The top three squat mistakes I see in experienced crossfitters

By: Karlie Causey DC, MS, CCSP, CSCS

Part ONE


I started writing this post after addressing PRACTICALLY the same issue in 7 different athletes in just a few days in my office. None of these athletes were games athletes but none of them were beginners either. On average, they had all been doing crossfit for 6 years, and most  have competed in small, local competitions. I also noted that most of these athletes have above average 1RM squats and are the type of athlete who sort of gets overlooked by coaches in the gym, because there is always someone newer and greener who REALLY needs attention.

As I started to think through other patients/athletes I had seen with similar issues, I realized that there were definite patterns of compensation that if addressed, could help reduce the need for these guys to come into my office for treatment in the long term. 

It might be bad business sense for me to write this post, but I’ve never been a very good business person and I’m a pretty damn good doctor. 

So here goes. Here is part one. Read on and squat on. 

Squat fault numero uno:

Poor whole foot/big toe engagement 

When we first learn to squat, it seems that coaches emphasize keeping the weight in the heels. I can’t count how many athletes (of all types) I have heard repeat this mantra. But in reality, we want the entire foot on the ground for good balance and to actually recruit the lateral hip muscles. You may also have heard the cue “screw the feet into the floor.” Perhaps without realizing it, these coaches are asking their athletes to engage their intrinsic foot muscles, and NOT just keep the weight in the heels. 

When we press the big toe into the ground and pull it back slightly (I like to use the cue ”act like you’re wiping gum off the bottom of your toe”) we engage the arch and cause the foot to supinate. This causes a chain reaction; driving the knees out as well as firing the muscles in the lateral hip and increases stability in the entire chain.

Think of your foot as the base of your support. Because… it is. It doesn’t make sense that you wouldn’t want weight evenly distributed and muscles turned on during the entire range of motion. I’m not suggesting you be forward on your toes, I’m simply recommending you get the rest of your foot in on the squat party, and not leave all the fun to your heels. 

I should also note that working on engaging the foot works best WHEN YOU ARE BAREFOOT. Too many of us are in shoes all the time. Our feet have a lot of sensory receptors in them, which essentially get shut down or “quieted” because we are constantly in shoes and socks. Take off your shoes AND your socks and squat BAREFOOT. You will quickly become more aware of what your feet are doing while you squat, and how different it feels to keep the big toe engaged through the entire squat. 

I often have patients with knee pain switch over to barefoot squatting because it immediately increases their awareness of what their entire lower extremity is doing and helps them automatically fix or recognize compensation patterns. 

It should be noted here, that not everyone is blessed by the mobility-gods. In our office, we encourage those who are working on barefoot squatting and squat re-patterning to not worry so much about their depth or range of motion at first. It can also be helpful to use a bench or a box to squat to; this gives your booty something to reach for (more about that in upcoming posts). It should also go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that while working on making these small changes, it is ideal to lighten the weight/load.

If you're wondering, the chief complaint of the athletes mentioned earlier when presenting in my office was KNEE PAIN.

Read on next week for more tips of fixing your squat as well as potentially reducing knee pain.

Keep on squatting my friends.