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No two people are the same.
With that in mind, there’s no reason there should be blanket cues that encompass everyone—especially where exercise is concerned. When it comes to squats, sure, everyone knows there are basic tips to follow in order to stay safe and prevent injury—keeping a tall spine, proper breathing methods, distributing weight through the entire foot, and tightness through the core and upper back. And they go without saying.
But when it comes to the following four “rules,” I raise an eyebrow. The worst thing a lifter can do is try to fit a round peg into a square hole. There’s no one-size-fits-all on body types and skeletal structure, so take heed of this important information.
Let’s be realistic here. It may make for a visually appealing setup when you have a semi-wide stance when squatting, but this statement gives no consideration to the lifter’s anatomy. There are big guys out there who have very wide shoulders, so this cue would almost put them in a sumo squat position right off the bat.
Think about the pelvic build. This cue implies that the hip sockets (acetabulae) on every person’s pelvis are located in exactly the same place. Common sense would say that it’s not true. Just like someone’s eyes or ears, it slightly varies from person to person. You need to set up in a place that promotes the best depth for your skeleton. A narrower stance will probably work better for someone whose acetabulae are placed slightly towards the front of the pelvis. A wider stance will work better for one whose acetabulae are towards the outside of the pelvis. Not following your body in this regard may lead to clearance issues when the ball and socket joint of the hip are restricted due to your stance.
This is the myth I probably hear most frequently. If you think about any functional scenario, the knees pass the toes all the time—when we go up or down a flight of stairs, when we sit into a chair, and more. We shouldn’t train the body to avoid this phenomenon. It’s not “bad for your knees” to let it happen.
Again, it depends on your skeleton. A lifter with long legs and a short torso (like me) will never be able to reach sufficient depth applying this cue, all because of their proportions. Exercises like wall squats (see video) reinforce the idea that the knees shouldn’t pass the toes when squatting, which is why I hate them and don’t recommend their use.
“Butt wink” refers to the pelvis beginning to tuck under at certain points in the squat. Many lifters and coaches avoid squatting below parallel due to the fear of this happening and causing an injury over time. The truth is, it depends on the severity of the wink, and whether there are other factors that are influencing its occurrence in the first place. Check out the video to see me break down the details of what’s good, and what’s not.
When performing an exercise, a silent killer to your spine health is to look up while lifting. All exercises are best performed with a neutral spine. In the case of the squat, that would mean slightly tucking the chin and focusing in front of you around knee level. Looking up may encourage a tall spine, but the cervical extension you’re putting your spine through while bearing load is less than desirable.
Learn how to keep your chest up and back desirably arched while the head is positioned neutrally. As a bonus, a neutral spine encourages proper nerve conduction from the spinal cord with no impingement. That means the potential for you to use all of your available muscle fibers is raised.
The human body differs from person to person, so you can’t expect the same cues to work for everyone. As far as the above four cues go, following them like they’re written in stone can only set you up for an early plateau. Take the sensible route instead and do what works best for you, while keeping your safety in check.