The squat is one of the fundamental movement patterns that we perform day in and day out. As an osteopath I am always interested in observing ones squat pattern as a lot of information can be gleaned from carrying out this simple movement in the treatment room or training facility.

Before I go into more detail about what I look for when a client squats, I think it is important to define a squat movement. In an everyday sense, a squat involves an individual bending through their ankles, knees,hips and spine to move closer towards the ground. Typically they will keep their body over the top of their base of support (feet). Some individuals will keep feet planted flat on the ground whereas others like to lift the heels off the ground. A gym squat on the other hand typically has the individual keeping the feet planted firmly on the ground and carrying out a similar movement. Normally the gym based or exercise prescribed squat has the individual with feet at shoulder or hip width apart, slightly turned out and feet side by side.

Now both of these squat movement patterns are both completely right in their own way. Who am I as the osteopath to tell my client how they should squat and which way is the right and wrong way. Often they squat a particular way because this is how they have learnt or adapted to. Both methods are correct and it is often dependent upon how they have learnt to squat and for what reason they are squatting. Take a toddler for example, I would argue that they are have one of the most perfect squat patterns. You see that they keep their centre of gravity directly over their base of support, they keep feet flat, bend at the ankle, knee and hip and have their spine relatively upright. However, as we develop in life we learn to adapt our movement patterns through observation and practice.

Many of my clients often present to the clinic with various musculoskeletal complaints, pre-existing health issues and injuries that have forced them to adapt their squat pattern, sometimes to the benefit of their current musculoskeletal issues and sometimes to the detriment to other areas of their body. This is often the case in individuals who have had foot, ankle, knee, hip or back injuries.

Looking at my client squat

So I will often ask my client to squat for me during a consultation in a number of different ways. Firstly I will try to observe them squat as best as they would naturally. I will be sure to not give them specific advice or guidelines regarding their squat. Rather I will watch and observe. In some cases I may direct them to pick something up of the ground or in front of them to give them more focus. Having watched them carry out their version of a squat, I will take mental notes of my observations and findings i.e. how far did they manage to squat down, was it symmetrical left to right, how did they move through the foot, ankle, hip, knee and spine. Were they not able to squat because of pain.

Variations of the squat
Next I will then challenge my client in a number of different ways when it comes to squatting, again there is no absolute correct or incorrect way to do this, as there are many thousands of variations of squats and information can be gathered from observing each and everyone of these.

Foot position
I will ask my client to squat in a number of various foot positions i.e. side by side narrow stance, wide stance, internal and external foot positions, split squat foot stance (staggered foot positions). Different foot positions can help identify areas of restriction, weakness, strength etc.

Arm position
I will ask my client to change their arm position to challenge ones squat abilities i.e. by the side of the body, in front, above head, rotated left, rotated right, overhead with sidebending. Arm position changes can be used to help increase or decrease load or assistance on a particular region (muscles, joints etc) of the body.

I may ask my client to show me how they squat using a variety of different tools to challenge ones body i.e. dumbbells, broomstick, olympic bar, ViPR, bosu ball etc. Each of these being added into the assessment process depending on their specific complaint, goals, lifestyle etc.

Whilst I have been very brief in my description of how I assess ones squat pattern. Simple changes to the squat movement can give us a lot of information about how ones body reacts to gravity and ground reaction force. We can see how they work or move when asked to repeat movements and test their range of movement, assess for asymmetry, see which joints or muscles are not helping out as much as they can, see which tissue or regions of the body are being overloaded, test their ability to load and explode out of a movement, test their endurance capabilities.

The squat is a great assessment and training tool for each and everyone of us. Squatting forms a fundamental movement pattern that we as humans must carry out each day i.e. moving in out of chairs, picking up objects and the movement pattern of the leg in a squat is are very similar to a lunge pattern and gait in many ways. Getting our clients to improve their squat pattern can have a very positive effect on their life by improving their ability to carry out activities of daily living, let alone perhaps reduce current musculoskeletal issues.

Osteopath Heath Williams is owner and director of Principle Four Osteopathy. Principle Four Osteopathy is located in the heart of the Melbourne City CBD 3000 at 29 somerset place, Melbourne city cbd 3000. To make an appointment to see an Osteopath, please call 03 9670 9290.

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