Squat Tech Problems and Solutions

December 6th, 2014 by Laura

These are a few of the many squat issues that have come up and ways they have been fixed.

Staggered Stance and Lateral Shifts
At one meet, the staggered stance was so pronounced that people near the platform were telling me to square off my stance during my squat attempts. One foot was a good six inches in front of the other and I couldn’t straighten out.

Some of the pains and annoyances associated with this include:

  • Lateral shifting in squats and pulls
  • Feeling like I can’t sit weight into my left hip and difficulty balancing weight on that leg
  • Increased tension in hamstring and adductor group on left, usually accompanied by snapping
  • Clusters of perpetually regenerating trigger points on one side
  • When seated, left femur will appear to be several inches longer than my right
  • Muscles on one side of my body are bigger than the other
  • Shuffling my feet around for ages trying to square off my stance
  • SI joint flare-ups
  • I don’t expect my body to be perfectly symmetrical, but my stance can get way out of the ‘acceptable’ range, and the stagger became more pronounced the more I trained. I tried to fix it with standard hip stability work in conjunction with trigger point release. Though my posture in daily movements was better, the improvements weren’t holding up to my lifting.

    Training in Staggered Stances
    Sounds counterintuitive, but purposefully training in staggered stances helps with this. I thought that since my squats favored one leg a few inches ahead, maybe forcing the opposite leg ahead would help even things out. I did some research first to make sure that staggered training was ‘a thing’, because I could see it going one way or another. I found a bunch of helpful movements that I did not know existed.

    The Jefferson Deadlift, or ‘Straddle Deadlift’ is a classic strongman lift.

    Some others that have been helpful:

  • Staggered Stance Squats, Front Squats and Goblets
  • Staggered Stance Box Squats
  • Staggered Stance Good Mornings
  • Staggered Stance RDLs
  • To stagger, the toe of one foot should be inline with the heel of the other horizontally. Concentrate on pushing through the heel of the front leg but allow weight on the toe of the back leg as well.

    What I like about this in comparison to unilateral work (which I also do) is that I am not limited by balance. Unilateral work can sometimes be wobbly, and I’ll use momentum to bypass my weak spots. A staggered stance gives the problem areas an opportunity to contribute to the lift.

    Staggered stance lifts work well as ‘activators’ – just a few brief, light sets before the bilateral movement. I also use them as my normal lift, especially on days where my stance felt staggered to begin with and I think my evenly loaded bilateral movement would have been flawed. They work well as accessories, too.

    This sort of work released my tight side more than any amount of static stretching could ever do.

    Trigger Point Release
    I had to release all trigger points related to my hips and pelvis. This included:

  • Rectus Femoris, Sartorius
  • TFL
  • Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus
  • QL
  • Adductor Longus and Brevis
  • Pectineus
  • Gracilis
  • Adductor Magnus
  • Piriformis
  • All Hamstring Muscles
  • All Calf Muscles
  • Spinal Erectors
  • Nothing works in isolation and this is/was a commitment, but worth the effort. Some trigger point just won’t release or coming back repeatedly if there are still perpetuating factors. Trigger points that form for lack of stability can be (rightfully) stubborn.

    Pelvic Alignment:
    I reset my pelvis using a pilates ring, squeezing it between my thighs, then putting my legs inside the ring and pushing out to the sides. I’ve seen people do that using their hands for resistance but I find it difficult to get enough pressure that way.

    To help maintain the alignment, I need to remember to always do some sort of activation work prior to lifting. I have a bad habit of thinking that my issues are resolved, neglecting the extra work, and not noticing that I am relapsing until it becomes a major problem. A single leg box squat pre-squat is usually a good indicator of how my hips are holding up.

    Go Slow and Pause
    Once I am at least capable of producing a somewhat balanced squat, there is usually some residual shifting left over. The longer I had let the shift go on, the more time it can take to go away. It seems to just be a neuro thing because all I have to do is slow down and pay attention.

    When I am coming out of a shifting phase, pausing feels horrible because I had been allowing myself to quickly bounce by the instability. That area of the squat feels untrained. I have to start very light but thing wake up quickly and soon enough my pause squat numbers start catching up to my tempo squat.

    Long eccentrics also help, maintaining even pressure on each leg all the way down. The ‘maintain even pressure’ thing really needs to be a constant for me. Every squat PR I’ve had was made when I was thinking almost solely of keeping the weight evenly distributed, slowing down and staying focused during each phase of the movement.

    Something that DID NOT work is forcing an even stance when my stance wants to be staggered. The result of doing that is painful, swollen knees. If I can’t get in my left hip and my stance is badly staggered, it’s better for me to focus on waking up that hip rather than loading up the crappy pattern.

    Overarching Low Back, Bar Forward of Center (Squat-Morning)

    Bad squat

    Keeping APT in check

    Ankle Flexibility and Lower Leg Trigger Point Release
    Having restricted ankle motion completely changes my angles in the squat.


    Sit in Front of the Weight
    This was a band-aid overcorrection cue for when my anterior tilt was dominating. Thinking of sitting in front of the bar and throwing it off back behind me helped to keep my posture neutral and abdomen engaged. This is a stark contrast to the ‘arch your back’ cue that you hear so much; I found (after my squat being stagnant and tweaking my hip a few times) that I have to do the complete opposite.

    Good Morning Squat
    Another exercise that seems counterintuitive, but it teaches the correct positioning in the squat.

    Front Squat
    Front squatting does wonders for my squat positioning. My squat seems to do best when I keep a 50/50 mix of squats and front squats.

    Hands-Free Squat
    I think I read about this in one of the Pavel books. It is one of the quickest ways I have found to get my bar path worked out. I’ve been doing these regularly when warming up.

    Free-Falling Panic in the Hole
    This might be laxity-related as other lax people seem to relate to this. Normally my muscles carry a lot of tension to compensate for the lax structures, but some days, everything feels loose and shaky. Certain times of the month definitely come into play.

    Build Tension Throughout the Lift
    Think of a coiled spring. When this just isn’t happening for me, it is helpful to hang a light band over the top of the cage to pull against and actually pull myself down into the squat.

    Slow Down the Tempo
    Go super-slow for the the descent and pause at the stopping point. Feel the muscles contracting bringing me down to the hole. Once that feels ok, just do a 5-count descent for the first 2/3 of the squat and go to tempo on the rebound.

    Envision the Lift
    Feel out the lift before it happens so it is not a guessing game at the bottom as to which muscles will feel like participating.

    Weight Shifting Onto Toes During Squats

    Ankle Flexibility and Lower Leg Trigger Point Release
    Yes, again.


    Cues for the Feet

  • Roll toes up or tap them up to shift to heel
  • Arch feet
  • Work on Posture and Balance
    Practice finding my center of balance during the day. Tip myself forward and get used to pushing back and staying back. Release trigger points anywhere in my body that might be pulling me in odd directions.

    Hands-free Squat

    Chest Cave

    Simply cueing my elbows takes care of this without affecting my posture as ‘chest up’-type cues can do.

  • Pull down with elbows
  • Point elbows to the ground
  • Pin elbows to lats
  • Bring elbows forward
  • Just the position of the elbows is enough to solve the problem for me, and making sure that the elbows stay pointed at the ground in the hole of the squat. ‘Pull the bar into the traps’ works for me sometimes, too.

    Breathe Into the Spine
    This cue also helps my posture and upper body position during squats.