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Overhead squat analysis

Hadyn Luke posted this on Friday 21st of December 2012 Hadyn Luke 21/12/2012

Tags: Training methods


In our latest blog, we are looking at postural analysis, in particular the overhead squat analysis.

When a personal trainer or fitness instructor is analysing a client’s posture – from the position of their feet to how they hold their shoulders and head – they can use either a static, a dynamic or a transitional postural assessment.

In a transitional postural assessment, the base of support changes. So during the exercise, either the client transfers weight from one foot to the other, or their centre of mass changes from outside or inside their base of support. Walking, jumping and hopping are all transitional movements, which show the body’s posture when it’s transmitting different forces at different speeds, rather than through a controlled dynamic movement.

A common dynamic postural assessment test – or Functional Movement Screening (FMS) test – is the overhead squat analysis. The overhead squat is ideal for this kind of test as the feet remain fixed while the body moves through a range of positions to perform the squat.

Assessing an overhead squat

 The personal trainer should not give the client too much direction on how to perform the overhead squat, as the idea is to evaluate their natural state. If they have too much information in advance it may change the way in which they perform the exercise and it will therefore be harder for the personal trainer to get a true indication of the client’s natural posture and movements.

Getting in position for the squat

The client should stand with their feet shoulder width apart and pointing either directly ahead or slightly externally rotated. Their posture should be upright, with their arms fully extended above their head, so their humorous is running alongside their ears.

Observing the squat

The next step is for the personal trainer to ask the client to squat down into a position that is comfortable for them. This should be repeated for three sets of five squats, with a 15-second rest between each one. For the first five squats, the fitness instructor should observe the client from an anterior position (from the front), for the second five squats they should observe from a lateral position (from the side) and for the final five, from a posterial position (from the back).

Analysing the squat

From each viewpoint, the personal trainer is looking for specific checkpoints. A few examples are given below and a fuller analysis of these checkpoints can be found via this link.

From the anterior position

The fitness instructor should check the feet, ankles, knees and hips.

  • Feet/anklesare the client’s feet inverting, or rotating outwards with the toes pointing out at a “10 to 2” position?
  • Knees/hips: are the knees coming inwards (commonly known as knee valgus), or are the knees and hips moving outwards, separating the legs?

From the lateral position

The personal trainer should check the movement of the lower pelvic hip complex (LPHC), including the pelvis, trunk and shoulder girdle.

  • Pelvis: is there a hyper-extension of the spine leading to the lower back arching; is there flexion of the lower spine leading to the lower back rounding; is there an excessive forward lean in the trunk; and do the arms fall to a lower position?

From the posterial position

The fitness instructor should look at the feet, ankles and hips.

  • Feet/ankles: do the feet flatten, do the heels rise off the floor?
  • Hips: is there a lateral/asymmetric weight shift during the movement?

Three common signs for a personal trainer to look out for

1. Feet turning out

If a client’s feet turn out, this is a sign that they have overactive muscles in the lateral gastrocnemius as well as the biceps femorus short head and the tensor fasciae latae. If these muscles are overactive, their antagonistic pair will be underactive. So if the lateral gastrocnemius is overactive, the medial gastrocnemius will be underactive. If the biceps femorus short head is overactive then the medial hamstring will be underactive. And if the tensor fasciae latae is overactive, then the abductor group, for example the gracilis, may be underactive.

2. Knees moving inwards

Another common outcome is that a client’s knees will turn inwards. This internal rotation of the femur can be a sign that there are overactive muscles in the abductor complex as well as potentially the vastus lateralis. If the abductors and one of the quads are overactive, the abductors, such as the gluteus medius will be underactive and the vastus medialis oblique (VMO) will be underactive.

3. Arms falling forward

This may indicate that the client has overactive latissimus dorsai and pectoralis major, often caused by overtraining certain back and chest muscles. Their underactive muscles will therefore be the mid and lower trapezius, the rhomboids and the rotator cuffs.

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