Feed the Dysfunction: A Simple Squat Fix

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A few months ago I wrote about my experience participating in the Functional Movement Screen. I spent an entire weekend (something like 20 contact hours) completing both module I and II.

I didn’t get a t-shirt1, but it was an awesome learning experience nonetheless.

You can read all about it HERE.

One of the chief messages that stood out to me was the notion of “feeding dysfunction.” It’s a concept I’ve used intermittently throughout the years to help clean up movement, but hearing it described and used in the confines of four walls amongst so many other smart people…it really resonated more with me.

I’m sure it’s a concept that many of you reading have used as well.

One of the more common iterations is when someone’s knees cave in during a squat.

Unfortunately, there are some trainers and coaches out there who would deem this an acceptable squat pattern, and do nothing to correct it. They should be drop kicked in the neck.

The less lazy trainer may fix it by screaming, “knees out, knees out, PUSH YOUR KNEES OUT!”

It’s a step in the right direction, but sometimes it takes more than a verbal cue. For some trainees their nervous system needs a little more “feedback.”

So the more savvy trainer will wrap a band around one’s knees.

The idea is that the band will push the knees in, giving the trainee some proprioceptive feedback to prevent or resist this action. More often that not it works like a charm.

Photo Credit: T-Nation (Bret Contreras pictured)

Squat pattern is fixed, all is right in the world, parades are held in your honor.

What About a Weight Shift?

Ever watch someone squat and he or she tends to sway/weight shift to one side or the other?

There can be any number of reasons this happens.

1. Bony Block. Those with Femoral Acetabular Impingement on any given side will block/impinge quicker on that side, often resulting in a weight shift to that very side.

I don’t want to get into a heavy FAI discussion now, but suffice it to say it’s often in this person’s best interest to 1) stop squatting altogether (in lieu of exercises that require less hip flexion, like deadlift variations) or 2) tweak squat height so they don’t enter the “danger zone” (90 degrees or below).

2. If we were to jump down the PRI (Postural Restoration Institute) rabbit hole we could explain things by stating how much of the population tends to weight shift into their right hip.

CSP coach, Greg Robins, PRI Blue Steel pose

In this scenario – which is very common – people are more internally rotated and adducted on the right side (externally rotate, abducted on the left), which then parlays into their squatting pattern. I.e., you’ll see a weight shift to the right.

As I’ve noted in the past: I like PRI, I use PRI, I think there’s a lot of validity to PRI. And, in this scenario I do feel some dedicated positional breathing drills hold weight with helping to “correct” the issue at hand.

If we can encourage more neutral (we’ll never, ever, like, ever be 100% neutral) and help to shift the hips and own our rib position (reduce Zone of Apposition) the likelihood we can fix the faulty pattern is fairly high.

 

All that said, the PRI rabbit hole is a deeeeeeeeeeeep one, and I do find many fitness professionals tend to overstep their scope of practice and forget that, you know, barbells still work and that our jobs are to still give people a training effect. 

I’m sorry but people aren’t going to get fired up spending 30 minutes of their training session practicing their diaphragmatic breathing. In fact I think a recent research study found that incidences of people wanting to stab themselves in the eye with a pen increase by 130% when this is the case.

Don’t get me wrong: PRI drills could very well be a part of the equation and I have used them to fix this very dysfunction, but I try not to get too carried away with it.

3. Lack of kinesthetic awareness. Much like the notion above with placing bands around someone’s knees to prevent them from caving in, we can use the same concept here.

Band Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT)

If you find someone exhibits a weight shift during their squat you can use a band to pull them into the weight shift (“feed the dysfunction”), and attempt to fix the faulty pattern. Essentially you use the RNT factor to help turn other stuff on that otherwise would be under-active or not firing efficiently and contributing to wonky movement.

How’s that for science?

Give the video a quick watch.

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  1. If I knew how to add a sad-face emoticon here I totally would

  • Brian Coppock

    Great stuff Tony! I have used the band around the knees on myself and clients and had it work well, I will give this a try as well the next time it comes up. I have also used bio-feedback with myself and clients and found that sometimes a foot position shift is helpful for this as well.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Absolutely, You can play around with several things. Foot position, stance, hand position, working on mastering tension, etc.

      All enter the equation.

  • Going to give the bands a try next squat day, looks like a really useful cue. I’ve always used the approach of visualising a sheet of paper beneath my feet and trying to rip it apart during the descent – sounds weird but it usually helps!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Yep. It’s not an end-all-be-all, one trick pony fix….but at the very least it’s something that allows the trainee to FEEL the weight shift. And, oftentimes (not always), does help to fix the pattern.

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  • Missy Yarbrough

    Cool, I totally get this! I’ll try it tonight!

  • Goi

    I have a weight shift to the right during the squat on the way up. It only happens when I’m towards the end of my high rep sets and/or the weight is heavy, presumably due to fatigue. On my warmup sets, or even my first 1-2 working sets, it looks ok. After that, my left knee starts caving in, and I sway to the right. In this case, would the band RNT method work? What if I’m training alone and have noone to help me with a band?

  • Goi

    I have a weight shift to the right during the squat on the way up. It only happens when I’m towards the end of my high rep sets and/or the weight is heavy, presumably due to fatigue. On my warmup sets, or even my first 1-2 working sets, it looks ok. After that, my left knee starts caving in, and I sway to the right. In this case, would the band RNT method work? What if I’m training alone and have noone to help me with a band?