Squats are a very popular exercise in generic online exercise programs. But how do you know if you’re doing them right? Common mistakes equestrians make when squatting can greatly increase the risks of injury, while also preventing you from getting the most out of your workout. A licensed physical therapist can help you reap all the benefits of squats and prevent you from making several common mistakes.
Benefits of Squats
Squats are a great core and leg workout. Yes, you read that right. Core muscles are worked when squatting properly. A squat (when done well) specifically targets your buttocks, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductor, hip flexors, and calves for your lower body. In your upper body, you may be surprised to learn that a squat also targets your rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominis, and erector spinae. These abdominal muscles support your back and allow you to balance easily.
If you’ve read some of my other blogs, these muscles may sound familiar to you. As an equestrian, we rely heavily on our hip flexors, hip extensors, and abdominals to help us sit securely in the saddle and drape our legs gracefully around our horse’s sides. Squats are one of the number one workouts to strengthen these key muscles and improve your riding performance.
A significant injury can set your riding back months and ruin a good show season. One way to reduce injury risk is to incorporate squats into your exercise routine. Squatting strengthens connective tissue like ligaments and tendons, which will help you stay injury-free.
A squat isn’t just an exercise. It’s also a key movement pattern that’s used in a Functional Movement Screen. Because a squat engages almost your entire body, it’s greatly impacted by anatomical differences in your biomechanics. A licensed physical therapist can see imbalances, uneven muscling, stiffness, and hyperflexibility all by watching you squat.
Three Big Mistakes
Most people make at least one of these three big mistakes when adding squats to their workout routine. Unfortunately, these mistakes increase your risk of injury and significantly decrease the benefits you’ll get from squatting.
Mistake #1: Watch the Knees!
A common mistake when squatting is to allow your knees to protrude past your toes. This is actually very dangerous as you can do serious damage to your knees. When your knees go past your toes (knee overhang), it places more strain on your joints and stresses your quadriceps while underworking your glutes. Tight hips can be one of the biggest reasons why your knees hang over your toes instead of your hips pushing backwards. If you have knee overhang when you squat, you may also be struggling with pushing your hips back in the air over fences.
When squatting, a licensed physical therapist will watch to see if you rotate your knees in or out and if one does it more than the other. Knee rotation is often a sign of weak quadriceps and can lead to back injuries when combined with tight hips. To avoid knee rotation, think of your body as a stack of boxes. In each box is a main joint. You want to keep your hips stacked over your heels and knees stacked over your ankles. These angles will keep your body in alignment and avoid chances of injury.
Mistake #2: The Right Depth for You
You might believe that the lower the squat, the better the workout. While this is partially true, everything must be done in moderation. Squatting too deeply places a lot of stress on your knee joints. Going too deep also means that your gluteal muscles can’t push as well when you stand back up, putting even more strain on your back. This can lead to knee and quad injuries, as well as back pain.
On the other hand, too shallow of a squat reduces your workout. While shallow squats usually don’t lead to injuries, you won’t be able to build the type of strength you’re looking for. If you’re starting from a place of poor fitness, previous knee injuries, or back pain, it’s a good idea to work with a licensed physical therapist and start shallow. Squat until you feel your core engage and there’s some strain on your quadriceps and gluteal muscles. Don’t try to compete in terms of depth with others nearby.
Mistake #3: Posture, Posture, Posture
As equestrians, we’ve all heard critiques of our posture at some point in our riding career. Chin up! Heels down! Back straight! Elbows by your side! At times, we may even feel as though we’re contorting ourselves into a pretzel. Posture matters just as much when you’re squatting as it does when you’re riding.
If you look up and arch your back while squatting, you greatly increase stress on the disks of your spine, possibly leading to spinal injuries. However, leaning forward can be just as damaging. When you lean forward, you increase the weight and strain on your knee joints, thereby increasing the possibility of knee injury.
The best solution to developing good posture for squats is to work with a licensed physical therapist. A licensed physical therapist can watch you squat, and help you understand where and what to bend. However, if you don’t have a physical therapist to help, try keeping your hands cupped in front of you, as though you were holding a bowl of soup. This mental imagery prevents you from leaning too far forward or arching your back. Remember, maintaining a neutral spine is the key to a correct squat.
Reap the Benefits of Squats
Working with a Doctor of Physical Therapy decreases your risk of injury while squatting and ensures that you will maintain the correct depth and posture to get the most out of your squats. Dr. Shields can help you translate the strength you build while squatting to your equitation and success in the saddle. Take advantage of the Physio Equine Solutions Clinic at Shields’ Fields today.