Assessing the Squat

The line isn't often clear when it comes to assessing new clients in regards to what is within a strength and conditioning coach's scope of practice. I strongly believe that if you are not taking the opportunity to run some form of repeatable movement screen on your clients prior to the commencement of a training program you as the coach and your client is at a loss. At Strength Culture we have a standard 15-minute movement screen that all clients move through when hiring us as coaches.

Today, I want to discuss 3 of the most basic variations of squat assessments that are common within most movement screens and how these assessments help determine where you begin your coaching and correctives prescription for your clientele.

1) Overhead Squat Assessment – Feet Under Hips, Toes Straight

 The bottom position of an Overhead Squat Assessment - Feet Under Hips, Toes Straight

The bottom position of an Overhead Squat Assessment - Feet Under Hips, Toes Straight

At Melbourne Strength Culture this is the first active lower body assessment that we run on almost every single client that walks through our door. This variation of the overhead squat assessment allows us to quickly determine where the individual’s limitations are in regards to ankle, hip, core and upper back. The ‘neutral’ foot position of toes forward, feet under hips highlights a majority of the lower extremity limitations that are often present with people who walk into a gym and want to lift heavy.

What we look for:

-       Core Control/ Relationship of Rib Cage and Pelvis.

If you have followed our content for the past 12 months you know this is where we start a majority of our coaching. The overhead position lifts the individual’s centre of mass, biases them towards an extended position and challenges their core motor control far more than a typical squat.

-       Excessive Forward Lean.

In the bottom position are the arms and shins parallel? If not, we need to determine why. Is it a core stability issues? Thoracic extension restriction? Ankle dorsiflexion restriction? Hip internal rotation limitation? Once excessive forward lean has been identified, further assessment may be needed to determine the root cause.

-       Pronation of the Feet, Knees Caving/ Valgus Knee

Poor foot and ankle stability leads to a number of lower body compensations. The feet under hips, toes straight position often highlights hip internal rotation limitations that may present itself in foot pronation and valgus knees compensation.

 With the feet directly under the hips you are more likely to see compensation patterns such as foot pronation and the knees caving (valgus knees).

With the feet directly under the hips you are more likely to see compensation patterns such as foot pronation and the knees caving (valgus knees).

-       Depth

If limited (well above parallel) it is often a representation of either poor core motor control and hip stability or ankle mobility. If excessive (ass to ankles) it is often a representation of large ranges of hip mobility (rotation and flexion).

2) Overhead Squat Assessment – Feet Outside Hips, Toes Out

Once we have an overall outline of the limitations that are presented in the Feet Under Hips, Toes Straight Overhead Squat Assessment we move to a slightly externally rotated, feet wider than hips squat assessment. This position allows for greater internal rotation capacity at the hip and when the result is compared to that of the first assessment we begin to pin point some of the restrictions that the individual is presenting with.

What we look for in comparison to the Feet Under Hips, Toes Straight Assessment:

-        Core Control/ Relationship of Rib Cage and Pelvis

The wider stance reduces the hip moment arm which allows for easier control of the rib cage and pelvis in the sagittal plane throughout the squat. This will more often than not improve with a wider stance, if it does not – core stability is your first port of call!

-       Excessive Forward Lean

Are the forearms and shins parallel? The wider stance should allow for a deeper, more upright squat. If there is little improvement from assessment 1 you will need further assessments to determine the restriction. We would recommend looking at ankle dorsiflexion and thoracic extension. If there are significant improvements it is more than likely representative of improve core/ hip stability in the wider position and reduced dorsiflexion requirement.

 Minimal improvement in forward lean with the wider stance, we are more than likely looking at a thoracic extension limitation, here.

Minimal improvement in forward lean with the wider stance, we are more than likely looking at a thoracic extension limitation, here.

-        Pronation of the Feet, Knees Caving/ Valgus Knee

Beginning the squat in hip external rotation (toes out) allows for greater ranges of hip internal rotation to be shown. If the knees still cave in this position you are more than likely looking at a foot and ankle stability issue or coupled with an excessive forward lean, an ankle dorsiflexion restriction.

-       Depth

When compared to assessment 1, depth is almost always improved in a wider foot stance squat. This can be seen in the photo above. If depth does not improve core control is your first port of call!

3) Anterior Loaded Squat Assessment

The final squat assessment is a standard goblet squat. The anterior load allows for a posterior shift of the ribcage in order to balance the centre of mass within the system. This allows for greater anterior core engagement and a reduction in overall extension through the spine, improving hip rotation capacity.

What we look for in comparison to Assessments 1 and 2:

-       Core Control/ Relationship of Rib Cage and Pelvis

If the individual still manages to extend their squat in this position… CORE CONTROL IS YOUR FIRST PORT OF CALL!

-       Depth

Depth should greatly improve and a majority of people will be able to move past parallel. For this reason, we assess hip/ core stability in the bottom position, overall depth capacity and hip impingement/ FAI red flags. Significant improvements in depth are a result of improved anterior core engagement and hip stability.

 The anterior loaded squat assessment allows the best assessment of the bottom position of the squat

The anterior loaded squat assessment allows the best assessment of the bottom position of the squat

These 3 active squat assessments take up a combined total of approximately 1 minute within our movement screen here at Melbourne Strength Culture. Depending on the presentations we may move to further active assessments of hip internal/ external rotation, ankle dorsiflexion, thoracic extension or passive range tests for the entire lower limb. These 3 assessments, in combination, paint a pretty detailed picture of the movement capacity of the individual as it relates to the squat. There are strengths and limitations to all assessment procedures, however, a sound understanding of biomechanics and stability/ mobility demands of each movement combined with repeatable assessment processes allows for far greater understanding on where to begin your coaching stream with each individual.

About the Author
Jamie Smith, Owner and Head Coach at Melbourne Strength Culture
IG: @j.smith.culture
YouTube: Melbourne Strength Culture