#PTonICE Daily Show – Friday, October 13th, 2023 – Hip shifting in the squat

In today’s episode of the PT on ICE Daily Show, Fitness Athlete lead faculty Zach Long discusses hip shifting in the squat. Zach emphasizes the need to ensure first and foremost, pain is in the hip or elsewhere in the body is not the cause of the shift. Second, Zach urges listeners to determine if the shift occurs under increasing loads or not. Finally, Zach discusses that if the squat is pain-free and that the movement pattern does not change under load, hip or ankle mobility is the final culprit.

Take a listen to the episode or read the episode transcription below.

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00:00 – ZACH LONG

Hey everybody, welcome to the PT on Ice daily show. It is the best day of the week here on the podcast, and that is Fitness Athlete Friday. I am your host today, Dr. Zach Long. I’m lead faculty inside of the clinical management of the fitness athlete curriculum, teaching in our live weekend seminar, as well as our advanced concepts course. And today we’re going to be chatting about assessing the individual that has a hip shift when they squat. what are the questions you should be asking, and what are the things that you should be looking at and programming for them to help address that hip shift in the squat before we dive into that topic. Upcoming courses that we have in the Fitness Athlete Live arena here. November 4th and 5th, I’ll be in Hoover, Alabama, and Mitch will be in San Antonio, Texas. November 18th and 19th, we’ll be in Holmes Beach, Florida, and in December, Colorado Springs, Colorado. If you can’t make it to any of those courses, we are already filling up the 2024 calendar as well. And we have Portland, Charlotte, North Carolina, Boise, Idaho, Renton, Washington, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Fenton, Michigan on the map. So check out all of those courses, as always, at PTOnIce.com. If you want to get registered, learn how to better assess, treat, and help fitness athletes do the movements that they love, as well as how do we get those people that are not already getting their daily dose of physical activity, how do we start to get them involved in that sort of stuff as part of their plan of care when they come to see us for pain? So PTONICE.com there.


All right, today’s topic, the hip shift in the squat. What I mean by that is you watch somebody squat, and instead of their weight staying even side to side, you see them shift some of their weight more towards one side than the other. Why does that happen? What are the questions you need to be asking? And then what are the things that you need to be doing as part of their treatment? So I think there are two big questions to ask subjectively when somebody comes to see you for a hip shift or you notice that when you’re watching videos or watching somebody actually lift in the clinic. Question number one is, does that individual currently have pain in regions of the body that are impacted by the squat? Question number two is, does that change under load? When you ask and answer those two questions, you’ll have a much better idea of what interventions you need to do to help improve that squat pattern. 3 Different Pieces to That 1. If someone is having pain, That’s kind of the end of the discussion on the hip shift in the squat. So if somebody comes in and they’re dealing with really nasty patellar tendinopathy or they’re dealing with an ankle that was just sprained and is very, very sensitive as we dorsiflex the ankle. or someone has really irritable hip impingement. As they squat down and those tissues start to get loaded more as we go through range of motion, if those tissues are really sensitive, the body is understandably going to want to unload those tissues and try to avoid further aggravating them. So, when pain is on board and I notice a hip shift, I don’t really worry too much about the hip shift right now in terms of trying to correct that. Instead, my main focus is on doing everything I can to calm down that irritability, because until we calm down that pain, we’re probably not gonna make a whole lot of progress on the hip shift. So if pain’s on board, take care of the pain. Now, there are definitely things that you can do that might assist this a little bit, but to me, those are secondary to the pain portion of this. So you could have somebody do box squats where they limit their depth to where they don’t hip shift. or some other variations of lifts that maybe load that tissue a little bit less so that they demonstrate less of that hip shift. I think that’s a fine intervention to do so that maybe that hip shift doesn’t become, you know, as much of an ingrained movement pattern to them. But overall, when pain’s on board, just take care of the pain and don’t worry quite as much about the hip shift.


The second component to that, the second question was, does this change under load? And this is the big one that I see missed quite a bit. So I’ve had a couple of these show up in the last few months in the clinic, which is why I decided to do this podcast. And of those that I’ve seen lately, most of them, I was a second opinion. So they’d already seen another physical therapist or a chiropractor. And they had already had a lot of mobility drills that they were working on to try to improve the hip shift but they weren’t noticing a change with the mobility drills. And what was missed by that previous practitioner was the fact that the hip shift worsened with load. And if we think about like the mobility demands of a squat, those demands don’t change drastically when they go from an air squat to a 45-pound barbell squat up to a 400-pound squat. What does change is the demands that we’re putting on the muscles. And actually, it’s a little different than that. It’s a little opposite. When you put load on a bar, if you’re a little stiff, that load will often help you move a little bit better. It’ll help push you through a little bit of that stiffness. So the key thing here is that if you notice the hip shift gets worse under fatigue or under load, then it is probably not a mobility issue. It is much more likely to be a tissue capacity issue, a strength issue. That’s the big turning point here. So two examples of this that I’ve seen lately. Number one, super high level power lifter. He started noticing when he looked at videos of his squat that his bar would get uneven, but that wouldn’t happen until he got to weight over 400 pounds. Prior to that, it didn’t happen. And if you watch a set of him squatting over 400 pounds for say a set of five, what you notice is rep one was a little bad, rep two a little worse, rep three worse, rep five was really, really bad in terms of that bar being uneven. And what I noticed when I started analyzing that was that as he came out of the bottom of the hole, you would see his one side of his leg, if you’re watching that Instagram, I have no idea why fireworks just popped up on my background, but You saw one of his legs really extend rapidly and the other one slowly extend. And what that’s called is a good morning squat fault. If you’ve taken the Fitness Athlete Live course, you’ve heard us discuss that squat fault, but he was doing it only on one leg. And that leg had previously had an ACL reconstruction. And when we went and measured his limb circumference on that leg, he had a significant quad muscle mass difference on that side compared to the other side. So it was a strength deficit. And what we ended up doing with him was we loaded up his quads, doing a lot of unilateral work. We’ll talk about a few drills for that in just a second. And what we noticed is the more we built up that unilateral quad strength, the less that hip shift was present. Another example I saw was recently in a… very high level CrossFit athlete, like top 200 in the world. When he deadlifted, he lost a major competition because his deadlift was relatively weak compared to his level of fitness. And when we watched his deadlift, he kind of did the same thing. So he starts pressing off the ground and the side that he had previously had an ACL reconstruction on about a year and a half prior to this, he hyper extended that knee as soon as he started pressing off the ground because he was still had a little bit of top end quad weakness relative to the other side. So he locked that knee out and he tried to, on that surgical side, make it almost a straight leg deadlift and rely on his posterior chain rather than his quads. So if it changes under load, it is a strength issue, not a mobility issue.


If it doesn’t change under load, then you’re gonna shift your thinking towards it possibly being more likely to be a mobility issue. And so from a mobility perspective, a few things that we like to look at, Number one, I’d say the most common are ankle and foot limitations. So lack of ankle dorsiflexion, lateral tibial glide, or the ability of the midfoot to move as somebody drops down into a squat. In our Fitness Athlete Live course, we talk you through a couple different tests that we think really help you screen out the foot and ankle, and if that’s the impacting factor on somebody’s squat technique. The second one to that is going to be somebody’s hip mobility. And then the third to that is sometimes you’ll see knee flexion limitations, but typically you don’t see knee flexion limitations unless somebody’s had some really significant trauma to that knee or a recent surgery. Outside of that, it’s typically the ankle or the hip from a mobility perspective that will be impacting somebody’s squat, causing them to have a hip shift in the squat. So once you answer that, you kind of know what to do. If it’s pain, take care of the pain. If it’s mobility, work on mobility. If it’s strength, then let’s do some unilateral strength loading of whatever tissue it is that you identified was a little weaker on one side versus the other. Take care of that. But I also think that it’s worthwhile to spend a little bit of time working on some drills that might help reinforce a better movement pattern. So that as you build up maybe that unilateral strength or as you open up that ankle mobility, now you start teaching them a little bit more of where they want to go. And there are two drills that I really frequently use for that. My favorite to use is what’s called a sit squat. So what I do there is I get an individual sitting on a box, a bench, a chair, a medicine ball, whatever the lowest surface they can perform this drill on, and they’re sitting on it. We pull their feet back underneath them. We lean over. I get them positioned exactly how I think they should look in the bottom of the squat. And then they’re sitting there, and I’ve got everything lined up so that it’s symmetrical or as close to symmetrical as I feel like we’re gonna get or we need to get. And then what I do is I tell them, imagine that there’s a scale underneath your butt. Right now it says 100% of your weight. I want you to make it say 50% of your weight. So they just unload that medicine ball a little bit. Now I say, I want you to lift up one inch and only one inch. So they barely lift off the medicine ball or chair. They go back down to 50% weight and they just cycle up and down. And if you do a set of five to 10 reps of that, it is gonna actually burn really, really good because most people don’t spend a whole lot of time under tension down the bottom of the squat. because there’s no load on it. It’s not going to be very fatiguing or really eating to their recovery a lot. So I use this a ton as a warmup drill, but that is deceptively hard and is really good for getting people to evenly drive and press into the ground and get an even lift off. And then when they sit back down, what they should feel if they’re on something like a medicine ball is that they have the same amount of butt cheek touching the ball. Like if they sit down and it’s only left butt on the medicine ball and right butt is floating off the side, then they’re not squatting evenly. They’re demonstrating that hip shift so they also get some tactile feedback in terms of their positioning. The other thing that I really like to do at times with individuals is get them to do some tempo box squats. So we squat down to a medicine ball, a bench, a low box, whatever it is, and we’re basically doing the same thing there. We’re going down nice and slow and we’re making sure when we touch that surface that we’re squatting to that we feel an even amount of weight on both butts. so that we, again, know if we’re hip shifting or not. Those can be two good drills to drill in moving a little bit away from that hip shift. So, again, your two questions to ask when you see a hip shift. Are they having pain? Does it change under load? When you answer those two questions, you’ll have a much better idea of what to go to to get rid of the squat hip shift a little bit faster. So, hope that helps. Look forward to being back on here again in a few weeks with you all. Hope you all have a great Friday and a great weekend, and we’ll see you on the road.


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