Are back squats, a powerful fat-burning exercise, something that every woman should try to master? I’m a certified personal trainer.
Perhaps you keep hearing about how fabulous the back squat is for any goal a woman may have: weight loss, a firmer butt, firm legs, a stronger back, a tighter middle — and on and on.
So why is it, then, that many women struggle with the back squat, while other women take to this multi-joint exercise rather quickly? It has to do with body proportions (save for miscellaneous variables like “bad knees” or pre-existing back issues).
There are different kinds of squats: back, overhead, front, dumbbell, goblet, to name a few. The free barbell back squat is considered the best of the lower extremity exercises.
Women new to squatting should see how they do first with a bodyweight squat. Many women will not be able to sink to a thighs-parallel-to-floor position without an exaggerated forward lean that makes it impossible to keep an arch in their lower back.
Throughout the squat exercise, the trainee must keep an arch in their lower back, never losing it, never. The back should never, ever round out! This is best explained by a fitness trainer in Naples FL and something that we often tend to overlook on our own.
Why is it that some women can descend to parallel while keeping their backs fairly upright, and other women must pitch way forward, arms out in front of them to prevent from falling backwards? Body proportions.
In order to keep balanced while lowering into a squat, your shoulder must be smack overhead of your midfoot, forming a vertical line.
As you lower (as in a chair), the shoulders get shifted back as the hips get displaced back. But in a chair, you don’t have to create that vertical line between shoulder and midfoot because the chair prevents you from falling back onto the floor.
Try this test. Sit on the edge of a chair that allows your thighs to be parallel to the floor, feet flat on floor and a little wider than shoulder width apart, and even side by side. While keeping both feet flat on the floor, move them towards the chair, as far as you can go before you feel you must elevate the heels. Don’t overdo this, though; just go as far as you comfortably can, keeping heels on floor.
Now, keeping back straight (arch in lower portion), lean forward to align your shoulder directly overhead of the midfoot. Do not round the back!
How far must you lean forward to get that vertical alignment? That’s how far you’d have to lean forward in an actual back squat exercise.
Some women will not have to lean forward that much. These women are great back squat contenders. Other women will have to lean their torso practically parallel to the floor. The back squat will be more difficult for them.
What is it about a woman’s proportions that makes the severe forward lean necessary? Many women have a short torso, shorter than the length of their thigh bone (femur). They are “high waisted” and may or may not have disproportionately long femurs. The big issue is torso length to femur length.
If your torso is longer than your thigh, it’s easy to see why you must lean so far forward to get the shoulder over the midfoot.
If the shoulder falls short of the vertical line in an actual back squat situation, you’ll fall backwards. There’s no way around it. This is Physics 101.
Imagine that your torso is longer than your femurs. Do you see how you wouldn’t have to lean as far forward to align shoulder with midfoot? This same principle applies when femur length is the issue.
A woman may have an average torso length, but her femurs are disproportionately long for her height. To get the shoulder over the midfoot she must really lean far forward, because the length of the femurs determines how far out the midfoot is.
You need not be a body proportion expert to understand the obvious: The ideal proportions for the back squat are a combination of long torso and short femur. Those with long femurs and short torsos are screwed when it comes to the back squat.
This is why you will never see a “high waisted” woman with “long legs” performing a back squat to parallel with standard form and no heel elevation.
She goes down halfway to parallel, leaning torso far forward to get that alignment, but can’t lower any further because to do so would force her spine to be parallel to the floor.
Tall women should never assume they have the wrong proportions for the back squat. A very tall woman can have femurs shorter than her torso! A short woman can have a short torso and long femurs! Total height is irrelevant to body proportions and the back squat.
For women with challenging body proportions, they should focus on other forms of the squat, perhaps trying the front squat and dumbbell versions.
A wider foot stance will help tremendously, as will pointing the feet out (though this will recruit inner thigh muscle). A one-inch heel insert will also help.
Finally, for women whose proportions aren’t ideal for the back squat, they have another good alternative, whether they seek weight loss, better looking legs or improved fitness.