Believe it or not, in my experience, it’s actually more uncommon to find someone who squats and deadlifts perfectly symmetrical than it is to find someone with an imbalance. Most people who lift will have some form of bio-mechanical discrepancy.
This article won’t be able to tell you what the problem is with your squat, as this would require being screened in person by an experienced coach, however here are a few things to consider if you find you use one leg more than the other.
1. Start from the feet up
Over pronation of the foot (i.e., being flat footed) means the tibia and fibula (shin bones) will be more inclined to rotate internally causing the knee to shoot in (Valgus collapse). Sometimes people will have one foot flatter than the other, meaning this knee collapse only occurs (or is more pronounced) on one side.
I have recently being studying the effects of feet and hip placement on neurological messaging and how it effects the central nervous system. One of the things you may find from checking the feet is a leg length discrepancy. In one case, we found that a coach at the Frontline Fit Performance Centre had a very apparent neurological inhibition caused by one leg being a centimetre longer than the other.
Now this may not seem like such a big deal. However when you’re squatting double weight for double figure these marginal 1% gains become huge factors. We found that putting a wedge underneath the shorter leg instantly improved firing patterns in an indicator muscle (anterior deltoid). We then found that loading the opposite hip he shifts to weakens the muscle as well. This is a case wher
Tip 1. Check your feet first. If they’re flat, get insoles. This will put your foot in a much more optimal position.
2. Ankle mobility
People who play unilateral dominant sports, such as football and tennis, will heavily rely on one foot more than the other for stability. So a right footed footballer will have more mobility and better neurological control in his right foot, where as his left is likely to be more rigid and/or stable. This is all well and good for football, but is can cause massive issues when doing the compound lifts, especially squats.
As soon as the ankle reaches it’s limit during dorsiflexion, the body will need to compensate elsewhere. This usually happens at the lumbar spine. If one side is more restricted than the other you will get more lumbar flexion than the other in the bottom of the squat . This may cause the hips to shift to that side. Increased dorsiflexion is a fantastic way of decreasing the risk of injury. Studies have shown that the knees ability to travel over the toe is a great indicator for the likelihood of injury. If you have equally mobile ankles on both side you will reduces the chances of your hips travelling from one side to another.
Tip 2. Spend extra time mobilising the ankles prior to squatting and do not squat until both have an even amount of range.
3. You learnt the movement wrong
The degree of muscular imbalances will depend on the stage that you start to exhibit your problem. So for example, if the hip shift happens early on during lower intensities (roughly 40-75%) it will be a combination of tight muscles but also neuromuscular patterning. I.e., you learnt the movement wrong. In other words, it’s a cueing issue more than anything. Stretching and mobilising muscles will help, but you’ll also need to rebuild the exercise with the correct technique. If the shift happens at higher intensities, it may just be weakness rather than anything else.
Tip 3. Mobilise your muscle but add a strict tempo. Doing something slowly gives you the ability to do it better fast, therefore using 4-5 eccentric tempos on squats would be a good idea. If the imbalance is very prominent try 8-10 seconds lowering the weight. When I was rehabbing my squats I got given a phase where I had to do 30 seconds down, 30 seconds up…I’ll let that sink in.
4. Your neck and jaw are faulty
Everything in the body is connected. I recently had an x-ray to check out my cervical spine after very smartly dropping a yoke on my neck. Although the scans showed no damage, I couldn’t help but notice how my jaw was twisted to the right. Interestingly, I have niggling right SI joint issues that flair up from time to time. Since viewing the pictures, I have invested in a gum shield that re-alligns my jaw when I lift. I have to say, the improvements have been quite dramatic and I will be writing a more detailed article on this topic in the not too distant future.
Tip 4. Do soft tissue work on your neck and jaw prior to lifting. It helps mobilise the lower back and hips and makes it easier/smoother to hit adequate depth in the squat.
I would always strongly recommend getting a thorough screening if you feel you have issues with your squat. If you’re unable to be properly screened or can’t figure out what is specifically wrong with you, here are some common culprits for people who have a lateral hip shift.
Tight: Adductors, ITB, Glute Medius, Calves, Soleus, Hip flexors
Weak: Quads (VMO), hamstrings, glutes, spinal errectors, abdominals
As I’ve said many times in the past, “don’t add strength to dysfunction”. This is something I learnt from Gray Cook’s functional movement screening system and something I hugely believe. If you want to get strong, you need to be well aligned.