If you're having trouble hitting depth and feeling comfortable during a squat, you need to hip shift. The ability to hip shift is also the ability to transfer weight from one side to the other without major compensations. The incredible thing about the body is it will find a way, even if the way it finds doesn't feel great.
At some point in your life you have probably had an amazing workout. For whatever reason, your body was able to feel all your desired muscles and every rep felt smooth and strong. In order to recognize that streak of quality movement, you also had to have had a day where everything felt wrong. Your knees felt strained, your low back was getting tight or you just couldn't "find your glutes."
If you have limited access to range of motion at your hips, you will limit how much work your hip muscles do.
That's where quality hip shifting comes in. Since your glutes control your hips, being able to access their full range of motion is key. A simple but effective way to diagnose your ability to hip shift equally between the right and left hip is to hip shift. First to the right, and then to the left. If you feel a major difference then you can expect more specific table tests would show the same. You can also expect that during movements with both feet placed parallel (squat/deadlift), the difference between your hips is impacting the quality of your movement.
By establishing a proper hip shift, learning to control it, and then loading it via more traditional exercises, you can eliminate the restrictions that are driving your strained movements.
In order to establish a proper hip shift, you need to know that your body moves through three planes of motion. Forward and back, side to side, and around (like your belt). The body will open the hips for rotation only if we first position the forward and back motion in a proper position. Without a proper position, your low back will dominate the motion. We see this as hyperextension or hyperflexion during a squat.
Positioning the pelvis directly on top of our legs (proper position) allows us to maximize balance between the back and abs, as well as glutes/hamstrings and quads. This balanced position gives our brain confidence that rotation will be safe. This phenomenon is easy to test for with a simple test-retest exercise sequence.
Check your squat depth, then perform these two exercises, then recheck your squat depth.
2 rounds, 5 breaths.
2 rounds, 4 breaths.
If you notice that you can sit lower with less tension in and around your hips, you need to train positioning of your pelvis in the forward/back motion. If you didn't feel a major change or are not comfortable in the bottom of your squat, you may be more limited in the side to side motion.
Perform this exercise as a test to identify your hip shifting ability and then repeat it as an exercise to improve your control.
3 rounds, 6 steps each leg.
Now retest your squat. If you experienced a greater change with this exercise than the first round then your limitations reside mainly in your side to side control.
Lastly, we want to be sure those hips are open for business. Perform this last exercise to solidify your hip shifting ability.
After this circuit, your hips should be shifting like new. Any remaining limitations will need to be evaluated by more specific tests. A squat has many moving parts and limitations throughout the body can result in reduced range of motion and comfort.
For those of you that had great results, share this blog with your friends. Good actionable advice will always be appreciated.
If you have questions, send them to John@HumanFunctionandPerformance.com.