- Back position - Exercisers need to be aware of the need to maintain a neutral spine during any exercise that loads the lumbar region. It is particularly important to maintain a slight lordosis (inward curve) in the lumbar spine, with engaged abdominals, to stabilise this region during the squat track. Once stable, the movement occurs simultaneously through the hips, knees and ankles, with the lumbar spine maintaining its neutral alignment. Any movement of the lumbar spine during the squat would endanger the discs and facet joints in this region.
- Knee movement - The knees should be bent no more than 90º at the bottom of the squat. This range protects some of the vulnerable soft tissues within the knee joint. Squatting any deeper than this increases the potential for joint shearing, which would endanger the cartilage. Whether or not the knees should track forwards over the toes is dependent on your lever length. Variations in length of the three levers involved with squatting (ie, the tibia, femur and trunk) will affect the amount of forward excursion of the knees over the feet. As long as you are controlled in your execution and are stopping at 90°, there is little need for concern if your knees track forwards slightly over your toes. Laterally rotating the hips with a slightly wider stance will often assist people who are longer through the femur. Trying to keep the forward incline of the tibia the same as that of the trunk will also help.
- Foot position - Foot position can provide the key to minimising stresses on the lower back. The feet should be at least shoulder-width apart and turned out slightly, as this allows the lower limb to move more freely. Positioning the feet too close together pushes the hips too far back during the squat action, creating excessive forward incline of the trunk, which greatly increases the loads on the lower back.
- Elbow position - The elbows must maintain their alignment directly under the bar during the squat action (ie, no rocking of the elbows forwards and back on the ascent or descent). This helps facilitate the thoracic extensors that help to support the upper back. If you cannot achieve this position (ie, your elbows drop back behind the bar due to shoulder restrictions), you should consider a front squat (with the plate across the chest), as an option.
- Knee tracking - Perfect knee positioning in the lunge track is necessary to reduce load on the patello-femoral joint. The knee should remain directly above the ankle and not push forwards during the lunge. This reduces the amount of knee flexion and reduces the compressive forces behind the knee cap. Both knees should be aligned with the middle of the foot to avoid rotation, which can also increase joint stress.
- Pelvic alignment - The pelvis must be kept square to the front during lunges. There is a tendency for some people to twist the pelvis towards the back leg. This rotation creates the need for a counter-rotation within the spine, thus creating a corkscrew effect. This once again can stress the discs and facet joints in the lumbar region. The 90-90 set-up rule, which enables you to correctly determine the foot position necessary for a lunge, should be used until you are skilled in the lunge movement pattern.
The back track
- Lower back - Maintenance of a neutral spine is vital. A slight inward curve in the lower back along with good abdominal support will ensure safety while inclining the trunk forwards during deadlifts, dead rows and bent-over rows. The bar should be lowered no further than knee height. Any lower than this may cause some people to round their spine, increasing load on the lumbar discs. The trunk is inclined forwards to approximately 40-50° off vertical. If you cannot maintain a neutral spine to this point, the depth of the movement is reduced to suit your ability to hold your lordosis.
- Knee position - The knees should be bent at approximately 20°. This allows gluteus maximus to be engaged to help support the lumbo-pelvic region. Slight knee flexion also reduces tension in the hamstrings, allowing a free range of motion through the hips. This, in turn, allows the lower back to remain in neutral. Click here to find your nearest class.