Keeping on theme with this week I want to continue sharing some of the things I learned this past weekend and how we can use this knowledge to level up in the gym. If you haven't had a chance to stay up with me this past week and don't know what I am talking about when I say "what I learned this past weekend" then please go read here because there is a lot you can start putting into practice right away.
Otherwise let's continue.
Dean's presentation all about the hips and appropriately titled "Too Hip for the Room," opened up with a clear message.
That message being that everyone is put together differently. Meaning that between individuals there can be quite a bit of difference in the structure of their hip joints. Even within individuals from left to right there can be variations in the structure the joints.
That is something that no one ever seems to bring up much.
Sure people talk about structure of joints, but they never talk about innate variations in those structures.
I think this is an important piece of the puzzle that is being left out.
Especially considering that coming from my background in a hard science you are routinely hit over the head with the mantra that "structure determines function."
And when you look at it with that perspective the significance of the variation in structures means that there then must be a variation in function.
This was exactly Dean's point at the beginning of his presentation and he made the point again and again using many examples.
I don't want to bore you too much with the anatomical and physiological talk, but I do want to give you an idea of all the possible differences between your hips themselves and between your hips and your best friend's hips.
Pelvis shape . . .
This one isn't to hard to get our heads around considering most people are aware of the fact that the shape of a pelvis is used to distinguish male versus female due to the female pelvis developing the most advantageous shape to accommodate child-birth with physical characteristics such as a wider angle where the two pubic bones meet, more outwardly flared hip bones, and a circular shaped pelvic inlet.
However there is actually quite a bit more variation in pelvis shape that extends beyond gender differences. Typically these variations in pelvis shape are classified into one of the four following: gynecoid, android, platypelloid, and anthropoid. These pelvis shapes lead to variations in the angle between the Coccyx and the Pubic Symphysis and angles of the Iliac Spines.
These different pelvis shapes are then going to lead to differences in function and therefore lend themselves to being better suited for different tasks. For example people who have an Android or Anthropoid shaped pelvis are going to be your record-setting deadlifters or at the least have a higher propensity to easily pick heavy shit off the ground.
I know it's not fair, but it's the way the world is. Some people where just built to be able to display greater amounts of strength in certain positions.
Femur to pelvis angle . . .
But it doesn't just stop at the overall shape of the pelvis as remember the hip-joint is made up of both bones from the pelvis and bones from the upper leg. This means that variations in the shape of the femur or the upper leg bone result in variations of the structure of the hip.
For example the angle at which the femoral head meets the pelvis has been categorized into three different distinct categories including a normal angle of inclination, a coxa vara angle of inclination, and a coxa valga angle of inclination.
Can you then imagine that someone with a coxa vara angle of inclination or a small angle of inclination is going to have a range of motion much different from a person with a coxa valga or a large angle of inclination?
But yet in many cases we force everyone into the established "normal" range of motion and work tirelessly to get them there despite that it maybe down right impossible for them to ever get there.
Depth of hip socket and placement of femur on the socket . . .
Plus you can have significant differences in how deep someones hip socket is. Typically you can think of this in terms of narrow and shallow.
Can you make a guess of which person might be able to get larger ranges of motion out of their hips?
And this isn't to mention that where on the hip socket the femur sits can be different and usually the differences are labeled as either anteverted or retroverted. Anteverted meaning the femur sits more towards the front of the hip socket and pelvis while retroverted means the femur sits further to the rear of the hip socket and pelvis.
Are you starting to see the picture I am painting for you and Dean was painting for me?
It's really quite amazing when you consider all this how much we are leaving out of the picture when we don't discuss our innate bony structures and the subsequent alignment of our joints because of it.
Instead many of us are trying to stretch, foam roll, and force ourselves to ranges of motion we might actually never be able to get too. This means we are probably wasting a lot of our time in the gym that could be better spent making us more badass and potentially even causing ourselves harm to trying to stretch bony structures into one another.
Yeah not good either way!
The solution then becomes that we acknowledge these differences not only between individuals, but also between each of our own hips and thus we acknowledge that our form in any given exercise may vary a bit from side to side and from person to person.
In fact learning about these variations in bony structures made me think back to two years ago listening to David Dellanave speak for the first time at The Fitness Summit in Kansas City in regards to how they use and incorporate biofeedback training with every single one of their members at Movement Minneapolis in order to maximize their return from their training each day and constantly hit new PR's.
David mentioned that not only do they use biofeedback to test the favorability between two large macro variations in a movement pattern such as testing the Back Squat against the Front Squat, but also testing micro variations in the movement pattern such as positioning one foot slightly in front of the other, turning one foot out further than the other, or playing around with stance width.
He noted that many of his members often found that they had greater range of motion and greater strength when deviating from what is considered the "correct" squatting technique or form.
I found this rather interesting at the time as I couldn't think of an explanation of why that might be.
I am definitely not trying to make an argument in support or against biofeedback based training.
I am simply trying to connect the dots between the information I have learned over the years and I believe there is a connection here
That being the increased range of motion and strength David saw with his members when they used varying foot and stance positions might be because of the innate asymmetries in many of these individuals bony structure as Dean pointed out in his talk.
Whether or not any of them or you agree with me I think both are great support for why it's important that we play around with our squatting pattern in order to find the positions and variations that are going to allow us to maximize our range of motion and our strength through that range of motion. Instead of trying to fit ourselves into this narrow window of what is considered the "correct" or "right" technique or position.
And this doesn't have to be a really complicated process that involves numerous assessments and a qualified professional. Although it may help to have a coach who can perform additional assessments and give you more targeted information about what might be the best looking and feeling squat pattern for you.
To get started though I'd recommend simply doing a simple test-retest assessment.
This means squatting and preferably unloaded or with a load that you are super comfortable with in what is considered the "correct" form for the squat. This would mean toes pointed straight ahead, feet between hip and shoulder width apart, and knees tracking over the toes.
When you are squatting this way be sure to mentally note how it feels. Does it feel tight and stiff? Do you feel unstable? Are you having a hard time getting down into the bottom position without falling backward or forwards?
Then simply alter your position in some way. Try turning your toes out a bit or moving your stance narrower or wider than try squatting again.
Again you want to note how it felt as you did before then compare how that felt and your notes to what the squat felt like prior when you were using the "correct" form.
If it feels better than chances are you have put your hips into a better position that fits their structure more naturally and allows you to access the range of motion without using as much energy or having to create stability from somewhere else in your body. If it feels worse than you simply try another variation and retest.
Continue playing with this test-retest assessment until you have found a foot placement and stance width that feels optimal. Then begin practicing your loaded squat variations using this new squat pattern beginning to apply load as you become more comfortable.
However real quick before turning you loose to go explore your squat pattern I want to remind you that while there are acceptable variations in everyone's squat form because of differences in bony structures I want it to be clear that there are some guidelines that hold true in the squat regardless of how you are put together.
In particular these guidelines have to do with keeping you out of positions that are known to be problematic when placed under load and can lead to injuries. In my opinion the following guidelines should be stuck to when squatting and particularly when developing the squat you are going to place under load:
- Your knees should not cave in towards one another at any time during your ascent or descent from the squat. This can lead to large valgus forces being placed on the soft tissue structures of the knee and places you at a high likely hood for injury.
- You should avoid butt-winking at all cost as it's a sign that you are trying to use a range of motion you do not have in your hips and your back is making up for it. This will lead to one of two things happening either your SI Joint will begin to hate you or you will herniate the discs at the lower levels of your lumbar spine.
- Don't over extend your back or allow your back to flex during the squat. Try to think about keeping a neutral spine and creating a canister like shape with your pelvis and ribs. A good cue to think about is keeping your belt buckle pulled towards your chin.
I really hope this encourages those of you who maybe frustrated with their inability to perform a squat "correctly" and inspires you to begin tinkering with how you can make your squat pattern fit you and not you fit the squat pattern.
If you have any questions please don't hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd be happy to continue this discussion with you and clarify anything I may have glossed over. I want to help you succeed in the gym and do it for a long time pain-free.
Happy moving and heavy lifting!
Practical, Purposeful, Effective Training