Early last summer, a friend and I were at the gym doing some reasonably heavy front squats. My friend would get to just about parallel with the ground and then he’d begin to shift diagonally to his left as he finished the eccentric portion of his lift. I had seen it several times before, but hadn’t figured it out in its entirety.
As my friend continued to squat diagonally, I began to ponder the movement.
Is it bad to be squatting diagonally? Can we “cue” him out of it? What is the underlying issue?
In my mind, the diagonal squat is not a good thing. You’re getting loading on one leg far greater than another leading to the development of more asymmetry, thus leading to potential for injury. I also discovered that you can’t really cue someone out of the pattern, so there had to be an underlying mechanical issue.
I thought maybe he was sitting away from a weak leg or a stiff hip. In post-op ACL athletes, there is often a tendency to sit away from the surgical leg as an attempt to protect it, so I thought that might be an option. It sounded good until he told me that he had no previous injuries to that knee, only a bit of groin pain when he played a lot of soccer.
Fast-forward a few days later and I had one of those “Ah-ha” moments. Getting to that deep position in the squat requires a great deal of hip flexion, and hip flexion requires a fair shake of femoral internal rotation. Upon assessing his this range of motion, he had a huge deficit between sides, with the left hip exhibiting far greater ROM in internal rotation. For the next three weeks we hammered away on kneeling rockbacks, cross-over stepups, drop lunges, and some knee to knee stretching and the pattern cleaned up significantly. In six weeks, he looked like a brand new man.
While it wasn’t causing him problems at the time, I believe we may have prevented some issues down the line as hip rotation ability is connected with a mish-mash of maladies ranging from low back pain to hip dysfunction to knee pain.