This is a topic that I have been meaning to write about since I started this blog. It is also the topic that I am presenting on at the FILEX convention in a couple of months and it is something that I see Personal Trainers and Exercise Physiologists get wrong quite a lot. Whilst the topic that I am presenting on at FILEX is the question on whether or not it is necessary to prescribe a loaded back squat to our clients at all – today’s blog is on a point which will form some of the basis for my presentation. How does the femur-torso ratio affect a person’s ability to perform a good back squat?
Bret Contreras wrote a blog post on this topic around 12 months ago, so a lot of the credit for this article should go to him and his amazing research over many years on how to appropriately and effectively train and target the glutes in our lower body sessions. See Bret’s website at https://bretcontreras.com/.
Often times in my first couple of years of training clients I would be stumped with a client that had tremendous hip and lumbar mobility, great dynamic stability and neuromuscular coordination but could not perform a good quality back squat to at least a thigh parallel position without having to dramatically lean forward, to the point where the squat was turning into a good morning (for my non-exercise professional readers and good morning is a type of lower back and glute exercise). I’d do a few more passive and active tests and assessments, do more core and glute isolation work, return to the back squat in a few weeks and still nothing had changed. I would often wonder what kind of Exercise Physiologist and coach that I was.
It all changed one day when I was standing next to one of my female clients who was about my height (I’m 180cm) and noticed that her legs were much longer than mine, and in particular her femur (thigh bone). It immediately got me thinking about the problems that we’d been having with squats and conventional deadlifts (I had programmed back squats and conventional deadlifts out of her sessions completely in favour of Bulgarian squats and sumo deadlifts) and I realised that I had stumbled on to something that a lot of other trainers probably hadn’t. That is not to say that I am the first trainer to realise this – people like Bret Contreras, Mike Boyle and all of the top coaches had known about this for years, as it turned out once I had started to do my research.
There is no recognized femur-torso ratio that I am aware of that will give exercise professionals an immediate reference and guide as to how our clients are going to perform a squat. It is going to be something that we continue to do by sight and obviously the more clients that we work with the better we are going to be at identifying a client with extra-long femurs. And since most trainers will program a back squat into the sessions of their clients, if the squat on your client looks strange with excessive forward lean and an inability to get to parallel, you might want to start thinking about their anthropometry and whether or not they are built to squat. See the picture below for a very crude visual example.
If you, yourself, struggle with squatting and just can’t work out why, despite possessing good mobility, dynamic stability and neuromuscular coordination, the length of your legs might be what is holding you back. Yes – honestly. And if it does, don’t worry about it. There are many squat variations that you can perform that, as exercises, are as good as a back squat at improving your strength, power and hypertrophy. Getting help to identify this and make the changes to your training is where a good coach comes in. May your squats be deep and your hips and lower back healthy. And if your squats aren’t deep, don’t stress, there are other options.
Yours in health!