Perfect Posture: protect your spine with proper squats

It is one thing to maintain perfect posture during static activities such as standing or sitting, but to maintain that same posture through other actives is more difficult.  One thing that I have noticed while working at the Sports Medicine Institute and Burlington High School is that patients and student-athletes may not be familiar with the proper technique and benefits of proper squatting.

Knowing the fundamentals of proper squatting is extremely beneficial for maintaining appropriate posture during daily activities.  These fundamentals will carry over in activities such as heavy lifting, exercising, and other household chores.  By squatting appropriately, one can decrease the amount of stress on their lower back and knee area, and efficiently utilize their hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps. 

Anders Hendricks, Aurora Sports Medicine Institute

Anders is a licensed athletic traininer at the Aurora Sports Medicine Institute in Burlington and at Badger High School in Lake Geneva.

The first rule with squatting is to start with your feet shoulder width apart and toes pointed forward.  This allows one to begin the activity with a stable base to work from while squatting.  In order to increase that stability, it is important to engage the core muscles, which help brace ones hips and low back.  An excellent tutorial of proper abdominal stabilization can be found in an earlier blog entry, labeled Perfect Posture #2 – Abdominal Stabilization.

Secondly, proper squatting begins with maintaining your spine’s natural curvature.  The human spine, which is designed to accommodate very heavy loads, increases its stability with 3 major curves.  These curves, which are stronger than a perfectly straight column, allow for increased loading of ones body.  Starting at the neck, the cervical spine maintains a lordotic (concave) curvature.  At the mid back and chest area, the spine curves the other way into what is called a kyphotic (convex) curve.  Lastly, the back regains a lordotic curve at the low back area.  An excellent diagram of the curves in ones spine can be found here.

In order to maintain the curves in your spine, one must remember a couple techniques when squatting.  It is important to look slightly upward when first practicing squatting, which will help to maintain the concavity of the cervical spine (neck).  To maintain the concavity of the lumbar spine (low back), it helps to practice arching the low back, which will keep you from rounding ones back and shoulders during lifting.  A person can effectively practice arching their low back by assuming the quadruped position (pictured here), tightening their core musculature, and practicing arching and rounding their back, holding each position for 3 seconds, alternating 10 times per set.  A great example of this exercise can be found on this video.  This exercise is commonly referred to as a Cat/Camel Exercise, due to the spines resemblance to a cat when arching, and a camel when rounding.

Once a person has a good feel for how to properly recruit their abdominals, and how to maintain healthy spinal curvature, it is time to practice squatting.  Remembering to stand with ones feet shoulder-width apart, head up and back curved, one should attempt to lower themselves by sitting back with their hips and bending forward at the waist to balance themselves.  It should feel similar to sitting back in a chair.  In fact, it may decrease apprehension initially by placing a chair behind you when first attempting proper squatting technique.

By sitting back (as opposed to dropping your hips straight down while squatting) a person will accomplish two things.  First off, it will decrease the strain placed on the knees by the kneecap.  By sitting back, the knees should stay inline with the ankles, not come forward over the toes.  As you can see in this image, the subjects knees are perfectly in line with their ankles, she is maintaining proper curvature in their spine, her head is up and her feet are shoulder width apart.

Secondly, by sitting back, the body is able to utilize the hamstring and gluteal muscle groups, which work to stabilize oneself and keep the body slow and in control, allowing for a more efficient lower body workout.  During proper squatting, the hamstrings work eccentrically, meaning that they lengthen while maintaining muscle tension, which helps to decelerate the body during squatting.  It is normal to feel a slight stretch in the back of the thigh when first practicing proper squatting technique.  The importance of healthy hamstrings will be discussed in the next entry.

Lastly, it is important to progress yourself appropriately.  After showcasing proper control over the exercises listed above, a person can progress to quarter squats, in which the person descends to the point where their thighs maintain a 45 degree angle to the floor.  After becoming comfortable with a 45 degree angle, a person can progress to a full squat, where the thighs reach 90 degrees (parallel) to the ground.

Once proper squatting technique is mastered, the techniques used will carry over into daily activities, which will help to increase the lower body strength and stability of a person.  A video review of proper squatting can be found here.

 Follow the Perfect Posture series!

Don’t give up the sport — give up the pain! Visit the Aurora Sports Medicine Institute at 13 Wisconsin locations, visit our website, follow us on Facebook,  browse our YouTube channel, or call our hotline at 1-800-219-7776. 

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About Anders Hendricks

Anders Hendricks is a Licensed Athletic Trainer for the Aurora Sports Medicine Institute in Burlington and at Badger High School in Lake Geneva. Anders studied Kinesiology and Athletic Training at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and has worked as an athletic trainer at the University of Wisconsin at Parkside. In the summer and fall, he enjoys following the Green Bay Packers and Milwaukee Brewers, and ice hockey and downhill skiing in the winter. Anders started blogging to give people a better understanding of what athletic training is, and how licensed athletic trainers help the patients of Aurora Health Care live well.
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