There is no argument. The squat is one of the most natural fundamental movements necessary for human function and survival. Squatting is necessary to lift objects from the ground, go to the bathroom, give birth, and move our bodies about our environment like getting in and out of the car. The squat is often meticulously coached in the training room or gym using similar cues in order to put everyone in the same little neat box. Knees in line with or slightly turned out from your second toe, hips back, weight in your heels, keep your back straight, and lower your body to parallel, or ass to the grass if you’re an Olympic lifter. But, is every squat created equal?
Human anatomy alone can dictate whether someone can perform a full range of motion deep squat or barely make parallel. Check out this article which shows the wide array of anatomical variances between our bony structures. Take special note on the sizes and shapes of the pelvis and the comparisons between the femur examples.
Yes, anatomy can and should play a role in how each of us squats. But how do we know if its our anatomy limiting our squat versus soft tissue? Simple. Listen and feel to what your body is telling you. If you attempt lowering into a squat and feel a rigid abrupt barrier in your ankles or hips without much feeling of being able to loosen up, you may have reached your anatomical ending point. However, if you hit a barrier and after a few seconds are still lowering deeper into the squat while simultaneously feeling a stretch, then you probably have more range available. If in doubt, work on mobility. It’s safe to say that the majority of folks need increased mobility in at least one area of their body. Aside from folks who tend to be hypermobile as Eric Cressey details, “females and younger populations, and, as Leon Chaitow and Judith DeLany discuss in Clinical Applications of Neuromuscular Techniques: Volume 1, hypermobility is also much higher in folks of African, Asian, and Arab origin”, spending time increasing your joint range of motion is generally indicated for optimal health and wellbeing.
Other than anatomical restrictions due to genetics or injury, a full deep squat is an achievable goal as long as we accept that every person’s squat will not look alike. Someone with wider hips may need to stand slightly wider than someone with a narrow pelvis. Those who lack the standard 20 degrees of ankle dorsiflexion due to their bones running out of space may need more range in their hips to reach a deeper squat. The point is that not every squat will look identical due to bony and joint variations. Instead of placing everyone into the same squat pattern, which is often easier, practice observing and testing other possibilities based upon body type, anatomy, and natural tendencies. Be careful to distinguish between personal optimal alignment and faulty postural/movement compensations. The two areas to test out: foot placement (how narrow or wide), and toe angle (pointed straight ahead or angled out).
The main takeaway really comes down to self-awareness and exploration. Keeping an open mind and objectively seeing where your body should be compared to where it is today. Feel where improvement could be enhanced and don’t settle for anything less than your full human potential. Visualize, practice, and conquer your natural squat!