshoot which in more detail goes beyond the scope of this article.
Another time. Though important to note: Lucy had no stability issues in tow, so we can rule that out for this example.
Squat #1 - Narrow Stance, Feet Parallel.
Verdict? Uncomfortable. Lucy can only really get to thighs parallel with the floor in this position. Only achieved with a fair bit of forward lean, especially considering Lucy is holding a weight in front of her body.
People tend to find it easier to squat lower with a load in front of their body, rather than behind it. There's the cliff notes. We used a front load for all the squats, but it doesn't matter too much whether you use a front load, rear load or no load. As long as each test is the same set up load wise.
This is the stance I see a fair amount of people assume when squatting. Fewer people happen to be built for this stance in my experience. Besides, it makes me cry.
Squat #2 - Wider Stance, Feet Parallel.
Verdict? Better. Though still not quite right. We don't know why yet.
Clearly we have achieved more depth with the thighs dropping below parallel to the floor, and we're not having to lean forward as much. Awesomesauce right?
Squat #3 - Wide Stance, Toes Turned Out.
Verdict? Felt a little bit better than squat #2. Without necessarily making any obvious changes in torso angle or depth. But once again, something still felt not quite on the money.
So, this is the point where we got the table/massage bench/evil experimentation bench out and started messing around with different ranges of motion while relaxed. This means that it's not about muscles, it's pure structural range of
My evil human experimentation face. For the record.
But we didn't do that, so. It's cool.
In terms of mobility tests, think knees to the chest both sides, a little bit of internal and external hip rotation, plus some hip extension stuff. Don't worry too much if you don't really know what that looks like. The important thing is I moved Lucy's legs about to find any structural asymmetries.
Lo and behold. We found some. Based off of what we found, we made one final adjustment to the squat and boom.
Squat #4 - Wide Stance, Toes Turned Out (Right slightly more than left), Right Foot Further Forward.
This was the lowest and most comfortable squat without butt wink we could find.
The reason for the right side toes being turned out more, was to do with me finding less internal range of motion in the right hip compared to the left. (That changed toe angle) Plus, there was less hip flexion, yet more hip extension available on the right side. The left was the opposite. (That changed foot placement to further forward)
Cool? No? I think it's super cool. There's the evil experimentation bench we talked about. Super comfy.
What's really interesting is when I tested Lucy's hips for any twisting, or tilt. They were absolutely smack on in the right place. So that's not where the difference is coming from. Whilst I don't have X-Ray vision to get super detailed in what's going on. What we can definitely deduce is that Lucy's hip socket placements, femoral neck lengths or socket depths
Try not to lose your shit. Yes, asymmetric hips are a real thing. I know this might be the most earth shattering curveball you've ever experienced. Though I assure you, we can get past this together.
So, what do I do?
Keeping it super simple, just play around with different widths, foot positions, toes in versus out, one more or less than the other. Plus feet forward/back. Everyone is going to be different. Some of you might think - "Ok Gandalf, I tried and I ended up in the same stance"
I say finding your ideal position from the get go is a nice problem to have. However, some of you might be like - "Omg, you're like, Gandalf!"
Honestly though, I give all the credit to the works of Tony Gentilcore & Dean Somerset for these knowledge bombs. It's super handy stuff that can bring a lot of people forward in terms of stuff not hurting, or generally cleaning up technique and reaching new PR's.
Time to wrap it up
Hopefully, you don't hate my face and consider this read a big waste of time. Hopefully, you found a new 'Ahah!' moment.
What about dodging bullets like Neo?
Ah crap, I forgot. Another time.