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Range of Motion's top articles on musculo-skeletal injury and rehabilitation.

The Squat as a Diagnostic Tool

Movement provides a window into the body. Assessing movement is like detective work. Observing movement and assessing faults gives us clues to identify underlying dysfunction.

There are few better diagnostic tools than the squat. The number of directions in which movement can occur at the joints involved (degrees of freedom) means we have a lot of scope to identify problems.

There are two elements to successfully completing safe, efficient and effective movement. The first is a motor control issue – does the individual have the skill required to complete a squat? This motor control is a product of learning, and learning in turn is often a product of correct coaching and instruction. In many cases, the majority of movement faults can be avoided by correct coaching. There comes a point however where the best coaching cues cannot overcome structural issues in the body. This is our second element to completing movement – the physical ability to do it. These structural issues make it physically impossible to assume the positions required for a squat to be safe, efficient, and effective.

If your issues pertain to motor control and learning, your strategy should be to work closely with someone who can teach you the strategies to correct your technique. If the underlying ‘environment’ of your body means you cannot physically go into the positions required, then it’s time to get to work on correcting them. Here, we discuss the major clues we can pick up from the squat, and the culprits within your body they point to. We won’t go into the specifics of what movements will best correct your imbalance (that’s a very individualised prescription), but we will teach you to diagnose dysfunction at a glance.

Technique fault: Posterior pelvic tilt in the squat.

What it means:

  • Gluteal tightness.
  • Hamstring tightness.
  • Lower back weakness.
  • Hip flexor/adductor tightness.

Technique fault: Knee valgus (knees fall in) in the squat.

What it means:

  • Femur medial rotator tightness.
  • Femur lateral rotator weakness.

Technique fault: Forward torso angle in the squat.

What it means:

  • Thoracic tightness.
  • Internal rotator tightness.
  • Shoulder flexor/extensor tightness.
  • Pec. tightness.

Technique fault: Unable to reach full depth in the squat without loss of neutral spine.

What it means:

  • Gluteal tightness.
  • Hamstring tightness.
  • Lower back weakness.
  • Hip flexor/adductor tightness.

Technique fault: Unable to reach full depth in the squat without turning out the feet.

What it means:

  • Tight Achilles / calf musculature.

In essence, weak and underactive structures need strengthening, and tight structures need lengthening. This is a simplified approach, but rings true for the vast majority of cases. As always, although this can provide you with a good generalised starting point for movement therapy, an individualised approach will always be the gold standard.

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