Get a Deep Squat? Why bone shapes don't matter and how to get deeper - Upright Health

Get a Deep Squat? Why bone shapes don’t matter and how to get deeper

Your deep squat sucks.

You keep finding yourself stuck with your hips way above your knees. No matter how many times you try to go deeper, it just feels like you're stuck. 

Your trainer or a P.T. might have said, "it's because your bones aren't made for squatting." You may have read this on the internet and been convinced that you're a genetic freak and cannot squat deep. 

Maybe you did a test online, and now you think it's definitive. You aren't a natural born squatter.

Let's dive into deep squats and show you a few things that will help  you squat deeper - regardless of your bone shape.

Billions of people eat their lunch in a deep squat every single day.

Hip mobility and deep squats

Let's talk about what your hips are capable of. 

Hip joints are where the leg bones meet your pelvis. You can watch this video for a quick and simplified tour of hip anatomy.

There is an infinite number of different angles and positions you can put your legs in relative to your pelvis. That means that there’s a lot of ways you can move your hips.

When you watch a small baby learn to crawl, walk, run, and climb, you will notice that the hips are capable of a lot of movements. Babies can sit in all kinds of interesting configurations and even go into the splits with enviable ease. 

Proof? Check out my son doing some interesting hip movements here.

But adults, especially in Western chair-based societies can’t. Many modern Westerners can’t even sit in a remotely deep squat. 

Why is that? 

There’s a very vocal camp that claims that Westerners can't squat deep because of bone shapes. Many European hip joints, they claim, are not built to squat deep. The bones simply smash into one another before reaching full depth.

This sounds very convincing, especially if you hear someone with a medical or doctorate degree say it. 

But there's a problem.

Has anyone done a detailed study on a large group of people showing that the bone shapes create a clear limitation to your ability to squat deep?

Not that I’ve found. 

If you can find one that shows a strong correlation between hip bone shapes and hip mobility, I'd love to see it. There's tons of building evidence that shows "pathologic" bone shapes aren't even related to hip pain or hip mobility issues (see this study on femoroacetabular impingement, for a clear example).

And there's a rich history of orthopedic medicine over-promising, under-delivering, and destroying people's spines, shoulders, and knees in the name of quick fixes

And this perspective also doesn’t explain why you can easily find Asians who grew up in Western countries who also cannot squat deep. 

Or why babies of European descent CAN squat deep...and why they eventually lose it. 

Or why you can gradually train people to be able to squat deep  -- even if they are of European lineage...

Always Think Muscles.

That's a mantra around here. This video breaks down the reasons why for you. You don't HAVE TO watch it, but it's a good quick primer on why it's just not worth entertaining the "bones" idea. 

 

The real reason why you can't squat deep

The answer for why you can't squat deep has to do with how you train your body. 

"No!" you say. "That's too simple!"

Yup. 

It is that simple.

"Then why aren't all the doctors and PTs saying that it's just a training problem?" you may be asking.

I think there are two main reasons the "bone shapes" theory is gaining traction is because

  1. It means you have to put in a bunch of work to fix your squat and many people don't want to hear that
  2. It absolves professional healthcare "providers" of their guilt for being unable to help you fix your squat with quick and satisfying solutions. 

A third hidden reason is that it feels really great for a doctor to be able to say, "Oh, some people just can't squat deep because they have misshapen bones that only someone with extensive years-long training can shave away in a specialized surgery that only a few thousand people in the world know how to do."  Most doctors have the best of intentions, and wanting to feel good about what they know and how much they can help others with their knowledge is just a natural, positive, human thing.

The point is, it's a lot easier for average people to buy into, "it's your bones and you can't change the squat depth" than "you can change it but it's going to take some work on a daily basis for months or years."

If you're sitting there thinking "I'm not willing to put in months or years of work on this," then you may as well accept the bone theory. 

If you're a stiff person with stiff hips who wants to get less stiff and get deeper in your squat...

And if you really want to improve your squat depth and are willing to work for it and want to learn exercises that will help you improve your squat depth...

WATCH the following video.

It provides you with three simple exercises to help you get deeper into your squat. 

Key Point: if you're stiff, stop blaming your bones.

It’s important to keep your focus on what you can control: your muscles. 

If you’ve grown up in a modern Western society, you rarely need to squat deep. You rarely take your hip joints into novel ranges of motion like a baby. You rarely sit on the floor. You never do anything that even remotely approaches the splits. You have been told to bend at your knees instead of your hips by the doctor for decades. 

When you exercise, you walk, run, or swim...all these activities move your hips in a very limited range of motion. These activities do not make squatting deep easier. 

When you sit in a chair, you train your hip muscles to freeze the hip joints into a shallow squatted position. 

When you lift weights or play tennis or golf, your hip joints stay in limited ranges as well. 

The point is, most people’s hips are always stuck in the same limited positions. And the muscles need time to relearn how to go to positions they aren’t familiar with. 

Deep hip muscles that most people never learn to stretch properly...THOSE need attention before you can make any claims about how bones affect you. It's not just about doing random yoga classes twice a week. It can sometimes require daily work ... multiple times a day.

And, yes, I do mean that you can make progress even if tests you see PTs and trainers online yammering about say you can't squat deep. 

Again, they're just giving you an excuse for 1) why they fail to produce deep squats in people they train (when the problem is they likely aren't programming properly) and 2) for you to say, "meh, I can just live with this." 

If you get caught up in the idea that “my bones” are the problem, you give up prematurely and will be unable to make any progress whatsoever. 

It's a process. The journey for every person will look different. Be willing to experiment, and explore. Be consistent and persistent. 

We'll be updating this post with future videos to help you with a deep squat. In the meantime, one of my personal friends and super duper mobility monk Shane Dowd over at GotROM.com has a comprehensive program to help you squat deeper

If getting a deep squat is important enough to you that you'd be willing to spend money (and time, don't forget the time - oh, the time!) check it out. 

deep squat illustration

You'd look worried too if someone threw 225 pounds on your back while you were in your deep squat. 

Deeper squats are possible. This program gives you a TON of tools to get there.

What about flexible people who can't squat deep? 

There are people out there who cannot squat deep, despite being able to do the splits and touch their toes and generally do all kinds of bendy things.

We've seen these people (almost always women who've done ballet, yoga, gymnastics, some other form of dance) as our clients and in our live workshops...and they, too, can squat deep. 

The problem isn't that they aren't flexible enough. That's clear. 

And the fact that they can put their feet to their faces tells you that the BONES aren't stopping their range of motion.

So if you're a flexible person who can't squat deep, you can tell the P.T. who says it's your bones fault to go stick his thumb up the anterior side of his coccyx.

What is missing is STRENGTH. Strength to control the position and to feel like you can actually get yourself up and out! 

How do you build that strength? 

I'm glad you asked. 

These two videos give you several ideas to help you build squat strength and control so you can squat deep.  

Deep Squat Summary

To summarize our approach to squat depth: 

  1. Always Think Muscles - you're wasting your time and energy looking for excuses for your poor squat mobility.
  2. Put in time and effort consistently - Work on your flexibility daily and don't sabotage it with other activities that will ruin your flexibility (e.g. heavy deadlifts, barbell squats, and high volume sprinting/running will almost definitely be keeping your hips tight). 
  3. Make lifestyle changes. Sit in different positions. Don't lock into a chair all day. Move around. Fidget. Practice. Practice. Practice.

That's it. Simple. Does this mean you may have to change things in your life? Maybe. Does it mean you'll have to experiment and explore? Definitely. 

Will it take time? 

Yes.

And the sooner you start, the sooner you'll achieve your deep squat. 

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About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.

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