There may be nothing more fundamental for the typical CrossFit WOD than the squat. Getting this basic movement down is essential for building up in complexity for other workouts incorporating the squat (eg snatch, clean, wall balls). While an air squat appears simple enough to accomplish, it’s often performed incorrectly with first-time CrossFit athletes. Going through the basics of the air squat will help you work on your form on your own time, and help correct your personal weakspots.
To achieve proper form with the air squat, there is less associated with mobility and more with motor control of the body. Most instructors will focus too much on mobility (although it is a significant factor in performance) and not enough on proper muscle activation. Proper form is often interrupted by a few incorrect movements. The majority of these include:
An imbalanced spine (non-neutral)
Off-balance weight in the feet and contact with the floor
An outward rotation of the feet
Poor depth of squat
Improper knee tracking during performance
One of the biggest benefits of working with a certified CrossFit coach is that they can help point out improper functions of your squat.
When analyzing how mobility is affecting the squat form, the first place to pay attention to is the ankle. If the ankles lack significant range-of-motion then there will be limitations to the squat and also jumping activities. In order to test ankle function, you can position one foot about four inches from a wall facing forward while barefoot. If the knee cannot make contact with the wall without the heels raising up, ankle mobility is limited.
As for assessing hip mobility, you can test for function by placing the athlete on their back and bending the knee to where the thigh makes contact with the stomach. If the thigh makes contact, then the mobility is adequate for a proper squat.
To find the ability for hip rotation, the athlete should sit on a box in an upright position. A training partner would then rotate one leg inward for measurement and then in the reverse direction outward. The thighs should remain directly forward in order to check for range of motion of the pelvis. The motion of rotating the feet both inward and outward should be stopped when the pelvis begins to shift along with the legs. What is considered to be a “normal” range is approximately 40 degrees both internally and externally. If range is limited in the legs then usually the body will try to compensate for that in the squat by by turning the feet outward during execution.
If you determine that there isn’t any real issue with mobility of the ankles and hips, but still see dysfunction in the performance of the squat, then the issue becomes poor motor control. This is when the athlete is unable to coordinate the necessary muscles while activated during movement. Coaching with the appropriate verbal and visual cues and repetition of the proper movement will aid in training quality squat performance.
A common instance of misinterpreting poor motor control for limited mobility is when the knees are tracking inward during the squat. While this may be due to limited ankle mobility, it’s actually one of the most common instances of lack of motor control in the gluteal muscles.
Determining both your range of motion and overall motor control are part of completing and improving the squat movement. With the help of a certified CrossFit coach, adjusting and training your body will significantly improve function to complete not only the basic air squat, but other complex exercises as well.