We often talk about the importance of assessing clients in order to make a customized program for them. While many clients require a full assessment by a physiotherapist, we also use some movement techniques to reveal a lot of issues which often go undiagnosed in some physio assessments. One of the primary technique which we use is basically an exercise which is quite similar to Olympic lifting:
The Overhead Squat
If you’ve been in any exercise program or went to a gym, you must be knowing about squats. It is one of the most basic movements which a human body can perform. Squatting is how a human body lowers its center of gravity correctly without excessively loading the spine (imagine a kid picking something up from the floor). Adding an overhead component to the basic squat makes the overhead squat even richer in terms of assessing upper body dysfunctions. Also, if someone is proud of squatting half reps on a ton of weight, this is our go-to exercise to humble them down. Praises aside, let’s look at the exercise/technique first.
Pinning the Technique
- If you’ve never squatted ever in your life (apart from sitting in Indian Toilets), we invite you to first learn how to do bodyweight squats. Common errors include lower back rounding, initiating movement from knees instead of hips and not keeping heels on the ground. Many of our clients are not able to perform bodyweight squats correctly and hence we first focus on building acceptable form on this exercise before moving towards the overhead squat
- If you’re sure you’re doing the bodyweight squats correctly (Mirrors help, videos too. Selfies..not!), we can move on to overhead squats. Don’t worry if you don’t have a bar to perform the movement, a PVC pipe or even a broom can be used to hold between the hands. Whatever you are using, it just should be long enough for you to spread your arms overhead and hold the stick comfortably throughout the movement.
- Here’s a demo video (first and probably the last one from Crossfit) for you to even further your understanding in terms of hand/wrist positioning and squat depth. Don’t worry about your stance too much. Feel where you are most comfortable and perform the movement . For most people, it’s in the range of their hip width and shoulder width.
Analyzing your Performance
So how did it go? We bet it was tough. It’s okay to not get it right perfectly. What we are looking at are the flaws it unveils to give us things to improve on. Following are some key markers we hunt for, specifically:
- Feet: This is a bottom-up approach, literally. Common minor faults include arch collapses, duck feet etc (Read more here). A major fault is heels coming off the ground. There’s a high probability that this is due to lack of ankle flexibility. Congratulations! You’ve got something to work on. Calf tightness or a stiff Achilles tendon is our first guess.
- Knees: Knees going beyond your toes is not an issue. We often hear that from trainers and fitness gurus but it’s a big myth. We’ll cover it some day in detail. What is important here is observing if your knees are caving inwards while you come up during the squat. People with arch collapses often face this issue and if you have both of those symptoms, it’s time to put more effort on working your glutes and abductors for a month or so and see if this improves anything.
- Lower Back Rounding: If you are unable to sit deep without rounding your lower back significantly (a slight bend at the bottom is acceptable), you most probably are facing some tightness in the lower back-pelvic area. Find out which muscles are tight (e.g. hamstrings, piriformis, quadratus lumborum etc) and stretch/massage them out on a daily basis. Things should start improving in a couple of weeks if you’re regular.
- Trunk and Shoulder Position: Identify which image does your squat resemble most from the reference pic shown on right. If you resemble the first image, you’re a star. Go eat some dark chocolate while sitting in the squatting position. On the other hand, if your position looks more like the third, we invite you to check out this article on front squats which is a great exercise for engraving the “sinking down into depth” movement pattern very effectively. If your position looks more like the second, your problem may be because of poor shoulder/thoracic mobility (chest/upper back area). A good point to start improving that is the following stretch that we teach at all corporate workshops.
Notice that we have used words like “may be”, “probably” and “high probability”. This is because it is impossible (with certainty) to pin-point every problem that may exist based on a single assessment technique. These are general thumb rules written for normal folks who do not suffer pain but may be suffering some weakness/restricted flexibility and don’t know about it. Mentioned corrective drills are also suggestive and may not work, depending upon person to person.
Remember, assessment is for identification of problems which may go under the radar in a typical day-to-day sedentary lifestyle. It’s only a starting point to make yourself more aware of your body.
In Lucem Scientiam