The first rule of Squat Club - keep your shins vertical.*
The second rule of Squat Club – keep your shins vertical.
The third rule of Squat Club – keep your back straight, especially if you are shifting weight
The fourth rule … you get the picture.
I wont talk about the straight back here – most people seem to sort of know it, and if form breaks down at this point is often more skill than will. I also believe (…but dont quote me on that…) that this is slightly less dangerous if you are not carrying weight. However, the knee thing hurts you on every kind of squat and squat-like movement, and this is what I want to focus on here.
Maybe a story from my own experience to start with: a while after I had taken on squatting (the powerlifting kind, I might have been at 80-90kg on the backsquat at this point) I decided that it might be a good idea to diversify into the Olympic lifts. So I started with muscle cleans from a high hang. If you are not into that jargon (yet) – this exercise essentially brings the weight that is hanging from your arms when you are in a standing position to your shoulders, and you do not squat down when catching it (meaning that the weight is probably light – I used an empty 20kg bar). There is however a little squat: despite what the name says, you do not muscle the weight up with your arms, but you bend your knees a bit, and then you bring the weight up not with your arms, but with the momentum of your hips extending.
I somehow got into the swing of things, and I decided to make it a bit of a workout and do hundred of those. My arms and shoulders were burning, and this was where my focus was. Big mistake: even though my form on the squat was rather good already at that time, I completely ignored all I had learned there, and as I was not squatting, but just dipping, I let myknees go forward at every dip rather than keeping my shins vertical. Boy, my knees hurt after that for a couple of days…
I guess there are a number of take-aways here. Firstly of course, KEEP YOUR SHINS VERTICAL WHEN YOU GO DOWN INTO YOUR KNEES for whatever reason. I suppose one of the reasons why we do not really know how to do this properly is that we no longer squat properly, and that we do not want to be seen sticking our butts out like a monkey. It is actually very easy once you are doing it consciously: stick your butt out, pull your knees back – and no, you will not usually fall backwards if you do that (you can try squatting to a box a number of times if you are afraid).
The second, more troubling take-away though is that there is no automatic carry-over of skills learned in one exercise to another exercise: just because you know how to squat with good form does not mean you will go down properly in a related movement. So I guess we will constantly need to keep paying attention that we are doing things right, rather than assuming that it’ll work itself out automatically…
*If you want to know why look at Kelly Starrett’s talks in the CrossFit Journal if you have access (sorry, no links outside the paywall I believe, but the CFJ is certainly worth its money. I will add a more precise link if I can remember in which video I have seen it, but in any case they are all worth watching)