Squat Assessment: Is It a Mobility or Stability Issue?

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Assessing someone’s squat pattern offers a gulf of information – everything from any muscular imbalances or dysfunctions that may exist, to soft tissue restrictions, movement quality, and one’s overall general level of awesomeness.

There are a few factors (and to a larger extent, progressions) that I use when I assess someone’s squat pattern, and it’s not uncommon for me to poke and prod and otherwise tinker around to find out what the root cause may be when someone’s performance is less than exemplary.

Far too often I find that people “assume” a client’s or athlete’s poor squat performance is due to mobility restrictions. Or maybe they just woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  Who knows?

As result, many coaches are left barking up the wrong tree when attempting to address the issue(s), with little to no improvement to show for their efforts. Sometimes weeks or even months after the fact.

In the short video clip below, I discuss one aspect that I find gets glossed over by many trainers and coaches and also provide a way to differentiate between something being a MOBILITY issue or a STABILITY issue.

Hope it helps!

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Comments for This Entry

  • Michael Thompson

    So things like front planks, fallouts, etc. put into the program while working with the regression of the squat (ie. Front Squat w/ plate or Goblet.) Also I know you have or are reading, becoming a supple leopard. What are your thoughts on keeping the feet forward and actively activating the external rotators during the squat? Also how do you typically cue/correct the knee falling in other thant the typical CP push your knees out cue?

    October 11, 2013 at 11:30 am | Reply to this comment

    • Hudson Slater

      Great article Tony. I would also be interested in your comments on Supple Leopard.

      October 11, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Planks, yes......but I'd also try to push the envelop and toss in some chops/lifts/carries/rollouts too. j I'm only about 4-5 chapters into Supple Leopard and thus far I LOVE it. I really liked the chapter with Kelly explaining why he coaches the squat with feet facing forward so as to help create more torque in the hips. Can't say I'd go out of my way to coach with the same foot position, but LOVE the analogy with torque. Awesome book so far.

      October 11, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Reply to this comment

      • Michael Thompson

        Wait your saying rotational/antirotational work the anterior cor aswell with activating the internal/external obliques? Also in carries are you refering to goblet/clean/offset? Rollouts I get, but your blowing my mind on the former two. On the note of how Kelly teaches the squat: I've started using the feet forward with my cliets thathave knee pain. A funny thing happened... The pain went away! It makes them take ownership of the movement. *Spoiler* (But hopefully not) I know you have a history of lower back/SI issues. There is a very nice muscle energy technique that will fix allignment problems.

        October 12, 2013 at 4:27 am | Reply to this comment

  • Brent

    Good stuff Tony. don't want to oversimplify it here but if someone can keep their spine neutral in say the quadruped rockback getting their femur below parallel but look horrible when standing, is this 99% of time a stability issue? I ask because I'm working with a retired client in her 60's who even after giving her a counter balance in front to turn on the anterior core, her squat still looks sketch (torso pitches forward much more than I want). Her anterior core is most likely weaker than a babies fart, but it's an exercise where you can only load someone up so much before their delts hate you. Just bought a cook band so I can play around with some RNT stuff. What would you do with a client like this? I'm gonna wrap the band around her knees to pull her into an anterior weight shift to turn on her core and see what happens...and then internet high five Gray Cook if it works! Squats are quite the bastards to clean up with older folk. So squatty potty for them!

    October 11, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      I think the quadruped rockback is definitely a viable way to ascertain ample squat depth for someone. As soon as they start to hinge or go into spinal flexion, you'll know where they're idea "spot" will be. That said, there are other factors to look into why one's squat pattern is off: lack of ankle dorsiflexion, lack of hip flexor length, lats, weak hip stability, etc. I wouldn't say 99% of the time it's a stability issue, but it's definitely something I wish more people would pay attention to.

      October 11, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Reply to this comment

      • Brent

        I tend to stick with the FMS, and in the general warm up will almost always hit up ankle mobs, hip flexors, one legged bosu squats with a pink db (for proprioception obvi.), glutes, etc. I'm really liking the bench over t-spine mobs. not only for t-spine ext. but probably moreso for lats. Are there any other good ways to release the lats? 'attack the lats' <--your next blog title...and GO! :) Thanks Tony.

        October 11, 2013 at 9:17 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Donovan Manley

      I've had some success in similar cases using a resistance band anchored in front with the client holding it out front similar to the counterweight. Forces to client to sit back to counter forward pull, as well as getting the whole torso actively engaged. Also allows you to 'load' it a little more without turning it into a 'shoulders day'.

      October 12, 2013 at 8:48 am | Reply to this comment

      • Danielle D

        I recently started squatting while holding a plate out in front and found the shoulder exhaustion from holding it out was the biggest limiting factor! I will try a band looped in front to try to alleviate that!

        October 15, 2013 at 7:49 am | Reply to this comment

        • TonyGentilcore

          This was just an assessment protocol Danielle, and I wouldn't exactly go out of my way to have someone perform squats while holding a plate out in front, because you're right, shoulder endurance becomes the limiting factor. I'd try Goblet Squats.

          October 16, 2013 at 5:45 am | Reply to this comment

  • Tad S.

    Great topic. I'm sitting in a doctors office so I am unable to watch the video. Maybe you covered this: I see many clients that simply don't have a clue how to squat. I don't immediately contribute it to mobility or stability (control) rather just a lack of movement education. I coach them up and usually see improvements. I work a lot with youth and novice athletes that move like new born giraffes... That explains a lot of it.

    October 11, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Oh, definitely Tad. If someone has poor kinesthetic awareness or just have no idea where they're body is going, or, in some cases, someone went through an aggressive growth spurt, they're going to be all over the place. Coaching someone well is always a fail proof way to clean up the squat. As I noted in the video, however, I just don't want people to ASSUME one thing, when it could be something else altogether.

      October 11, 2013 at 5:40 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Robert Aguero-Hoffman

    Nice video Tony! Is it me, or are you secretly shrinking all the sleeves on your t-shirts now a days??

    October 11, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Kyle Schuant

    Most of the time it's just strength. Get someone to hold onto a doorknob or squat rack support with both hands, drop down, shove their knees out and get their chest up. Edna comes in on her walking frame, she can drop below parallel holding onto something, she just can't get back up again. Vast majority of the time, it's strength not mobility. This is what we have the leg press and planks for.

    October 11, 2013 at 11:40 pm | Reply to this comment

  • KW

    For training the core I can really recommend Michael Boyle's chapter in "advances of functional training".

    October 13, 2013 at 7:35 am | Reply to this comment

  • Bobby Dattero

    Can you also do some exercises where a person squats down, picks up a med ball into the goblet position, and stands up with it? I have found some success with these people that struggle with depth and neutral spine with a loaded squat. Take the load away and the hips seem to open up.

    October 13, 2013 at 9:44 am | Reply to this comment

  • Things to Read to Get You Over the Hump 10/16 | Edwards Performance

    […] Squat Assessment: Is it a Mobility or a Stability Issue? by Tony Gentilcore […]

    October 16, 2013 at 9:40 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kylie

    So i have tried this plate trick with at least 4 ppl in 2 days. As soon as they have the plate in front they do not lose their low back arch in the deep squat position. After a few reps with the plate, I have them air squat without the plate and they are able to maintain the same great low back position (magic). However if I was to give them a bar to front squat with i would say half of them are able to keep the position and the other half go back to losing the low back arch. What is the next step with these athletes? Do i have them squat with plates as warm up before any squat work and for those that can't keep the low back arch should they simply stop right before they lose that position until they are able to go deeper and maintain the arch?

    October 28, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      I would say it's just a matter of allowing them to build up their strength and to "cement" the new motor pattern. I'd try to hammer the plate loaded or Goblet squats for a few weeks and then see if things improve over that span. Sometimes we just jump the gun too soon and it's just a matter of regressing things slightly in order to hammer home proper technique.

      October 29, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Reply to this comment

  • JourneyForFitness » Why Deep Squats Are The Best Squats

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    November 1, 2013 at 5:26 am | Reply to this comment

  • Lau Larala

    Thank you so much! Very good tip for those (like me) who thought squads are not meant for them!!! Thanks!! :)

    September 23, 2014 at 10:19 pm | Reply to this comment

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