One of the most common technical deficiencies in squats is the knee cavity or valgus collapse. The last thing you want to do is add plates when your squat looks like this.
Whether it’s an overload of an inefficient squat pattern or you don’t understand the tech pointers, valgus collapse happens a lot more often than you think. Some people don’t even know they do. And this is one of the reasons physical therapists have thriving businesses.
What causes valgus breakdown
It varies, but for most people that ugly knee cavity is the result of one of the following factors. I̵
Note: No corrective exercise or exercise is guaranteed to repair the knee cavity. You may need to work with a professional if you cannot fix the problem yourself.
Problem: Impaired knee stabilizers
Weak or inhibited muscles around the knee are one of the most common causes of valgus collapse.
A weak VMO (the “teardrop” muscle), along with its weak posterior counterparts such as the semimembranosus and semitendinosus (both internal aspects of the hamstrings), can cause medial displacement of the knee.
How to fix it
Do more one-legged work. It is superior to bilateral exercises when the stabilizers surrounding the knee are strengthened. One-legged work to a greater extent recruits the muscles of the adductor and gluteus.
Problem: weak and restricted hips
Weak hips and glutes cause internal rotation, adding to a potential knee cavity.
How to fix it
Improve your external hip rotation and buttock strength to provide better pelvic support. Using a small broad band like Mark Bell’s Hip Circle can help encourage external rotation and glute engagement. As part of your warm up, try adding tape resistance to some of the basic glute bridge patterns.
In and out hip bridge
Hip bridge with hip circle
One of the best ways to get more gluteus muscle engagement is to do these exercises with ligaments as part of your warm up to strengthen the glutes.
Foot tips in and out
Problem: Limited ankle mobility
Ankle dorsiflexion is your ability to bend your foot backwards (bring your toes toward your shin). This can be your problem if you neglect work on ankle mobility or overuse Olympic lifting shoes.
Restricted freedom of movement of the ankle leads to knee flexion problems because the shin cannot move forward sufficiently to achieve optimal knee flexion depth. This causes you to compensate for this by turning your feet outward, which causes internal rotation of the tibia and causing valgus collapse.
Note: Pronouncing your feet for a better squat depth isn’t a bad thing as long as you have the strength / range of motion in your hips and stabilizers to maintain optimal knee positioning.
How to fix it
Start with these two ankle mobility exercises:
Active striped dorsiflexion stretch
Banded increased dorsiflexion stretch
Additionally, many lifters wear shoes that raise the heel for a better squat depth, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It only becomes a problem if you rely solely on the heel lift and do nothing to improve your ankle dorsiflexion. This often leads to poor motor patterns and knee pain (or injury).
Note: Women who regularly wear heels tend to have no ankle mobility due to the constant plantar flexed position.
Problem: Bad engine patterns
Sometimes just working on improving your movement pattern will reduce or eliminate the knee cavity altogether.
How to fix it
Keep these pointers in mind as you crouch to re-groov the pattern and maintain optimal knee positioning:
- Root your feet through the ground.
- Spread the bottom apart. Imagine yourself standing on a piece of paper and trying to tear it apart with your feet.
- Pull your hips on the floor. Imagine trying to pull yourself down instead of simply falling to the floor during your squats to keep your hips and buttocks engaged throughout the range of motion.
You can also use this warm-up exercise to practice these pointers:
Squat rig warm-up
Related: Preventing Knee Collapse During Squats
Related: Bad Ankle, Bad Squat?