by Richard Symister @ MovEvolution Physical Therapy


Why I Stopped LOADED Squats

Let’s not get things twisted. I absolutely love squats–weighted, air, kettle bell. But over the last few months of performing Olympic squats, something had gone awry. I would often have lingering right hip joint pain for days after any heavy lifts and when I checked for symmetry in the mirror, I was none too shocked to see that the bar was crooked, leaning to the right. (Check out my “air squat” below and see if you can point out all of my joint misalignments).

What did all this mean? At the time, I was not quite sure. But I knew that instead of grinding through chronic hip (and eventually back) pain and compensating with poor movement patterns, I decided to stop loading a bad squat with weight!

Any and all of my clinical and trainer colleagues are all on the same page with me as far as squat priority #1: Form. Form. Form. And, boy, was my form off. Here’s a list of problems I discovered:

  • Increased valgus right knee
  • Weak right hip abductors
  • Poor external rotation in the right shoulder (which made it really hard maintaining proper hand position in both front and back squats)
  • Fear avoidance (e.g. I expected pain) with squatting past 90 degrees

All this led to an image of a guy who looked like he was trying to shake the weights off the right side of the bar in low squat position. (See my squat profile video and watch me struggle to maintain an upright trunk.)

In 2016, I got wise, put the plates aside and started a program to target my specific problems. I used the A, B, C protocol, a concept used in one form or another in all great forms of strength and conditioning (weight training, yoga, Pilates, and qi gong).

A: Alignment is postural awareness, postural stability, structure. Without great posture and positional sense, you sacrifice the solid foundation from which you throw, kick, lift, muscle up, squat.

B: Breath work. The diaphragm is an important muscle, not only for assisting with 02 delivery, but also CORE stability. The diaphragm is the muscular roof of your core and with dysfunction, it can have negative effects on stability, postural awareness and the transfer of power from your LES to your UES.

C: Control. Motor control. Biomechanics. Functional movement. Whatever you call it, you need to put the entire package together. That package sets postural symmetry while maintaining controlled, diaphragmatic breathing with smooth, balanced movement.

My evolving routine to improve loaded squats?

  • Focus on right knee alignment during air squats, lunges and tai chi
  • Re-establish hip abductor (glute medius) balance. [Thanks, Ben Kessel of Priority Fitness for these killers]:
    1 legged running
    1 legged bridge
    Band-resisted fire hydrants
  • Tons of self-mobilizations to my right shoulder girdle to free up tissue and scapular stabilization exercises to increase my tolerance for holding the loaded squat bar.
  • Countless squats throughout the day while using my “pain neuroscience” knowledge–knowing that there was no structural damage occurring and that my hip and LB nerves were just hypersensitive from years of chronic pain.
    Where am I now? Feeling great. Pain free squats . . . most of the time. My right hip needs some deep tissue work to free up a stubborn vastus lateralis and TFL, but I finally feel ready to get back under the plates, brace, and squat again!

Heal. Move. SQUAT. Evolve.