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Why does my squat look different? Part 1: An introduction to the factors that dictate squat technique


If you’ve spent any time squatting in the past, you’ve probably noticed that your technique looks a little different than everyone else’s. Further, you may have also noticed that no matter how much time you spend warming up, rolling out, and practicing, you can’t squat the same way as the athletes you see on Instagram or YouTube, CrossFit Games athletes, or Strongman competitors. 

A natural question, then, would be “why does my squat look so different?”

So, why does my squat look different?

Modifiable Factors that affect your squat
There are many factors that contribute to what your squat looks like. Several of them, such as joint mobility, muscular mobility, relative muscular strength (the relationship between the strength in one muscle group and strength in another), and motor control (your ability to control your movement) can be modified to optimize your technique. As such, we will call these modifiable factors. Some of these come with time, others require a bit more effort to improve. Since these variables are properties of our bodies, they can be referred to more specifically as intrinsic modifiable factors. There are also several extrinsic modifiable factors such as bar placement and stance width that similarly dictate your squat technique but are often quicker to respond to adjustments than intrinsic modifiable factors.

Non-Modifiable Factors that affect your squat
If we were to assume that a theoretical lifter (read: you) had put in the necessary time and effort to achieve full joint/muscular mobility, strength, and motor control, you will likely still find that your squats look different than people whose squats you’ve seen and admired in the past. This is because of a different subset of factors that contribute to your squat technique which we will refer to as non-modifiable factors.

Non-modifiable factors are those that, no matter how much time and effort we put into changing them, remain unchanged. These include things such as shin length, femur length, and trunk length. You will notice that all of these are features of our anatomy that, once set in stone (or, more appropriately, set in bone), are fixed and not subject to adjustment. 

The sum of these modifiable and non-modifiable factors will dictate at any given point in time what your squat technique will look like. As we train over time, we will approach a point when - as mentioned above - you have achieved full muscle/joint mobility, relative strength, and motor control. This means that you have mastered the modifiable factors and your technique has been “perfected.” 

Perfect vs Optimal Technique
What the word “perfect” means might differ from one person to the next, so for our purposes, we will use the term
optimal technique to refer to the point at which you are squatting without any modifiable factors negatively impacting how you move. 

Have you found your optimal movement pattern for Squat, Bench press, and Deadlift? Or is joint mobility, motor control, or pain limiting you? Or do you just wonder if you are moving in the most efficient way possible? This is the intention of our Big 3 Optimization Series. Your first step - Schedule you Big 3 Analysis. Check it out HERE.

Optimal =/= Standardized

Once you have achieved your optimal squat technique, the only things left impacting how your squats look are non-modifiable factors such as the anatomical features listed above. At this point, it should be clear that - given how different all of our bodies are from one another’s - an optimal squat is not necessarily a standardized one. That is, any two random people with optimal technique will likely have subtle differences in how they squat based on their anatomy. 

In this series, we will explore these modifiable and non-modifiable factors and discuss how they impact your technique. In the next installment, we will dive into the impacts one such factor can have on your squat, how to recognize faults associated with it, and - in the case of modifiable factors - how to perform some quick-fixes to decrease the influence they might have on your movement.

But what if my squats are painful?

In most cases, technical inefficiencies will not lead to pain and are relatively innocuous. However, sometimes the factors discussed above can contribute to painful movement patterns which can significantly dampen your training efforts and limit your progress. 

If you are having pain squatting and want to understand what’s going on and how to fix it, schedule a Physio Eval. During an evaluation, you and your Doctor of Physical Therapy will take a deep dive and start on our 4 step process:

  1. Evaluate the condition and create a plan. Effort without a plan is often wasted. Where are you right now and where do you want to go? The answer to that question is the focus of your Physio Eval. 
  2. Alleviate the pain. When the body senses pain, it alters how muscles work, how joints move, and how movement is patterned. Ease the pain so you can not only feel better, but also see what is actually happening.
  3. Fix the underlying cause. The location of pain is often not the cause of pain. Full resolution can only come when we fix that cause. We now target that cause through corrective exercises, accessory work, and strength training.
  4. Build resilience. At this point, pain has resolved and injury has healed. We want to maintain that progress and quickly correct anything that pops up. Long-term, life-long results happen now.


If squatting hurts and you want to get back to pushing weight pain free, pay us a visit and we will get you back on the road to your dream goal.



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