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I have a 9-5 desk job and also spend large parts of my free time sitting down. Whilst a small change in this direction is possible a large part of it isn't practical and therefore an answer such as, sit less, however correct, doesn't really solve my particular problem.

I believe I have a front dominant body, that is due to the nature of my work and extra curricular activities. Many common fitness programs (starting strength, 5/3/1 etc. ) design programs whereby the muscles in the body are developed evenly however this will not correct an already existing imbalance. I think that certain muscles in my body are much stronger than others, in the case where they should be equally strong. For example I always feel my quads after squatting and hardly ever feel my hamstrings. I am aware that DOMS is not an indicative measure of "how well a muscle has been hit".

But I find myself unable to squat with correct form, due to this muscle imbalance. I can go to parallel but an attempt to go below results in form degradation where the bar tends to track forwards and up instead of straight up as it should. I think this problem is due to my quads being dominant and taking all of the load instead of transferring it to my hamstrings and glutes where appropriate. My quads also have quite bad static flexibility, I identify this because I find it painful to sit on my knees.

If I have this and potentially other imbalances as a result of my job, I would like a routine which helps me to address these imbalances. It likely that other imbalances will exist which I believe are probably common among office works and result in bad posture.

Firstly is there some sort of standard test I could take (ideally at home) where I could identify what imbalances I have?

Are there any weightlifting routines such as 531 or similar which are designed to improve things like bad posture or a weaker back half of the body? I would still like the routine to help me improve my lifting numbers and aesthetics.

If not how should I adapt an existing routine to correct any imbalances I have identified?

Edit:

I had a lot of responses to the first submitted answer that won't fit in a comment so I address them here. I have decided to leave the original post intact but hopefully these edits will help to clarify the question.

Why do you want to go below parallel? Going to parallel is perfectly acceptable for squat form and if it's detrimental for you to go lower i don't understand why you want to.

When I said parallel I meant that I wish that my hip crease in the squat would go below my knees as described in this how to squat video by Alan Thrall.

How do you know this is a good test? Also there is no way that 'Quad flexibility' would stop you from squatting. If you can sit on your knees at all even with pain then your quads obviously have the range of motion to do a squat as that is practically half that range of motion of sitting on your knees.

I don't know it is a good test, but this is why I asked if there are ways I can test this at home. By this I meant; a lot of people work desk jobs and a lot of people have a rather sedentary lifestyle. I made a reasonable assumption that based upon these conditions many people probably suffer from similar bad posture problems. Referring to the video I linked above, right at the start he states that

If you are not physically capable of performing a proper squat, your squat is still going to suck. What do I mean by this? If you have poor posture, tight ankles, tight hips and bad shoulders, nothing I tell you will fix your squat overnight. You need to fix your imbalances and improve your flexibility before you can expect to squat twice your bodyweight with good form. (emphasis my own)

I was sort of looking for something like "You can try these stretches or positions, if you can/can't get into them then chances are you have a muscle imbalance or something that will need to be fixed". It's hard to identify what imbalances I might have because I am used to how my body moves and day to day I'm not encumbered by a lack of flexibility. But I am sure that the reason I cannot get my hips below my knees (I can make it level with a weightlifting shoe) is due to inflexibility of one or more muscles. I thought potentially my quads as they "feel tight" but I don't know that. I will look into stretches for my ankles and hips as you have suggested. What really would be great would be maybe five or ten stretches / positions to try and hold / video, based on the performance of them / recordings it would help to identify / highlight where I might have muscle imbalances.

I personally think you're overthinking everything a little. A lot of this knowledge comes from time and experience. There won't be a general program(such as 5 3 1) that will address YOUR imbalances because then it wouldn't work for the general public.

True I could be, I used to lift and I haven't for 5+ years and during that time have been rather sedentary. I used to have a coach but live in a different country now (or I'd just go back). All I really know is that my form is worse and I am less flexible but I used to just lift and I am not a trainer. I am aware that some imbalances I may have will be unique to me. I was going off the assumption under which many fitness routines are published online and followed by many people. That is, most people will benefit from performing these exercises like this, by doing so, the following response can be expected. The idea was, a huge amount of people have muscular imbalances, and a lot of them (my assumption) can probably be grouped together and caused by the same thing. It makes sense to me, therefore, that a routine which someone would run initially when training say to "fix office chair posture" would exist and I am surprised there isn't an adaptation in a program like (531) or others that starts with this in mind (given Alan's statement at the start of his squat tutorial). I have little knowledge in this area so maybe my assumption is a massive over simplification it was just what I expected. I.e. first couple of weeks focus on these stretches and exercises to get your body more attuned / capable of getting into positions like the squat. I would view these as "common issues".

It's also likely that if one muscle is weak that the antagonistic muscle is tight.

This is exactly what I meant by my quads, they feel very tight and I am therefore worried that because of this my hamstrings are weak. Really it was just an example. To stick with this example, if my quads are tight does it mean my hamstrings are weak, is there a link or could I also have strong hamstrings and tight quads?

Another thing worth noting is that you could be wrong about your imbalances, and end up making them worse. So it really would be worth seeing a personal trainer or physio.

Yes for sure I could be. Again this is why I was after some sort of "stretch test at home" which would guide me through some stretches and help me to identify these imbalances.

A point about the squat is that theres no real benefit to going below parallel unless you're training for the specific purpose of squatting really heavy below parallel

Is "going parallel" defined as your hip crease going below your knees?

  • Yes you should try to go below parallel. Around parallel is where the glutes do most of the work. As proof: pulsed squats (pulsing around parallel) seems popular with instagram "booty girls". Your glutes are probably weak and sleepy from the sitting lifestyle we all enjoy. – Andy Jun 1 at 13:10
  • So you have a bit of an egg and the hen problem; you have poor mobility in your hips since you are quad dominant. To get out of this you have to squat deep to strengthen your glutes. However you cannot do this since you do not have the hip mobility. The solution may be to decrease the weight on the bar and go deep and pause in bottom. The focus should be working on range around parallel. Alternatively you could try the goblet squat instead. If you feel it in your glutes and not much in your quads you have succeded. Then you need to stick with this for maybe a few months. – Andy Jun 1 at 13:49
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Hello it's Randomusersquat1232342345 again. I logged out before creating an account so i'll reply from this comment.

First and foremost if you are unable to safely squat to parallel then do not squat to parallel. Squat as low as you can comfortably and safely go. As your mobility gets better then you can squat lower until hopeuflly you get mobile enough to go parallel. If you squat to parallel and get injured then you won't be squatting at all, and it'll likely make even less mobile. So work on your mobility.

I just want to add again, if you're really worried see a professional. Even if you're not worried it could save you a lot of trouble shooting time, potentially.

If you are unable to get to parallel then yes you will have do some mobility work, as you said below parallel in the initial comment i answered perhaps in a less helpful way. That being said for ankle mobility there is a very easy screen. (https://squatuniversity.com/2015/11/05/the-squat-fix-ankle-mobility-pt-1/) You mentioned that you use a weightlifting shoe so this will be unlikely to affect your ability to squat to parallel when in the werightlifting shoe. The reason being the heel in the weightlifting shoe will require less range of motion(RoM) to perform the movement. Here is a good video on ankle mobility if you'd like to try some exercises https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XISJxsccN1E

Hip mobility is a little harder to screen, in my opinion. I am not a professional so i don't know many tests for this. (https://squatuniversity.com/2015/12/01/the-squat-fix-hip-mobility-pt-1/) The same website as the ankle mobililty screen has this page. However it might be safe to assume that if you can't go to parallel in weightlifting shoes it's probably hip mobility as this is common. As an office worker your hip flexor is probably going to be the most affected specific muscle. This lower body flexibilty routine https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSSDLDhbacc i have personally used as is pretty well known. It worked wonders for me when i started. If you don't have a foam roller or a lacrosse ball then i'd suggest getting one, they are very cheap. Don't bother buying any fancy massage balls instead of a normal lacrosse ball, they function exactly the same. I would suggest trying this routine in full every day for at least a month, that sounds like a lot i know, and monitoring the progress. After that, if it helps, you can drop any of the movements you feel aren't really helping you. I'd also suggest rolling your quads.

Another thing i can suggest is to come up with a good warmup routine before each squat session. You should be already warmed up and have a mild sweat before you start. I'd suggest something like a stationary bike for 5-10 mins. Then a short 'flexibilty' routine consisting of dynamic stretching. lasting again about 5-10 minutes. As you linked Alan thrall before i'll show you this lower body warmup example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ke6vD-FtdPk . This is what i mean by dynamic, this part should be tailored to what you have issues with. For example you say your quads are tight, so maybe as well as the 'Heel to bum run' in the video you could add in something like this https://youtu.be/qdxERHoRcJE?t=38. You want to avoid static stretching before lifting weights. Another topic of discussion on warming up is to start with the bar, and then work your way up to whatever your working weight is. Even olympic werightlifters and powerlifters do this so we have no excuse. To give an example lets say you squat 60kg. Start with the bar (20kg) and do 10 or so reps, then put 5kg plates on (30kg) and do maybe 4 or so. Then add more weight (40kg) do 3 or so reps. Then maybe 50kg for 1 and then start your working set at 60kg. If you squat a lot more you can take bigger jumps and if you squat a lot less i'd take smaller jumps. Make sure you're noting how you feel/what feels tight as you warm up. Maybe if you're having a hard time with 40kg compared to what it normally feels like, have a light session that day.

Based on what you've been writing i would suggest trying romanian deadlifts. Once again here is Alan thrall https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEy_czb3RKA . This exercise is great for the posterior chain (hamstring/glute). Any deadlift/deadlift variation will help with the posterior chain. You could follow this up with a hamtring curl or something similar. Useful website (https://exrx.net/Lists/Directory). I think you might also benefit from a hip circle. You can use a hip circle in either a squat or a deadlift, this will help engage the glutes. A hip circle 'crab walk' might also be useful for your warmup.

Hips are the most common issue so i'd start with what i've said above first. Other things to explore would be Thorasic spine/Thorasic mobility However i would try the hip stuff first because that's more likely.

The best way, in my opinion, to address weaknesses is to add them onto a pre existing program. To give an example, lets say i have weak hamstrings and strong quads. My program on leg day is this: Squat 3x10/ quad exercise 3x10/ hamstring exercsie 3x10. I would add another hamstring exercise ontop of that so then the new adapted program would be: Squat 3x10/ quad exercise 3x10/ hamstring exercsie 3x10 / different hamstring exercise 3x10. This is a failry simple way of doing it. You should also have a look at your program and count how many sets of each body part you do per week. If you're doing 20 sets of chest but only 15 sets of back, then it would be wise to add in another 5 sets of back work to make sure things are even. Obviously this is somewhat simplified and exercises can't be compared 1-1 but you get the point.

To stick with this example, if my quads are tight does it mean my hamstrings are weak, is there a link or could I also have strong hamstrings and tight quads?

I've rambled enough so i'll try to be short. Not necessarily, it could mean your quads are weak. It could be from an injury you had 3 years ago in your left foot that is causing a knock on effect. It's pretty much impossible to tell without personally assessing you. The only real way is trial and error.Keep looking up common causes of quad tightness and just keep trying things and hopefully something will click and it will improve. (Or you could see a professional, not sure if i've mentioned this yet).

Is there a definition for Parallel?

Technically yes. But simply put it's when the femur is parallel to the floor. Crease of the hips below the knee is a good cue. Best advice is to video yourself and have a look or maybe even ask a trainer/gym goer at your gym if they think it's low enough.

Hope you found at least one thing useful in this. General advice is to just keep trying stuff.

  • Thanks, that was really helpful! – Aesir May 22 at 13:49
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"For example I always feel my quads after squatting and hardly ever feel my hamstrings."

This is because squatting is a quad dominant exercise, this is normal. Yes squats use your whole leg but you wouldn't 'feel it' in your hamstrings as much (if at all) than your quads.

"I can go to parallel but an attempt to go below results in form degradation "

Why do you want to go below parallel? Going to parallel is perfectly acceptable for squat form and if it's detrimental for you to go lower i don't understand why you want to.

"bar tends to track forwards and up instead of straight up as it should"

Can't tell 100% without seeing your squat, but this could be indicative of a weak back. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fU2gjpPcs_Y Video addressing the topic.

" My quads also have quite bad static flexibility, I identify this because I find it painful to sit on my knees."

How do you know this is a good test? Also there is no way that 'Quad flexibilty' would stop you from squatting. If you can sit on your knees at all even with pain then your quads obviously have the range of motion to do a squat as that is practically half that range of motion of sitting on your knees.

"Firstly is there some sort of standard test I could take (ideally at home) where I could identify what imbalances I have?"

There are tests that professionals use to identify imbalances, there is not a 'one test to rule them all' that you can take that will tell you about the 10,000s of possible muscular imbalances a person could have. I'd suggest researching/googling specific issues you are having, and what the test would be.

I'll address some of the other questions in a blanket statement here. I personally think you're overthinking everything a little. A lot of this knowledge comes from time and experience. There won't be a general program(such as 5 3 1) that will address YOUR imbalances because then it wouldn't work for the general public. Everyone has imbalances, if you think you have X imbalnce then you can either hire a good coach or physio (even if it's just for one session) and have them assess you, or you can google/youtube "X imbalance, how to correct" or "Common muscular imbalances for weightlifters" etc.

In general if you have, or think you have, an imbalance then generally what you want to do is train the weak muscle/muscle group. This would be very easy to do ontop of any program. If you have a weak back, put in more sets of back exercises per week. It's also likely that if one muscle is weak that the antagonistic muscle is tight. e.g. weak back and tight chest. So you might have to work on loosening up muscles as well.

Another thing worth noting is that you could be wrong about your imbalances, and end up making them worse. So it really would be worth seeing a personal trainer or physio.

A point about the squat is that theres no real benefit to going below parallel unless you're training for the specific purpose of squatting really heavy below parallel. If you're having depth issues it's more likely hip/ankle mobility. Have you considered a weightlifting shoe?

Now to the answer you probably wanted instead of all this i wrote above. Just because you can't feel something as strongly, or at all, doesn't mean it's not being worked. A good way to engage the glutes properly is to have the feet slighty angled out and to make sure the knees do not cave in. Search for this video: "How to squat: layne norton squat tutorial" My favourite lifting channels on youtube are Alan thrall/omar isuf/juggernaut training systems. These channels all have great squat tutorials. In terms of strengthening the glutes/hamstrings/lowerback i would recommend deadlifts or any deadlift variation. I think you would specifically find value from Romain dead lifts. This might help with your mind muscle connection.

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I share your opinion; programs like Starting Strength are balanced but they are difficult to follow if you already have muscle imbalances. Their business strategy is to teach people the big lifts. So they can not really say to people that attend their courses: "Sorry but you are too inflexible due to muscular imbalances to take this course. Please come back in a few months time." Instead they fervently claim that they can get anyone squatting. And maybe they can but probably with a really low weight and a weird stance that should be corrected once the mobility improves. I do not think this is not the most productive way to do things.

Myself I have been following SS and struggling with squats for about one year without much progress (good progress in the other lifts thankfully). I have poor mobility in hips and ankles. My glutes are weak relative to my quads; when I struggle with getting up from the bottom position of the squat I lean forward so that the weight is shifted on to my stronger quads. This in turn causes me to fall forward and hurts my lower back. Weak glutes in turn cause poor hip mobility. A downward spiral that is hard to break out off.

I think that if you have muscle imbalances: poor posture, poor mobility in hips you should spend a few months on fixing this before starting SS or similar programs. I would recommend strengthening glutes, hamstrings and abs before starting squatting.

I believe the goblet squat is a great exercise for glutes and abs and to improve hip and ankle mobility. Its inventor Dan John is one of the most experienced and respected strength coaches in the industry. It is also much easier to do correctly than the backsquat. The weight is pulling you forward so you have to really sit back. So I do this with a 16 kg kettlebell now instead of squatting with 50-60 kg which seemed to get me nowhere. I focus on going deep (below parallel) and very controlled down and up. I also pause a bit in the bottom position to get a good stretch. The weight is too low to get stronger quads but this is fine since I am trying to break out off quad dominance. I am sure it works the glutes and abs though since I can really feel "the burn". Planning to progress to 32 kg for many reps before probably switching back to backsquats in a few months time.

Also I notice that Dr. John Rusin recommend using the goblet squat until you can do 25 reps with 50% of bodyweight: Have You Earned The Right To Squat With The Barbell?

In addition you need some other exercise to strengthen your hamstrings. I do kettlebell swings. (Weighted) back extensions may be a safer choice.

Also to counter rounded back it is important to do a lot of work that involves pulling your shoulders back and your shoulderblades together; eg. seated rows or standing barbell/dumbell rows. Otherwise the benchpress may cause your shoulders to hurt and your deadlift form to be bad.

If I were to design a Pre Starting Strength program to fix muscular imbalances from prolonged sitting this is what it would look like:

2-3 x a week for 3 months (?):

  • goblet squats (glutes and abs)
  • (weighted) back extensions (hamstrings)
  • seated rows (corrects rounded back)
  • trx face-pulls (corrects rounded/slumped shoulders)
  • push-ups (triceps, chest and abs)

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