Squats: the ultimate compound move, beloved by the entire of the internet and also everyone in the gym. Something I’ve done since I started training aged 19, struggling through a BodyPump track with 20kg on my back; lifting that little there’s no cause to think too much about form, as long as your knees don’t travel too much over your toes.
Fast forward ten years and I’m really struggling to progress my squat weight because of my poor form. I can squat 70kg, but it really puts pressure on my lower back as my top half travels forward, and I also can’t get deeper than parallel – that’s if I even reach parallel. You can see that in the top photo I’ve raised my heels to get deeper into a squat, but even at that level I’m starting to get a buttwink.
An email arrived from my university about their sports physiotherapy department coinciding with a particularly bad flare-up of my back, and I decided to make an appointment. I’d seen a generic physio about my back before only to be told it was an inflamed disc and something I’d have to put up with and manage for the rest of my life.
The appointment was an eye-opener. The physio listened very carefully to my activity history, taking interest in the fact that from when I was five up until I was 22 I rode horses very frequently, including four years of being a hunt, event and polo groom. A light bulb seemed to go on and he asked me to do a squat. “I can’t get any lower than this..” I said with embarrassment. But that seemed to be the key to him – apparently I’m totally inflexible in my spine from T3 down, and also in my hips and pelvis. It is also likely the reason why my glutes aren’t firing and developing.
According to the physio, it was as bad an inflexibility he’d seen. I’ve now been given exercises and placed on the student clinic as a guinea pig in the hope that with some hard work from all sides we’ll be able to give me some flexibility within my lower back and pelvis.
I’m now taking a step back from squats while I have physio and work on my form, and trying out alternate methods to work my legs and glutes. The physio suggested I use the TRX, as above, to get the feeling of squatting whilst keeping my centre of gravity in the middle, and I’m also enlisting spotters as much as I can to point out when I’m reaching buttwink. I’m working on finally squatting deep with no buttwink and a more vertical upper body. Roll on the day I upright and flexible enough to do overhead squats..! Using this photo of CrossFit Games winner Camille Leblanc-Bazinet as my squat-spiration.