Squats – Form Follows Function!

This installment is brought to you by  Katelyn Owens, our current student at Cardin and Miller Physical Therapy in Mechanicsburg. She will soon be graduating from PT school at St. Frances, and is doing excellent work helping patients in the office.

I often witness how traditional strengthening exercises DONE WELL are truly therapeutic for alleviating lower back, hip, and knee pain. Here, Katelyn tells you why.


When we think of performing squats for exercise, we typically don’t think much beyond the simple bending of the knees and getting low.  Like many movements we use during exercise, the squat is more complex than what you may think.

Many people confuse the squat and the deadlift, which is understandable because they are both great lower body exercises.  The muscle group we are working while squatting is primarily the quads (front of the thigh) along with the glutes (hips), whilesquat-bad-form during the deadlift we’re primarily using our glutes, hamstrings, and middle to lower back.  The position of our lower leg is what makes the difference in each exercise

Our glutes are the largest muscle group and can produce the most power per cross sectional area, so why don’t we use them to our advantage?  When we are kids we have the perfect

squatting position; straight back, bending at the knees, hinging at the hip—so what changes as we age? squat-baby

Well for one, many of us lose flexibility over time.  Another reason is as we age, we find ways to “cheat” from bending down at the hips and knees because at the time it’s “easier.”  We stoop down and bend over to pick up keys we’ve dropped, socks that fell, toys we stub our toes on, etc…  This stooped over posture is THE WORST posture we can put ourselves into.

When we’re young, we can get away with not using proper squatting form, but as we continue to NOT use our strongest musculature, it atrophies and weakens.  With weak glutes, we no longer have the capability to perform a powerful squat or deadlift.  When we come upon tasks, such as lifting a heavy couch, our glutes give way under the stress, we bend forward, and are more prone for back injuries such as strains, sprains, and even herniated discs.

Secondly, another compensation we unconsciously do while performing squats and/or deadlifts is called valgus collapse.   When our glutes are weak, we lose the ability to control our knee in its proper alignment which can cause pain and squat-valgus

Low slung jeans, baggy trousers, UK 2004 (Photo by Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
A butt is not primarily a cosmetic issue. It’s a functional issue that goes hand-in-hand with poor spinal and knee mechanics!

structural damage of the knee.  Even some fit athletes have specific weakness throughout your hip musculature.  We want the proper alignment to be toes straight ahead, knees in line with toes, and not letting the knees “cave” in.  Valgus collapse is not only bad form, but it puts excessive pressure on your lateral meniscus, a cushion of cartilage in your knee.  It strains the ACL (ligament deep in the knee) and MCL (ligament on the inner side of the knee. squat-good


So before stacking on the weight for your squat or deadlift, make sure you have your knees in proper alignment, hinging at the hip, keeping your spine neutral and core tight.  You will begin to see strength gains develop throughout your hips even faster AND prevent possible injury to your knees and back due to improper form


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Katelyn Owens is a 3rd year DPT student at Saint Francis University, who previously received her Bachelor’s degree in Health Science from SFU.  While at Saint Francis she acted as Chair Member of Operations for C.A.R.E. Clinic, a pro bono PT clinic who provided services for uninsured individuals.  Katelyn is most interested in pediatric early intervention and outpatient PT, and is looking forward to seeing what doors God will open for her. 

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