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  • Writer's pictureKristin Bignell

Should you squat with your "hips back"?

I recently shared a quick video from Catalyst Athletics on Instagram about why weightlifters should initiate squats by bending the knees and hips together (versus "hips back"). You can check out that post here. I wanted to expand on that post and share some of my thoughts on it.

For years, the common cues used to teach squats were "hips back" and "weight in your heels." And while I've seen many trainers/coaches/PTs more recently starting to challenge these ideas, most of the athletes that I see are still using these cues during squats. And while squatting with this "hips back" technique isn't necessarily bad or wrong, it also isn't always the best like we were once taught.

The belief that your knees shouldn't pass your toes (and therefore you should initiate your squats by sitting your hips back) came about in part from a study that showed a 22% decrease in stresses placed on the knee when forward knee movement was restricted. But what I find most interesting about this study is that there was a 1070% increase in stresses at the hip. That's a HUGE increase in mechanical stress on the hip and low back! This Physio Network article references that study and does a great job of explaining why it's actually ok to let your knees come forward during squats:

So do I think that the "hips back" squat is bad? Not at all! How I cue someone to squat will depend on the individual, their current and past injuries, and what they're training for.

For example, if I am progressing someone back to squatting after a knee injury, I may recommend a "hips back" squat pattern initially in order to decrease strain and/or pain in the knee. Powerlifters will commonly choose a more hips back squat style in order to recruit more glutes and hamstrings, often resulting in the ability to lift more weight. Also, I may choose to use the "hips back" cue for someone that initiates their squats from their knees (without simultaneous hip flexion) or someone that tends to shift their weight onto their toes.

But more commonly, I find myself cueing athletes for a more upright posture and using a "sit down" squat pattern. This style of squat allows for a more upright torso which is especially important during Olympic lifts and overhead squats. This upright posture creates more stability and less strain on the shoulders during these lifts. It also allows for a deeper squat which means that an Olympic lifter can catch the bar lower (bar doesn't have to travel as high). Additionally, a "sit down" squat puts less strain on the hips/low back and is often better tolerated by athletes with current or past hip/back injuries.

Other cues you can use besides "sit down," include "put your butt between your heels" or "bend your knees and hips together."

Who might benefit from a "sit down" squat pattern:

- Someone experiencing hip or low back pain/injury

- Someone with a history of hip or low back pain/injury

- Olympic weightlifters

- CrossFitters (due to Olympic weightlifting movements and overhead squats)

Who might benefit from a "hips back" squat pattern:

- Someone experiencing knee pain/injury

- Someone with a history of knee pain/injury

- Powerlifter

Keep in mind that there are lots of variables that go into one's squat form, and this is just one of the variables that I consider or may adjust when working with an athlete.

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