One of the greatest exercises we can do for the human body also happens to be a primary movement in snowboarding. Squatting effectively not only keeps us on the mountain all day, but it's also the same movement we use hundreds of time everyday, whether we are trying to or not.
The squat motion is the same movement we use every time we stand up or sit down. Every time we sit down to eat, work, read, or rest, every time we sit on the toilet, every time we lift from the ground, pull our pants up, or get in and out of the car. These are all variations of squat movements.
If you added up how many times you went through the squat motion everyday, then you would see how improving the squat can be important for our health today, and for our longevity. Every time you squat inefficiently, you are adding wear and tear to your body. Do that a bunch of times, every day, for years, and you are going to have something painful or difficult come from that.
Training to squat can be done for strengthening of competitive athletes, preparing weekend warriors, or even to improve our daily movement. All populations can benefit from squat training to move better and use the big muscle groups to get you there.
While there is significant difference between squatting as part of weight training and squatting to improve daily mobility, both have similar patterns, and similar flaws.
When getting ready to squat, sit, or stand, you need to have a good position for you. For many people, standing with feet shoulder width apart and with toes pointing slightly out is a neutral position. By neutral, we mean they are in the middle of their own mobility ranges. The feet aren't too wide apart, or too close together. The toes aren't pointed too far out, or too far in.
For every individual, this will be slightly different. For some, spreading their feet wide may not be a good position. This could be from muscle tension in the groin, bony socket depth in the hips, or weakness in the ankles. Having your toes point forward or outward has to be in relation to your hip rotation. If you are naturally pigeon toed, then turning your feet out too much brings you into the end range of your mobility.
You perform best during your mid range. This is where the joint is aligned and the muscle has the most overlap resulting in the strongest contraction. When the muscle is at full length, or if it's too shortened, the ability of the muscle to contract and create force is reduced. Being at your extreme end is limiting, and can often result in injury.
Most of our daily activity happens during the middle range of all our joints. All joints and motions should have more motion available than what is needed. The edges of our mobility, is for emergency use. We don't function with our knees hyperextended, but we can do that if needed. We don't walk up high on our tip toes, but we can get there if needed. We don't usually reach directly straight up overhead, but we could at any time. We function in our mid range and use the end ranges as needed.
When we align our squat position, we want to complement our own anatomy. Like any other movement, no two people will do a squat exactly the same. We all have unique body needs, and any exercise should accommodate for that individuality. We want to find a position that we can fully squat down without having to change our foot alignment. Changing the position of our feet during a squat adds torque to the hips, resulting in increased movement and potential irritation.
When we have ourselves in a good foot position, we want to intentionally maintain our balance and weight over the arch of the foot. When we look at the foot, we think about a tripod. With a tripod, the weight is balanced between the three contact points. If the weight moves outside those three contact points, then the tripod topples. In the foot, the three contact points are the heel, the base of the big toe, and the base of the pinkie toe. You can imagine how those three points create a triangle of support. We want our balance in the middle of that triangle, and not too much toward any one point. Consciously work on having even distribution between those three contact points in each foot, and you will be loading weight over the mid foot properly.
Next, we want to add in some stabilizing torque through the legs. Without moving your feet, try to screw them into the ground, while also pulling the ground apart with your feet. This will turn on hip stabilizing muscles that will help drive force through the strong glutes, or buttocks. By intentionally creating torque, the hips will be aligned and primed to drive the motion during the squat.
Legs are aligned, weight is balanced over the foot, and the hips are ready to drive.
You are going to start your descent with an intentional pushing back of your hips. Think like you are sitting back to a chair. You don't want the squat motion to be initiated with your knees, but instead you want to initiate with your hips moving backwards, which will maintain balance with your chest moving forward.
Your trunk will lean forward, but that does not mean to round your back. That means that your aligned spine will tip forward while maintaining it's neutral position. This can be difficult for those with tight hips or back injury history.
While you are descending, you are also thinking to push your knees outward. This maintains the hip alignment, and keeps the weight over the arch of your foot. Don't push your knees so wide that your foot starts to roll over. Pushing the knees out should complement the balance position of your foot, not alter it.
As you move down into the bottom of your squat, you want to maintain balance over the mid foot. When doing a bodyweight squat, reaching your arms forward can help counter balance you. If doing a barbell squat, the choice where you hold the weight will guide your movement. When using a barbell, the weight should still travel vertically over the middle of the foot. For example, a front squat would have a more upright trunk than a back squat because of keeping the barbell over the center of the foot.
You also want to be aware of trying to keep your shins vertical for as long as you can. This happens by driving the hips backward. Eventually, as you get near the bottom, your shins will have to angle forward, but you want to intentionally keep them pressed back as that will load up the posterior part of your legs, which will drive your power to come out of a squat.
When you are coming out of the squat, focus on pulling the shins back by driving the hips back and up. This will keep the back of the legs loaded, and this will help you create more force.
Learning to squat as a movement is essential to daily life, but also to sport and training. Working on your squat should also have variation. We don't always get to lift and move in a perfect squat alignment, so getting efficient at many varieties serves us best. Also, depending on how you align your bindings, you may want to alter your training to reflect you stance.
I ride in a nearly symmetrical duck stance, so having both legs externally rotated is a good position for me. If you ride with both feet pointed forward, then you may find lifting with a lesser degree of external rotation is better for you. Finding your ideal squat position that allows full depth squats without loss of alignment should reflect your binding angles. If you don't have great ability to externally rotate your hips, then having both legs rotated open on your board is not going to compliment your body.
Learning to squat as a movement is essential during daily life. Then learning how to train and exercise this movement allows you to successfully integrate strength training into functional patterns that will keep you improving long term. #snowbeastperformance