Ever wondered when is a movement a squat, and when is it not? Have you ever seen the squat truly defined to where there are no questions about it?

 

Dictionary: crouch or sit with one’s knees bent and one’s heels close to or touching one’s buttocks or the back of one’s thighs.

 

This describes the end phase of a squat, you still don’t know, when a movement becomes a squat, nor the characteristics of a squat. I know the following is going to boggle some minds, but stay open, just because it’s always been THAT way, called THAT way, doesn’t mean it’s right. Without clear definitions there will always be a divide, hence I took it upon myself to close that divide.

In simple terms: The squat is flexion (one called dorsiflexion) in three joints, namely the hips, knees and ankles, always. The second factor is the amount of flexion that dictates the depth, quarter, half, three-quarter, or full squat.

Out of the three joints, the knees are the ones providing the most flexion, and truly dictate the depth of the squat. The other two joints take care of even weight distribution.

The squat is a child of the hip hinge if you look at this from the point of progression, i.e. the squat involves a hip hinge, but not vice versa. If you’re into OOP (object oriented programming) it would look something like this—and excuse me, it’s been a while since I dabbled in OOP:

HIP HINGE

  • hip joint flexion CONSTANT
  • knee joint flexion VARIABLE

HIP HINGE → SQUAT

  • hip joint flexion CONSTANT
  • knee joint flexion CONSTANT
  • ankle joint dorsiflexion CONSTANT

I started wondering about all this when I knew that the hip hinge was supposed to tax the posterior chain, but then asked to perform the _____ Clean (not going to stir this pot yet) which is explained as a hip hinge, but I felt my quads doing the initial work, and my ankles achieved dorsiflexion. ????

Here’s my attempt at illustrating the characteristics of a squat.

It’s ok, relax, it says something like:

  • A movement uses joints
  • For the two movements covered we need to only look at three joints
    • Hips
    • Knees
    • Ankles
  • The hip hinge ALWAYS uses the hips
  • The knees are a variable with the hip hinge
  • The squat is based on the hip hinge
  • The squat uses all joints, always

Now we’re at a point where several things can happen, and either way I’m fine with it:

  • Hmmm, great points, can’t argue with the above
  • I see a flaw, I will kindly point that out in a detailed manner
  • I based everything I know on previous knowledge, I can’t change now, this is therefore WRONG
  • My mind is in overdrive, allow me some time to process, I’ll be back

Whichever one you chose, I’m fine with it. As long as you don’t come barking on my door, discussion is great, but trying to shove your out of date knowledge down my throat is not. Discussion is where both parties are genuinely interested in hearing what the other has to say. I’m genuinely interested what you have to say. These are my findings, can I be wrong? I’m not going to be some stuck up stubborn old fart and say that I can’t be wrong, there can always be something overlooked, but it looks pretty clear cut to me.

 

I made a video to demonstrate different variations for the kettlebell swing, SWING is the keyword, there is no specific request for a specific variation when someone asks for a “SWING”, so here it is, hip hinge and squat variations of the swing.

 

Now, let’s talk Squat. Join in.

 

Following is an excerpt from my latest book Kettlebell Training Fundamentals.

“Performing a kettlebell swing squat style does not make you a bad trainer; performing an incorrect kettlebell swing squat style makes you a bad trainer. Performing a kettlebell swing ‘any’ style powered by the shoulders makes you a bad trainer.” -Taco Fleur

The hip hinge is the movement pattern with which the Russian swing was made popular, and anything that did not feature this movement was considered bad, but no more. The squat version is only bad when it’s performed incorrectly and becomes damaging to the person performing the movement. If executed correctly, guess what? You’re simply working and powering the movement with a different muscle group.

It’s bad when you’re doing a high number of kettlebell swings, using your shoulders and erector spinae to power the move, because your shoulders and erector spinae are more than likely not conditioned to perform this move one hundred times without getting injured. There is also nothing wrong with a shoulder raise if performed correctly with the appropriate weight and right amount of repetitions, and named correctly (i.e. not a “swing”). Watch a video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIuLguUQbeM

A kettlebell swing that looks like a squat is not bad – I repeat, it is not bad – it’s simply a kettlebell swing squat style, assuming that the squat style is executed correctly and the arms are used as a pendulum. It’s wrong when the person should be performing the hip hinge style, but is performing the squat style because their glutes are too weak to power the movement in the hip hinge.

A great way to spot if the shoulders are being used during the swing is when you see the kettlebell drooping at the top of the swing; if the kettlebell looks like an extension of the arm, it’s more than likely that the swing was properly powered by the lower body.

 

Definition of the squat:

Movement

  • Torso remaining as much as possible in the vertical plane
  • Hips always moving down in the vertical plane

Hinge joints

  • Hips, knees, and ankles

A squat is performed in standing position with the objective being to move the hip joints as close to the ground as possible. This is achieved through flexion in 3 joints: flexion in the hip joints, flexion in the knee joints, and dorsiflexion in the ankle joints.

If flexion is achieved in any of the joints that define the squat, but no maximum depth is achieved, then it’s further defined by the approximate height; quarter squat; half squat; three-quarter squat; whereas maximum depth would be a full squat. A quick quarter squat can also be defined as a dip.

The objective of the squat exercise is to tax the quadriceps and gluteus maximus. A completely vertical position of the torso provides the maximum resistance for the quadriceps, and the more it moves towards the horizontal plane, the more it removes resistance from the target muscles. Furthermore, a vertical position of the torso provides the most stable and safe spinal structure for the weighted squat. The torso should never break the angle of 45° flexion.

Definition of the hip hinge:

Movement

  • Torso moving towards but never past the horizontal plane
  • Hips remaining in horizontal plane, or moving backward and down in the vertical plane, but never breaking the angle of 45° flexion

Hinge joints

  • Fixed: hips
  • Variable: knees

A hip hinge is performed in standing position, with the objective being to move the torso toward the horizontal plane, this is achieved through flexion in the hip joints. The movement can also be accompanied by flexion in a second joint, that of the knees, which is cause for the hips to move down and backward. The function of added knee flexion is to create a more balanced weight distribution, especially with weighted hip hinges like deadlifts. If the ankle joints move and dorsiflexion is achieved, the definition of the movement changes to a squat.

The objective of the hip hinge exercise is to tax the gluteus maximus and hamstrings (hip extensors). A completely horizontal torso provides the maximum resistance for the hip flexors, and the more it moves towards the vertical plane, the more resistance is removed.

The maximum recommended hip flexion is 45° for weighted hip hinges.

Buy the book, videos, photos and much more, Kettlebell Training Fundamentals.

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