Mastering the Perfect Squat

After six months, I can finally do a squat and get my thighs below parallel to the floor and my arms overhead. A squat is a squat is a squat, right? No. And I had no idea how complex this “simple” movement can be or how frustrating it would be for me to learn how to do one properly.  Physical Therapists (PTs) are supposed to be the experts in movement and identifying the impairments or physiological reasons why a person is unable to move a certain way or why pain is evoked with a certain movement. I am a PT. I should have been able to figure this out.

This feat is trivial in a world where ten aid workers vaccinating children against the polio virus were recently murdered. But it does mark a personal accomplishment. Through consultation and dialogue with physical therapists, sports performance coaches, a kinesiology major doing an internship and another trainer, we have examined what made this journey so difficult.

Why couldn’t I do a full squat (and I kept asking myself if it really mattered)?  Is it a physiological limitation that cannot be corrected? Is it a flexibility issue that stretching will improve? If I can lie on the floor with my feet against a wall and mimic the desired position, does that mean muscle weakness is the cause? Or is it the pattern of how I have ingrained my body and mind to move that is the limiting factor?

During a recent training session, my coach, Justin Heinle, used rubber exercise bands and verbal cues to modify how I was getting into the squat position; he enabled me to initiate the movement differently and I was able to do the squat almost perfectly. Seriously. No locked lumbar vertebral segment. No tight latissimus dorsi. Glutes aren’t weak.

The brain-body connection has a glitch and by altering the way I was trying to do the squat, I experienced success. It was (and still is) the neuromuscular coordination of all of the components of the motion that needed correction. And believe me, that is significantly more challenging to fix than stretching a tight muscle or strengthening a weak one. This discovery was exciting for me because I know that by practicing the correct way to move, the proper squat is within my reach.

The solution came by focusing on the big picture: the whole movement and not the components in isolation. The exchange of ideas and discussion that evolved from a PT (me) and performance coaches well versed in movement pattern analysis talking about why the squat just wasn’t improving resulted in an “ah-ha” moment when I performed the task correctly. Now, finally, I may be able to tap into Olympic lifting techniques that have so far been elusive. More importantly, the conversations that included the professional knowledge of trainers who have studied sports performance enhancement and injury prevention with the more rehabilitation biased PT may contribute to helping people achieve goals faster. Welcome to working together at Tidewater Physical Therapy and Tidewater Performance.

Physical health. Life balance. Do great things in the world.

This physical therapy educational piece was provided by Karen Kovacs, the Clinical Director of Tidewater Physical Therapy’s Gloucester Point location.