The Importance of Tibial Rotation in the Squat

Whether you use your coach’s eye, assessments or both to evaluate an athlete’s movement quality and ability to safely  perform specific movements at some point you won’t have the answer. I mean the answer to “fix” whatever movement quality issue exists. It happens to all of us (even the best of us) at some point in our career and when it does (if it hasn’t already) there’s a lot of frustration on both sides of the coach-athlete relationship. While “we” will likely never have all the answers, its critical we gather as much quality information as we can to best train and treat our athletes. In this post I will discuss the often overlooked, but necessary role of Tibial Rotation in the squat pattern.

Adequate tibial rotation is something many athletes and coaches do not think about when assessing a squat pattern. We often look at ankle, knee and hip mobility and we think of knee mobility in the sagittal plane but the knee does in fact have a minute amount of transverse plane motion that we need to consider. It is because of these reasons that the knee needs to be assessed through three planes of motion.

One very helpful assessment when an athlete may not be able to achieve adequate depth in their squat, track their knee properly over their toes or when they have excessive toe out disproportionate to their hip position may be tibial rotation.

skeletoneffectsAs a norm most of us should have about 20 degrees of tibial internal rotation when viewed from above. An easy way to eyeball this would be, “does the little toe clear the midline of the patella?”

When the athlete does not have this it will affect the knee joints ability to maintain proper joint congruency of the femur on the tibia or vice versa. This will affect squat depth, and foot position and may sometimes lead to knee pain and ankle and knee joint compensation.

The video below will show a quick and easy tibial rotation mobilization to address an internal rotation deficit.

Assessment and Corrective Strategies for the Barbell Athlete explores this further and a wide variety of other assess/correct in relation to Olympic Lifting and athletic performance.

This article was written by Dr. Jon Herting of The Training Room and Fit EDU. Jon earned his DPT and is a PA licensed Physical Therapist. Learn more about Jon’s background.

Transference of Exercises — When the Unexpected Helps the Unintended

Did you ever start training an exercise or using a new training program, and after a few weeks tried something completely different and experienced success?  Most likely the exercise or program transferred to this other aspect of your life.  If you are a bit fuzzy about what I’m getting at, let me give you a real life example.  A  few years ago a woman was doing a general strength and fitness program with me over the winter months.  When the weather got better, she went back to one of her favorite spring/summertime activities–hiking.  2012-08-18-Lions-Binkert-Hike-9867-MKHWhen she came in the next Monday after her first weekend hike of the season, she was raving about how fit she felt and how she left her husband in the dust as they went up steep hills.  She experienced little to no breathlessness and zero soreness the following days.  Obviously her general training program of Deadlifts, Turkish Get-Ups, Goblet Squats, Ring Rows, and other basic exercises, transferred nicely to being successful during a tough hike in the woods.  She was pleasantly surprised about this outcome.  This is the hallmark of a properly designed training program.

Heavy-Deadlift-LockoutRecently, a peer of mine in the lifting world, Dane Miller, wrote a piece about how front squatting and pull-ups allowed him to set an all time personal record in the deadlift of 600 pounds without training the movement at all.  You can see this idea of transference among all sports and disciplines.  My track coach in college was adamant about our 400m runners sometimes racing in the 200m.  Same goes for the 800m runners racing in the 400m.  He knew that the foot speed needed for the shorter distance would help improve the time in the longer race.  Shot putters and discus throwers have always known that performing the snatch and clean & jerk in the weight room will help them throw their chosen implement farther because of the power it helps to develop.

Many times, like the example of the effortless hike through the woods, transference of h=300training will come as a surprise.  It was a surprise to a former rotational shot putter of mine when he realized, that all of a sudden, he had a lightning quick turn around pivot move to the hoop on the basketball court.  Another reason kids should be playing multiple sports as they grow up is because there is, what should be, obvious transference from one sport to others.  It’s also a reason why programs like STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are popular and successful in schools.  The subjects are so interrelated that it makes sense to combine them together instead of breaking them apart.  

The older and more experienced you become as a coach or teacher in your chosen field, you will notice transference between two drills more clearly.  From experience, I now know you can increase a power clean by deadlifting 10 set of 2 reps, with moderate weight and doubled up mini jump stretch bands attached to the bar, once a week for 6 weeks.  When my Strength and Conditioning class finished their 6 week block of banded deadlifts, and we switched back to cleans, they were all able to do 10 sets of 2 with their old max!  


Even though it gets easier to notice transference as you grow as a coach, you still can be surprised at what relates.  In our last article on the front squat we spoke about variations of the front squat for people that have trouble with the front squat.  One of the variations was to use lifting straps on the bar that give the lifter more “breathing room” in regard to elbow and wrist flexion.  This allows you to still train the movement and work around poor flexibility.  Personally, I have never had to use this variation until recently.  I’ve been dealing with shoulder pain that makes the rack position impossible.  So instead of ignoring front squats, I started to use straps.  After a few weeks of practice, more attention to what was starting to happen allowed a transference effect to be noticed.  I noticed that I had to shrug harder into the bar when using the straps which lifted the bar off my collar bones.  It allowed the bar to sit a bit deeper on my neck and allowed me to stay more upright than ever before on the front squat.  One day after front squatting with straps, I decided to try some cleans and what happened with my body surprised me.  When I received the bar I also shrugged my shoulders high and it landed securely deep into my shoulders and neck.  I had never felt the receiving position feel like that before.

If you have ever taught someone to clean, they most likely have had the bar crash onto their collar bones or low on the shoulders.  Front squatting with straps helps to groove the proper receiving position by forcing the shoulders to elevate and be active into the bar.  This variation of the front squat, that I once thought was garbage, will become one of my go to drills to reinforce proper receiving position.  Like some of the best inventions ever created, it happened by accident and was totally unexpected.  Keep those eyes open coaches! Like front squatting with straps, sometimes you have to give things a chance.  You never know where an answer to an unasked question is going to surface.

Interested in learning more about the front squat? Check out Certified Barbell Coach Seminar here.

The Barbell Coaching Series: The Deadlift Part 3… Hip Position

Perform the ‪deadlift‬ ? Great! Are you sure you know what to do with your hips before “lift off”? Should they be high… or low… or somewhere in the middle? What if you’re tall or short? Much like Ricky Bobby being interviewed after winning his first race… you’re just not quite sure what to do with those hips before lift off. Well we got you… read on…

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In our previous posts about the deadlift we discussed how to set your feet, grip the bar, breathe, and explained the movement. However, we weren’t specific enough with how/where to set your hips. Since this is something many fitness professionals think they know, but often will admit to grey areas in how they explain hip position, we felt it necessary to dedicate a posts to the hips.


Common hip and body position set up flaws
DL Hips lowHips too low
– In this position, you’re not deadlifting… You’re squatting. The bar will inevitably scrape this shins… Bad… And you will have less than ideal leverage given your shin and torso angle. Oh yeah… And you’re not actually deadlifting.

If the hips are too low the shoulder blades will be behind the bar and will prevent the bar from leaving the ground. If it is light enough, the bar will leave the ground but be in front of the mid-foot, putting the student at a significant mechanical disadvantage. The vertical spine angle will likely lead to scraped shins from pulling the bar “through” the shins.. Remember the deadlift is more of a back exercise and less of a leg exercise.

DL hips highHips too high – In this position, you have poor leverage (quads cannot make a significant contribution) and you will have no choice but to pull with your “low back” putting significant stress on your lumbar spine.

If the hips are too high, the legs will be too straight. This will put all of the stress on the low back and hamstrings and the quadriceps won’t be in a position to contribute. The bar will also swing away from the shins creating a mechanical disadvantage making the bar feel heavier and more difficult to control.

DL Rounded spine


Spine in Flexion (upper back, lower back, or both) – While this technically isn’t a hip position issue, it’s still important to address. With the spine in flexion, shear forces will dominate the spinal column, leaking energy and increasing the chance of injury. If a neutral spine can not be obtained, put the bar up on blocks and pull from a height that allows the spine to be in a neutral position.



We discussed how different anthropometrics impact set up in one our previous posts. For more information how how shin and femur length differences results in differences in set up click here.

Much, much more to come on coaching barbell exercises in the future. Until then…

The Kettlebell Coaching Series:The Goblet Squat 3

In our last few squat pattern posts we addressed goblet squat form and coaching fixes specific to “pulling” into the squat and to address torso position. In this post we will discuss using Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT) to fix movement dysfunction.

RNT uses outside resistance to neurologically turn on an automatic response. It is often seen as a “quick fix” of faulty movement patterns without using much cueing. RNT is implemented to improve functional stability and enhance motor-control skills with an automatic response.

95p_Frequency of ExerciseTo put it simply, RNT improves flawed movements by employing external resistance which the body must resist and react against. External force should be applied so that it exaggerates the issue. This can be accomplished by pulling with a band OR by physically pushing or pulling a segment of the body.  In the picture above the coach is pulling the students right knee into a valgus collapse. The students automatic response will be to push the knee away from the midline.

In the squat, RNT can be used to fix a variety of movement flaws including: valgus knee(s), torso position, and uneven loading (placing more weight on one leg) just to name a few. Over the years we have implemented RNT to “fix” valgus knee and torso position countless time. Let’s start with Valgus Knee(s).

Fixing Valgus Knee(s) with RNT

While most of us know that a primary reason  knees go valgus when applying force has a lot to do with Glute Max activation, many trainers and coaches don’t want to spend the time on correctives to fix this issue. This is more often the case in large group setting and can simply be a time issue. Using RNT in this situation can be a great “movement hack”.

DSC_0277Here’s how…If the student’s left knee is going valgus in the squat attach a band to a fixed object to their right side. Have the student arrange the band so it rest is just above the left knee and is pulling the thigh towards the midline (to the right in this case). Make sure there’s enough tension to make the student DSC_0280fight the band, but not so much that they can’t maintain the position.

If both knees go valgus set the band up in front of the student and arranged so it simultaneously pulls both knees valgus. Use the same rule of thumb for tension.

Fixing torso position with RNT

DSC_0283As we discussed in our last post, maintaining a tall torso in the squat can present challenges for many students. For some, RNT is exactly what the doctor ordered. In this case, affix one or two bands in front of the student and relatively low to the ground (this is dependent upon band length and tension). The student should arrange the bands to that they rest on the back of the shoulders thereby pulling their torso into flexion. The natural response should be to get tall. In this case we used two band and Erik assumed a overhead deep squat position. Use the same rule of thumb as above to determine appropriate tension.

We recommend performing sets of 15 repetitions when implementing RNT and little to no additional load. Immediately follow the RNT set with a weighted set for good transfer. If the form continues to break down in the weighted set just use the RNT technique for a few sessions OR try decreasing load.

For more information on fixing movement dysfunction in a variety of patterns refer to some of our previous blog posts and consider attending one of our upcoming seminars.

Current offerings:

Breathing and Postural Control: 4-2-16 in Malvern PA

Certified Kettlbell Coach Level 1: 1-30-16 in Malvern PA

Certified Kettlebell Coach Level 2: 2-27-16 in Malvern PA

Certified Barbell Coach: 3-12-16 in Malvern PA

Metabolic Conditioning: no scheduled seminars thus far



The Barbell Coaching Series: The Deadlift Part 2 Short vs. Tall

Businessman and Author, Stephen Covey, once said, “ Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” Stephen Covey is best known for his authorship of the widely popular 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. His above quote was probably meant for themes of relationship building, leadership qualities, and diversity training. We are going to use the quote to frame a completely different conversation based around one of the most basic of all strength exercises, the deadlift.

As a strength coach, I teach very few exercises. In fact, the amount of exercises I use when training others could pretty much be counted on one hand. That’s because human beings are all pretty similar when it comes to what our bodies look like. Where the strength part comes in, is your strength as a trainer to identify the small differences in mechanics from person to person. What I am trying to say, is the deadlift is a valuable exercises for everyone, but how it actually looks from individual to individual may be very different.

For the sake of time, we will keep it simple. Let’s talk about tall people vs. short people in the deadlift… Hence the pic of Arnold and Danny from the movie “Twins”.  A great 80s movie I might add… Anyway, this is a topic near and dear to my heart because I am very tall, and at 6’6” my deadlift looks vastly different than someone who is 5’7”. The main difference you can expect is the height at which the hips start.

DL Tall Set Up


A tall person (Arnold) is going to have a more horizontal spine angle and higher hips.





Deadlift Short Set Up


Conversely, a short person (Danny) is going to have a more vertical spine angle, maybe around 45 degrees, and a lower hip angle.




Keep in mind, some absolutes are still in play, such as, a neutral spine throughout the exercise execution, a barbell that remains over the mid-foot, and a starting position that places the shoulder blades directly over the bar.  Here are the basics that hold true for everyone in their deadlift set-up.

Watch the video here

There really is more to this whole idea of identifying individual anthropometrics. Both tall and short people may have a very short femur and a long spine. They both could have short torso and a very long tibia. All of these differences may make things look different, even within the categories of tall and short. As your journey as a trainer continues, and as you work with more and more people, you will begin to take notice of these subtle differences. You will come up with ways to identify movement issues and create visuals in your mind for what the movement should look like based individual differences. This is where your strength and value lies as a trainer.

Here’s a more in depth explanation of the differences in set up.

Watch the video here

We will continue to post tips for helping coach the deadlift and other barbell exercises. We are also excited to announce the launch of our barbell certification in 2016. The Certified Barbell Coach will launch in March and will be held in Malvern, PA. This certification will focus on the performance, evaluation, and coaching of the Barbell Big Three (Deadlift, Front Squat, and Overhead Press). More details will be released by the end of the year.

The Barbell Coaching Series: The Deadlift Part 1

In 1987 at the World’s Strongest Man Competition in Scotland, the first ever four-time champion of the event, Jon Pall Sigmarsson, famously shouted, “there is no reason to be alive if you can’t do deadlift!”  He was able to scream these words while holding 1153 pounds.  You should watch it here.  In that short clip, there is a lot to talk about, but in this post and video we will cover why it is important to deadlift and some tips on how to get started.

DL off floor goodHaving been involved in strength training and fitness for a while now, it seems that the fear of deadlifting is beginning to subside.  In the past, if you were not into powerlifting or strongman, or trying to be strong, performing the deadlift was a scary proposition.  People would only hear the word “dead” and think that performing this exercise was going to kill you and destroy your back.  As people are starting to learn, this is the exact opposite of the truth. The deadlift trains a very important movement pattern, the hinge.  It requires bracing of the midsection and thoroughly activates the posterior chain.  If done heavy enough, almost every muscle in the body becomes a contributor, which is why the deadlift is thought by many to be the truest test of full body strength.   From middle school to the elderly, the deadlift, or some form of it, should be in your training regimen.  

The following training advice will refer to teaching someone how to deadlift with a barbell.  Yes, there are other tools that can be used like a kettlebell or trap bar (or gigantic train wheels with a square axle like Jon Pall) but the barbell is king.  They are easy to find and easy to use, especially in the step-by-step progression we are going to teach you.  
When beginning, there are two lessons that need to be understood.  The first is how to hinge.  We have written many articles about how to load the posterior chain when doing KB swings and drills that can be used to teach the hinge movement pattern.  All of those drills will prove valuable in your trainer tool kit.  See one of our many recommended drills here.

Things start to change though when weight is added, which is why you also have to teach lesson two, how to load tension throughout the body/bar system.  The easiest way we have found to teach both of these things at the same time, is the “rack pull” or deadlift off of blocks.  

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The bar height, instead of roughly around the mid-shin when lifting off the floor, will be around the knees, just like it is in the Jon Pall video.  One of the characteristics of a deadlift is a more horizontal than vertical spine.  In the video, Jon Pall drives his knees under the bar and with a vertical spine extends the load off the ground using his knees.  When teaching beginners off the blocks we do something slightly different.  We coach people to have a smaller knee bend and a more horizontal spine, which pushes the load to the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and lats.  Just to be clear, we are in no way being critical of Jon Pall’s technique, that would be ridiculous.  He used more of a squatting technique for a specific reason just as we are using more of a hinge.  Watch the video below for specifics of how we use the short range of motion deadlift to teach beginners the basics of pulling well and pulling heavy.  

There is much, much more to come on this topic and other barbell exercises so stay tuned!