Meet Maren and Brett, the two latest Glute Squad members. They are the same height, but their torso and femur proportions differ markedly. Maren has a longer torso and shorter femurs, whereas Brett has a short torso and long femurs. See how much higher Brett’s hip joint center is compared to Maren’s?

2016-03-04 13.25.13

Left: Maren – longer torso, shorter femurs      Right: Brett – shorter torso, longer femurs

I asked Maren and Brett to squat down with 95 lbs and hold the bottom position for a few seconds so I could snap a pic. I didn’t give them any instructions as I wanted to capture their natural squat mechanics.

Maren can stay very upright, prefers high bar squats, and goes very deep.

1

Brett necessarily leans forward considerably, prefers low bar squats, and goes just below parallel.

2

On social media, the majority of people would comment on how nice Maren’s squat is and praise her for her squatting prowess, and the same people would ridicule Brett and chastise her for not understanding that she needs to stay upright. A greater relative femur length leads to greater forward lean. Brett can’t stay upright even if she tries her hardest, and this becomes increasingly apparent with heavier loads. On the other hand, squatting comes quite naturally for Maren.

Why does this happen? Check out Tom Purvis’s two videos below on the topic:

Squat mechanics are highly influenced by anatomy and anthropometry.

Things that can lead to a more upright squatting posture:

Greater heel elevation (ex: WL shoes), greater ankle dorsiflexion mobility, shorter relative femur length and longer relative torso length, wider stance width, more abduction (knees out), a higher bar position on the back, greater relative quadriceps strength, and increased intent to target the knee extensors.

Things that can lead to a greater forward leaning squatting posture:

No heel elevation (ex: Chuck Taylors), restricted ankle dorsiflexion mobility, longer relative femur length and shorter relative torso length, narrower stance width, less abduction (knees in), a lower bar position on the back, greater relative gluteal strength, and increased intent to target the hip extensors.

Wrap Up

If you are naturally an excellent squatter, congratulations, I envy you. However, if you struggle markedly with your squat form, it may not be your fault. You may be hampered by an unfavorable skeleton. You’ll just have to work extra hard on your squat form, and you’ll likely find that you can better display your strength on hip thrusts, leg presses, lunges, sled pushes, and back extensions. Don’t sweat it.

116 Comments

  • Liane Thakur says:

    Thank you! I am very much like Brett (I’m shorter than my husband but my femur is almost as long) so I need to lean more forward to do a squat. Now I understand why.

  • Ali says:

    Thanks for the article. Without someone to compare to, how do you determine if you have short or long torso or femurs? Is it length compared to one another?

    • I haven’t done the necessary mathematical calculations to answer this. Sorry! It’s just something you know when you see it as a trainer. I’d like to do more work in this area over time.

      • Christina mace says:

        Thank you for this incredible video explanation and demonstration. I can honestly say I have not seen or heard such a perfectly clear explanation of why the principal of individual differences is so critical in teaching a client to squat. As a trainer, I also don’t have a clear measurement tool on torso/femur/tibia length- I have tried explaining the need to adjust for this unmeasured variable to other trainers and clients before and never explained it with such clarity. Now, I will just share your video! Awesome. One question- would you say the q-angle is also involved in depth or more limited to foot positioning?

      • Cahuh says:

        Yup, looking foreword to know the answers to that as I’ve been wondering for some time which one am I. Thanks.

      • Jill B says:

        Super simple trick I discovered: Use your own arm and place elbow at greater trochanter. Measure with your arm and note where your finger tips fall. Do the same “measurement” from condyles of the knee to the bottom of the foot. I did this with my teammates about 7 years ago and noticed that the ones who had a 1:1 ratio or shorter length of the femur had better depth and stronger squatting ability. People that had a larger ratio and longer femurs had more difficulty squatting and couldn’t get to the same depth. It’s a basic way to measure but can give you an idea.

      • Brooke says:

        I’ve measured many people in my day (just because I’m weird), and I find my friends had similar femur and tibia measurements. My one friend who is 5’2″ has 13″ femurs and 13″ tibias. I, on the other hand am 4’11” and have 15″ long femurs and 12″ tibias. I noticed immediately upon getting a gym membership and squatting with the bar (then with weights on it) that I had to bend over excessively due to my short torso and long thighs. My whole life I hated my short shins, and since I discovered how they hold me back in lifting, I hate them more but for a different reason. I hope this answers your question: basically 0-2 inches difference between the femur and tibia is normal whereas 3 or more inches apart is significant, especially if you’re a midget like me. 🙂

    • Guido says:

      Ali, I looked into this before. You can just do a rough measurement from joint to joint and compare it to data. Normal femur length is about 23-27% of your total height. You can find some of this data some data on exrx.net and wikipedia, and more if you search for ‘anthropometry’.

      I already knew I had long femurs, but confirmed it by measuring; I’m at about 31%. Hitting depth in squats is a nightmare for me; I can only get there with heavy weights and weightlifting shoes with an 1.25 inch heel. People with normal proportions don’t understand this, and think I just need to stretch more. Really frustrating.

      • natalie says:

        Thanks for posting this. I’ve always hated squats and tend to blame my long femurs and extremely short torso. I’m not lifting anything now due to musculoskeletal issues, but I look forward to most types of weight training except squats. Coaches think I look more or less ok when squatting but I feel such an aversion to any type of weighted squats. Sounds silly but this stresses me out because I don’t want to train in an unbalanced way (for health reasons), but I also don’t want to override such a strong aversion, even if others think I look fine and it tests ok (personally I’ve found biofeedback is not foolproof).

        Anyway I measured and came in at 29%, which I found surprisingly comforting and led to some inner clarity. Sorta confirmed what I knew, yet I’m not off the charts. Feels more obvious to me that my squatting challenges aren’t purely anatomy or even my mediocre ankle dorsiflexion as much as issues related to pelvic tilt/rotation and hip wonkiness. Probably I’ll always prefer lunges, stepping or split squats to bilateral squats, but now I feel less worried about that. With my proportions plus some fairly ingrained movement patterns that don’t support squatting, maybe I’m ok with bodyweight squats for a long time. Even if that’s not the “right” answer. I guess I’m just mentally done with worrying about when/whether to push my body to do squats if it doesn’t feel right to me, even if other people think it looks fine and why not.

        • Samantha says:

          I completely understand everything you just wrote. I have evaluated, re-evaluated, and had others (MANY others) eval my squat and you know what? It completely stresses me out because I consequently change my form here and there and it ends up worse than what I thought it was before. Bret is the only one who encouraged me do it the way I do best and I’m thankful for his help. So- thank YOU for sharing. Glad to know I’m not the only one!

        • Brooke says:

          When you measure your femur length, where do you start and end? When I’ve measured in the past, I’d start at the fold between my pelvis and top of thigh, and i’d end at the top of my knee right before my knee starts. But I’m not sure if that’s right.

      • Cahuh says:

        Thanks for the info! Will do that.

      • Henry says:

        I think this is something that hip structure and even things like flexibilty do have a great impact on too. some might consider me “gifted” as i clock in at femurs 21% of my height, but i still squat with a modified weightlifting shoe with 1.25 inch heel. While i could hit depth with the regular adipowers 0.75 inch, it is way stronger with additional height.

        I put this down to my flexibility which i need to work on, but also something to do with muscle insertion sites etc.

        I believe ankle dorsiflexion is the most important thing to improve.

      • Layla says:

        I just measured and I come in at a whopping 36%. Needless to say, my form looks like a train wreck 😉

        I tend to stay away from traditional squats and choose sumo on the off chance I do squats. Usually I stick to the leg press and deadlift. I rock at deadlifts.

      • YF says:

        I think torso length relative to leg length would be more relevant than height in general for this assessment, as the length of the neck differs across individuals. What would matter for squat mechanics is where the bar is placed: on top of the torso (not on top of the head!).

    • Travis says:

      Hey Ali, I might be able to provide something of an answer to your question. Back in the 70’s, a guy named Dempster took anthropomorphic measurements of a bunch of cadavers, and we still use his measurements in biomechanics all the time.

      His average measurement for femur length (measured from greater trochanter to femoral condyle) was 24.5% of height. Torso length (greater trochanter to glenohumeral joint) was 28.8% of height. You might take your own measurements and compare.

      I don’t know what the spread of data around those averages was, though, so it’s hard to say exactly what would constitute really long/short femurs/torso.

    • Kathy Gall says:

      Hello,
      I am an NATABOC Cetified Athletic Trainer. I have very long legs and a short torso. Both the torso and leg length can be measured with a tape measure, but there is a very easy and quick screening technique for determine if someone’s legs are longer or shorter than their torso.

      Simply, have the athlete sit on the floor with a very straight, upright posture. Then have the athlete bend one knee and pull their knee to their chest so that their femur is against their chest. If their knee is above the shoulder height, then their legs are longer than their torso. If their knee is below their shoulder, then their torso is longer than their legs. If the knee and shoulder heights appear to be at the same level, then the torso/ leg ratio is approximately even.
      My knee is approximately 2 inches higher than my shoulder, which means my legs are approximately 4 inches (tibia plus femur) longer than my torso!
      Hope this screening tool is of assistance!
      Kathy Galli, MS, LAT, ATC

      • arnold says:

        oh my, this post clears so many things in my mind in deciding which back squat style im suitable. thank you so much! now i can squat in peace haha

  • Jaap says:

    Nice post
    Are there any squat variations like for example safetybar squat better for people That have a long femur. Or could they do better singel split squat variations. In my experience you must do to much work with people That have a long femur to get a good squat

    • I still have these long-leg people squat, they’ll just lean forward more. But they get their fix of heavy loading with hip thrusts, single leg work, deadlift variations, leg press, back extensions, etc. Sure high bar or safety squat bar squats would help these types stay more upright, but it doesn’t always make them enjoy the squat more as it can make them feel it more in the erectors, etc. So I’m okay with forward lean.

      • Kenny Croxdale says:

        Brett,
        I am a Powerlifting “Back Squatter”. That due to the combination of a how I am built and a naturally strong back.

        Ironically, I found that as a Heavy Powerlifting “Back Squatter” (forward lean with a lot of back), the movement is an auxiliary Deadlift exercise. It a overloads the back but not my legs.

        In 1998, I began employing movements like: Single Leg work (Step Ups) and the Leg Press are effective. However. the best exercise found and still use for increasing leg strength in my Squat is “The Belt Squat”. [https://www.t-nation.com/training/hip-belt-squats-the-anabolic-equalizer]

        As you know, “The Belt Squat” allows you to minimize back involvement and overload the legs.

        I have a unique set up on one of my Power Racks that allows me to preform regular “Belt Squats” from a “Level Floor”, as well as Incline “Belt Squats” and Decline “Belt Squats”.

        Incline “Belt Squats” shift the workload back to the posterior chain.

        Decline “Belt Squats” blast the quads.

        The Power Rack allows for Wide Stance and Narrow Stance “Belt Squats” to be performed.

        Thus, a variety of “Belt Squat” can be performed.

        Another great movement that I picked up is from your article, “Are Heavy Kettlebell Swings Better Than Deadlifts?”,[ https://www.t-nation.com/training/are-heavy-kettlebell-swings-better-than-deadlifts%5D

        The “Squat Style” Swing is a excellent movement. The workload is shifted to the quads and glutes; you learn to “Sit Back” into the movement.

        I had a Safety Squat Bar. As with High Bar and Lower Bar Squats, I found it overloaded my back. My legs were never overloaded and worked to their full capacity.

        Summary:

        1) “Back Squatters” (those with a forward lean), in my opinion, need to perform more “Leg Exercises”, i.e.: “Belt Squats”, Single Leg Work…as you noted, Hip Thrust, …

        2) As Dr Tom McLaughlin noted in some of his research on Deadlift Training, “the back is quickly and easily overtrained”.

        Thus, due to the fact the back is receiving a great deal of overloading with Heavy “Back Squatters” (forward lean), consideration need to be taken when performing “Deadlift Variations, Back Extensions”, etc.

        Kenny Croxdale, CSCS

        • Jaap says:

          I love belt squats there great for people with a long femur. Front and safetybar are also better to do because it give a better gravity balance

      • Mike says:

        Bret, this is exactly the topic of my Master’s Thesis that I completed in 2012. I created an optimized model of the front squat to explore anthropometry of squatting. Email me at Mike.bawol@gmail.com and I will send you a copy of my thesis.

      • YF says:

        Bret, I believe that Tom Purvis has also critically evaluated single leg exercises here:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tf09i10EEas

  • Tami says:

    Yes! I have this problem, I have a very short torso and I cannot get an upright squat posture to save my life. Would I be better off squatting with my forward lean, or doing other movements like hip thrusts, lunges, sled drags, etc.? I’ve been told I shouldn’t squat with this posture, so am I better off not doing it at all?

    • I’d be okay with you squatting with a lean. And then you’d do all the other lifts too. You just have to accept the forward lean and learn to keep it in check.

      • Mike says:

        Hey, Bret, I’ve noticed a huge difference in upright posture in situations where ankle dorsiflexion is limited. Is this just a correlate, or do you think it contributes to the forward lean?

      • Vimlesh says:

        So so relieved to have discovered this brilliant article and reading everyone’s experience with this problem!

        Bret, thank you. Question: why about wearing a lifting shoe,
        Like the Innov 8 fastlift? Or other heeled shoe? Will this adjust the lean? And allow for heavier loads?

        Or will strengthening the lower back allow for heavier loads?

  • Jessica Hugghins says:

    Please do the same comparison with dead-lifts!

  • Karyn says:

    I’m tall, and have relatively long legs and femurs. I do have to lean forward a lot, and my depth is just at parallel – then serious butt wink kicks in. It sounds obvious – when you squat, your body will move so as to keep your center of gravity where it needs to be so you don’t fall off. Meaning the bar above your feet. So the father back your hips are, the more you will lean forward. My friend who has much shorter femurs relative to his torso, doesn’t have this issue.

    I do squat with high bar, though. Low bar and I have to lean forward even more.

    On the flip side, I kick serious ass at deadlifts 🙂

  • Amy says:

    Very interesting. I have a long torso and shorter femurs and I’ve always been a natural squatter. I’ve also read that the vast majority of people prefer the low bar position once they try it but it has always felt awful for me. Perhaps this is why!

  • Michelle says:

    Interest reading thanks Bret. A similar assessment in terms of deadlifts would be great! (I’m lucky I think, in that I find squating easy but am finding deadlifts torturous to progress on, my lower back and hips are taking strain).

  • Baz says:

    What are you on about, as if you have to lean more forward with longer femurs , yes there is a need for different mechanics but that does’t mean you have to lean forward. Just look at this guy he is 6’5″ https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=chad+mackay&rlz=1CDGOYI_enGB604GB604&oq=chad+mekay&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l3.100958996j0j4&sourceid=chrome-mobile&ie=UTF-8&hl=en-GB#imgrc=32Iz1wN7mb93cM%3A

    • Baz – not everyone has this hip mobility to hit this depth while abducted to that degree. For example, I’m 6’4″, and if I go that wide, I can’t quite get to parallel. But yes, mechanics can indeed be altered to help the squat look better.

      • dave ulmer says:

        Agree Bret. Very familiar with seeing Mackay compete, and if you check out some of his snatch lifts, he clearly adopts a wider stance to facilitate a more upright posture. And I believe our friend in the video states that it is not about femur length alone, but it’s relative length to rest of the one’s levers. (btw, At his size, and age really, Mackay is a ridic athlete)

        Even as a lifetime higher level athlete and competing in Crossfit for years, I have trouble squatting to low depth unless I go wider; and I often squat with better form when weight is sitting on me. I have above average hip mobility, but pistol squat are a nightmare for me unless I prop my heel up, which makes sense because like the guy in video states, I have a) poor dorsiflexion and b) longer femurs and short torso, even though I’m only 5’11”. It would be very difficult to abduct the leg really wide in a pistol!

        in general, this is a great straightforward video describing positions of squat that we often talk to our gym members about. I am definitely sharing this article with them. Huge fan of the work you do and keep it up, man!

      • rémy cano says:

        Hi Bret,

        Do you have a scientific reference or the relationship between ongoing femoral and squat. Because I need it for an seminar.

        Really good paper!

    • Sam says:

      Height doesn’t necessarily mean long femur ratio, the two girls in the article are the same height. This guy may be tall but have a proportionally longer torso…

  • Linden Ellefson says:

    Haha no need to be jealous Brett! The longer femurs make it more difficult to conventional deadlift. I could envy your deadlift, but I would be missing out on being happy about my squat.

    • Michael says:

      To clarify because it doesn’t necessarily make sense to me. Shorter femurs = more upright squat.
      You said you’re jealous of their deadlift (they have long femurs) but then you previously said longer femurs have more difficulty doing conventional deadlifts.
      To me it sounds like you are saying they have trouble with both squats and deadlifts, yet jealous of Brett’s deadlift?

  • Sean says:

    Couldn’t she just widen her stance and increase her foot angle to compensate for a longer femur length?

    • If you notice in the pic, Brett does have a wider stance than Maren. Yes this helps, but not everyone can hit parallel when going super wide. In addition, some develop hip problems when squatting crazy-wide like that.

  • Cara says:

    I second on how this would effect deadlifts

  • Michael says:

    Great post. It should make people think twice about criticising someone’s firm based on a few photos or a video.

    Question, should folks with longer femurs implement strategies to squat more upright? I.e, wider stance, high bar, heel lifts. Or, should they simply squat with their natural forward lean?

    • I think more people just need to accept the forward lean and embrace it and quit worrying about what people say on social media who don’t adequately understand biomechanics. But they can also front squat, goblet squat, etc.

  • Jenn says:

    Hi Bret, great article! Really clears things up. I liked the biomechanics vids you posted. May I ask who that gentleman is presenting. I’d like to learn more from him but his website does not list credentials or name

  • Rob says:

    Brett, the forward lean is an accepted reality with longer femurs. However, how can we adjust Front Squat variations for this type of athlete? Surely the front loading or a bar becomes difficult with training with a forward lean in most other squat work.

    Do we just avoid it or are there some other variations we can use to improve a front rack squat (Double KB Front Squats, Landmine squats, etc)?

    • Assuming good hip mobility, many of the longer leg folks can front and goblet squat well, especially if they wear Oly shoes, widen their stance width, and abduct their hips (knees out) at the bottom of the squat.

  • Renee says:

    Thanks for the article Bret! I am forever trying to explain this to my patients and clients so its getting a share to our group so I can just direct them to this! Cheers.

  • Sarah says:

    Such awesome info Bret! I have long femurs and have had a terrible time with my squat. I recently started playing with my form a little, leaning forward more with a low bar position and it does feel better to me. I always had tight hips/psoas/IT bands and I think it was because I was trying to make my body stay super upright and do things that aren’t natural for me. I have one question though…I seem to hit an interesting “hitch” as I’m coming up from the hole after I’ve moved my elbows forward to push back into the bar to come up. It just feels bumbly and weird. How do you avoid that as a forward leaner OR how do you work with it to make that transition smoother?

  • Don says:

    Great stuff Brett! I’m thinking there are similar limitations with foot placement with regards to external hip rotation symmetry. Whether from old injury residuals or anatomical variance, it seems that asymmetrical hip rotation/foot abduction posture will not necessarily be bilaterally symmetrical for optimal squatting. OR should we shoot for as near symmetrical foot placement (WRT abduction/adduction) as possible?

  • Nick christian says:

    So for those with long femurs and low bar…over time wouldn’t this cause more erector hypertrophy as opposed to someone with short femur high bar?

  • Patti says:

    I would be interested in knowing how this would affect me and help me be able to squat better. I have bilateral hip replacements

  • Kristy says:

    One of the best reads! Every personal trainer should read this and not force a “ass to grass” squat on every individual as I’ve seen so many times!

  • Cameron Heath says:

    I’m 6’3″ and lean forward too much once I reach parallel. I train mostly for hypertrophy purposes but it bothers me greatly that I’ve never squatted any impressive weight,240 tops if I had to guess.

  • J says:

    THANK YOU! I’m just like Brett: long femur, short torso. I’ve always struggled with my squat form, with coaches yelling that I needed to stay more upright. But I physically can’t, even with just the barbell. I struggle so much with my squat. 🙁 Wish I could alter my anatomy.

  • Kelsey says:

    There’s a lot of discussion about squatting “better” but what’s the definition of success? If Brett and Maren are both squatting correctly for their body type (femur length) and are staying out of the injury zone, then does it matter if they look different? Just curious. As a PT I tend to think about everything in relation to if they are able to complete their leisure activities and/or remain functional.

  • Vicki says:

    I have a long femur, long torso, and short tibia. Lots of yelling to stay more upright, accusation of my not trying. Thank you for this.

  • Kat says:

    Seems from comments that average/normal is about 25% of total height. Someone commented that at 31% squats were a “nightmare”. I’m female, under 5’8, femurs about 35% (not kidding). Squats still useful for building strength, as long as the core/back strength is there to support the forward lean. However, you’ll never go as deep as short leg people, nor squat as much weight as them — Even just parallel unlikely to happen, too much lean required — doesn’t mean your legs aren’t just as strong or stronger (sadly, most coaches see only poor form and weak legs, rather that the ridiculously obvious biomechanics).

  • Mark says:

    Any data on ratio’s of torso to leg length to help determine when this is the reason and a different approach is needed?

  • Michael Terry says:

    This is too fatalistic. There are plenty of Olympic lifters with long femurs. You can adjust by your shin position, the width of your stance, and ankle flexibility. Humans of every race and anthropometry have been full squatting with an erect posture for hundreds of thousands of years. If you can’t do it, you’ve lost some natural mobility. Here’s a guy with long femurs and you can easily imagine a squat bar racked on his shoulders over his center of gravity:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y619h01VUDE#t=56

    • Des says:

      Plenty of Olympic lifters with long femurs? I didn’t see many of theses in London 2012.

      Yes every human should be able to squat yes but not with a weighted load.

      The guy on the right the barbell would be well behind his heel on a back squat.

    • Emiliano says:

      How much squatting have humans really been doing for hundreds of thousands of years? And how do you know they’ve all been doing it without a strong forward lean? In daily life, would technique be a concern or just getting the job done? I’d argue that the only squat humans did, in nature, was the “potty” squat and the half-squat before jumping. Something more akin to a DL/Stonelift would be the more natural way to lift a heavy load and throwing it would have been the easiest way to put it down.

  • fernando says:

    Maren’s feet are in ER , can compensate dorsiflexion limitation and squat upright, what happen when her feet are straight forward?.
    Brett’s feet are straight forward, If she has dorsiflexion limitation w/another upper quarter or back limitation, squat like her.

    After sfma breackout (or something like this) you can achieve a conclusion.

  • Wendy Jane says:

    Thank you for your comments which I find spot on. I too have very long femurs and do exactly the same. I do find it easier to stay upright is my stance is wider, but am constantly told to bring my feet in. I also have very flat feet which also poses as an additional problem. I do not feel that flexibility (in my case) is an issue as I am very flexible. It just comes down to my body mechanics. To have a trainer who understands my mechanics is great. I have had some who do not have a clue.

  • Nic says:

    Sometimes you just can’t stay upright. I’m an ex – gymnast and dancer, so very flexible, but have scoliosis meaning that I have a very short torso. There is no way that I can squat without it looking like a good morning. After so many people criticising my squat form (forward lean) it was so refreshing when my new powerlifting coach stopped my well – rehearsed and frequently – delivered preemptive defence of this by telling me to just do what I need to to fit my body. Thank you for publishing this article. Hopefully people will be less inclined to offer “constructive criticism” in the future.
    BTW deadlifting is super easy with a short torso.

  • Darryl says:

    Hi Bret,
    Simple question
    What then happens when the femur and trunk are even or closer to even ?

    Thanks
    D.

  • Kellyb says:

    Nice article. I suggest you do one on deadlifts too. Some people will never have a straight back squatting to depth or deadlifting.

  • Launa says:

    Awesome article and videos! I’m 5’9″. My husband is 6’2″ and my hips are only 2-3 inches under his. I enjoy squats but I always lean forward and always end up straining my lower back. I also LOVE leg presses and have no problem busting out multiple reps at relatively high weight for my size and ability. This fit me perfectly. Hopefully I can use some of your tips to help improve my form. Thank you for explaining it so clearly!

  • Hana says:

    Hi, just wondering how a wide pelvis (aka child bearing hips) affects squatting ; back or otherwise?

    Thanks!

  • K says:

    This makes me feel so much better about my squatting. If I try to go below parallel I lean forward but if I keep my chest up I go too low and struggle to get up again. When you think about it though, it is basic physics. The longer your femur the further back you will go as you squat which will move your centre of gravity back behind your feet. Unless you lean forward or are able to push your knees over your feet you will fall backwards. Must work on my ankle and calf flexibility.

  • Kit Laughlin says:

    If forward lean due to long femurs places excessive shear load on the lumbar spine (as it does in my body) do front squats instead. Even with less-than-desirable proportions, front squats always permit a more upright stance compared to back squats. When I was doing Oly lifting training, at my peak, my front squats were within 10–20Kg of my back squats – definitely not “normal”. And the full depth of Oly squats means that front squats work the glutes extremely well. We used to use “one-and-a-quarters” from time to time to this end: full depth, up to just under parallel, down to full depth, pause, then up. Real glute work there.

    Another note: my ankle flexibility is only partially used in my back squats; by this I mean that additional ankle flexibility is not useful in respect of moving my centre of gravity further forwards. Shifting my trunk back WRT the balance point via front squats achieves this effectively.

    Now I am using the glute–ham raise for the glute work, and a version of weighted speed skater squats (with shins against a bar to keep them vertical); this loads the posterior chain very nicely. Single leg versions load biceps femoris particularly well, too; I use both effectively.

  • Clara says:

    Hi Bret!
    Awsome!!
    Do you know of any articles/videos that cover the same topic as it relates to different deadlift styles?
    Thanks 🙂
    Clara

  • Alex Carnall says:

    Bret, I’m a bit embarrassed to be late to the party on this one. I’m a strength & conditioning coach at Campbell University, and I’ve been using similar anectdotal evidence to drive my training programs over the last two years particularly with Women’s Basketball. Typically, guards and forwards have very different body types, and they’ve had a great impact on things that I do with each group. Not to mention the positional demands are very different. I wrote an article where I detailed some of my results pertaining to segment lengths and interesting trends with torso:femur ratios. Here is the link if you are interested

    https://alexcarnall.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/overload-exercises-for-variable-body-types-and-segment-lengths/

    What I’m struggling with is finding out what the significance of the tibia length is or if there is one at all. Does our conversation just end with torso:femur ratios?

    Your expertise in biomechanics would be amazingly useful if you have any ideas to contribute to this. I’d like to start a dialogue if possible and share some ideas.

    Cheers,

    Alex Carnall

  • Jessy says:

    Hey Bret, I’m not sure how my torso-femurs ratios compare, but I’m pretty tall, I use chucks, narrower stance, I squat deep and I can’t stay upright during heavier squats. My hips seem to shoot up – is that a problem? Since you mentioned that shoes with a heel lead to a more upright posture, do you recommend using that vs. chucks (for that reason or in general)? I’m still on the fence whether to buy weightlifting shoes or not!

  • Amy says:

    Holy cow! This just helped me make so much sense of my issues with squats. I have relatively long femurs and a long torso but my tibas are super short.I have such a hard time getting below parallel with my squats. Especially in a narrow stance. And I wanted to like the low bar position but it just never felt right. This just explained so much of my own experience!!

  • Bill Bennett says:

    Love the article! Have worked with trainers who were always trying to get me to remain more upright and I just couldn’t do it, Squatting wasn’t a problem but remaining upright was.

  • DS says:

    The entire article while interesting, fails to take into account the fact that squat is a three dimensional exercise. If you look closely, even in the pics and videos from this article, people that hunch over less, tend to point their feet out more. Pointing your feet out slightly more allows you to maintain the center of mass over your feet while sticking your rear end out less. I used to lean forward more and then i figured out what clean squatters do, they poin their feet out a little more to keep their read end down. If you cannot possibly keep your read end from sticking out, you should not go down as far. Sticking your rear end out put pressure not only on your glutes but also onto your lower back. I used to walk away hunched over, in agony after a squat because i would stick my ass out and out all the pressure on my back. Elevating your heels helps a lot, but pointing your feet out does too. If neither helps, protect your back and don’t do squat ass to grass.

  • Mgrz says:

    Excellent read – I thought I could add something from my experience that people don’t talk about as much – that understanding my biomechanics has made me a safer lifter.

    I was consistently struggling under heavy load to get below parallel on back squat, but not on front squat. A coach finally identified my long femurs to me, and a lightbulb went off. Lifting shoes ordered. Cue the right to ignore “helpful” gym bros with their regurgitated, blanket advice. Now I’m happily retraining up in a more stable position. Funny, that nagging knee discomfort is gone too.

    An unexpected outcome of this was my realization of how much of my reluctance to go heavy on back squat was fear. Because of my proportions, there is a strong propensity for my weight to shift onto my toes and my torso to be leaned over, leading to me being straight up terrified that under heavy load I’d tip forward and not being able to bail. Don’t try to logic with it, the animal instinct of “you’re going to be crushed and die” is strong, safety bars be damned.

    Now, like I said before, I’m happily retraining up in a more stable position, and eager for the low-hanging fruit of psychological gains. I just thought it worthwhile to open the discussion that understanding my biomechanics has made me a safer lifter.

  • duane girton says:

    H Brett
    great articles and insight from you. Is there any correlation with this to hip flexors. As research has shown Black Male Sprinters have shorter Torsos and longer femurs whereas white male sprinters have longer torsos and shorter femurs. Could this have an impact on the hip flexors of white male sprinters where they do not have the hip drive or knee drive in sprinting and could it be the same with women sprinters as well. Your thoughts please would be greatly appreciated.
    Cheers God Bless

  • Gautham says:

    Hi Bret,
    I have a question regarding front squats. When you have long femurs and relatively short torso, you will have excessive forward knee travel as you are required to stay completely upright and hit proper depth. Even with really good mobility, Can this be harmful to your knees in the long run ? Or will it strengthen the same and surrounding muscles ? I have seen a couple of Olympic weightlifters ( World Class ) do this and seem comfortable at heavy loads, even though it looks freakishly dangerous. I have a similar build and when i try those, i feel my joints and tendons are doing the work and not my muscles. Please throw some light on this.

    • Des says:

      Gautham, i have a lot of forward knee travel but never had a problem until I injured my quadricep tendon in a jumping injury three years ago. Now it flares up with too much volume or intensity. Forward squats aggravate it 🙁

      SSB with high Box Squats is my main squat now.

  • Dale says:

    Great Article. Have been looking around for some information on squats and the influence the shape/length of your body has on the ability to perform the squat (and deadlift). This is great information.

    I don’t seem to be able to squat heavy weights at all – which could be caused by a number of different things – I also have a slight curvature in the spine as well as bow legs. I think I have a number of things working against me in performing the standard squat so things like hip thrusts and leg press may be the way to go.

  • Des says:

    I just did a measurement of my femur and got 35%. I’m 6′ 2″ I struggled with squatting since forever. I know primarily focus on the safety squat bar high box squat (about 1″ above parallel but do vary up and down). This allows me to keep my shins more vertical develop my adductor flexibility with a wider stance and also loads my posterior chain.

  • TS says:

    I struggle to choose which squat form I like the best – low-bar or ass to grass high-bar. I have long femurs, and always use lifting shoes.

    The great thing with high-bar, is the depth, and the way it carry over to, and reinforces a good receiving position in, the snatch and the C&J. Also, the depth means that less weight and submaximal loads on the bar still gives plenty of strength gains, and overall less fatigue. I can train more and heavier in the other compounds, without compromising recovery as much. The downside is that it tends to provide a nasty patellar tendinitis and/or patellofemoral pain syndrome, which kind of suck.

    The great thing about low-bar is that my thighs simply feels great, regardless of volume or load. No trigger points, pain syndrome, tendinitis, or stuff like that. I can also lift a lot more weight, which feels awesome to do every now and then. Downside, however, is that they don’t really carry over to the snatch and C&J, and they also tend to wreak havoc on my receiving position in these lifts. And not only can I use heavier loads, but I will have to, because sub-maximal loads and higher volume appear to provide much less stimulus in the low-bar than in high bar. So they tap into my recovery to a much higher degree, and limit the use of other lifts, in particular the olympic lifts and the deadlift.

    So, even if it is not correct that my long-femured backsquat can only look like Brett’s, it’s the best way for me to squat heavy, and the best way for me to squat without getting pain around my knees. But has a quite substantial effect on the rest of my training programming, an effect that isn’t only positive.

    (I front squat too, of course. Some patellar issues there too, but not as severe as with the high-bar, even at higher volumes – I even tried doing only FS for some time). But my knees travel so far forward, I’m almost butt on the floor without breaking parallel. And I tend to get a buttwink somehow interestingly, because I never have that problem in the bottom of a snatch or C&J. So I tend to limit the use of the front squat, and rather put in some extra squat reps in my snatch and C&J complexes)

  • Hugo says:

    Would this influence overhead squats?

  • This was really nicely displayed, thanks Brett! I’ve been digging deeper in to this lately with my clients in different age groups and sexes. The data I have seen thus far has shown there is a slight difference in comparison to the average female and male population. Have you seen this also?

    I would also input for trainers the HUGE difference between the neck of femur being anteverted or retroverted.

    And the depth of the neck in the hip socket.

    Lift Life!

  • Rachel says:

    Thank you! You’re an angel. I’ve been beating myself up for soooo long and trying everything under the sun to “correct” my squat (I tend to lean forward in a back squat, front squat I’m more upright). I feel so much better after this article and videos!

  • Alex Cooksey says:

    Hi Bret, thanks very much for the article! I wondered if I might ask a few follow up questions:

    I’m sure you get the common rebuttal that “we all could squat atg as children, we should be able to do later on”…do you see some of these relevant anatomical/anthropometric changes occurring mainly during puberty (or some other growth period) especially where bone development may outpace the change in connective tissue? And if so, do you largely see the resultant changes in an individual’s squat form occur around these times?

    For when people give example of adults in other countries, often populations whose lifestyles may involve less time spent sitting in chairs…do you see this as a selection bias, or do you happen to know of any consistent relationships between ethnicity and femur length (or other relevant structural features of the hip, spine, etc)?

    Thanks very much for your time!

    Cheers,
    Alex

  • Meghan says:

    I would love for this guy to evaluate my squats and lower body exercises. I’ve had people evaluate my ankle /hip flexibility and has been ok. But have been told I will never be able to squat. When I do, I either lean way too far forward, then try to focus on driving through my heels and sitting back and I’ll fall backwards. I’ve also had this problem with lunges and not being able to keep my back completely straight. For someone who has been wanting to gain muscle in my legs for years has been devastating. ): with still no muscle.
    I would also love to know for people like me, what each stance works each muscle. For instance, having a wider stance may not work you’re quads as much. So if I’m trying to focus on a particular muscle group, I’m actually not really doing anything if I’ve been modifying completely wrong

  • Diana says:

    I am a Brett girl here and I am SO ecstatic to see this article. I have been waiting for someone of high credibility to bring this into light. I know Layne has talked about his form a lot too and it just reassures me that, yes, I do struggle way more on squats, I still do them, but I’m not perfect at them. Everything else I can dominate though. Thank you so much for writing this up!! Also, front squats are my shit!

  • Michael G says:

    What would to 2 ladies that you compared score in the overhead squat in the FMS?

    Great article!

  • Carrie says:

    I spent the best part of 6 months seeing movement specialists and chiropractors to try to squat and none could help me. I spent a fortune. My coach at the time wouldn’t allow me to use heel elevators or widen my legs, both of which did solve the problem, so it’s interesting to see those solutions presented.

  • Kathleen says:

    No matter how I presented it, my personal trainer could not grasp this concept. I am a short torso/long femur girl. She constantly berated my squat form, doing it her way made me fall over backwards. Thank you for shining a light on common sense and body mechanics!

  • zach Rusk says:

    OK, but they have 2 different styles of shoes on. Maybe next time do without that discrepancy and forgo the shoes?

  • Joel Schroeder says:

    Great article and amazing time to have found it.

    My wife and I spent a good hour yesterday in our living room trying to figure out why her squats were suffering in the gym. We both determined after standing next to each other and comparing femurs, hers is way longer than mine in comparison. She also wears toe-shoes which doesn’t elevate her heals, so she is going to try widening her stance and wear an elevated soled shoe. We’ll see how it goes.

    Thanks Bret!

  • Ludwig says:

    I’ve tried to discuss this with “Fitness-gurus” but the overwhelming majority simply cannot understand mechanics and anatomy.

    Great stuff as always Bret, the world cannot get enough of your brilliance.

  • YF says:

    Bret,
    Thanks so much for this entry! I’ve been exceedingly frustrated with squats for much of my life, though I have no problem leg pressing the entire stack at my gym or doing heavy glute bridges. My squat form is textbook perfect when the load is light, but it breaks down significantly once I exceed a particular load. I never knew why this was (thought it was due to mobility/flexibility/weakness), but now I suspect that it comes down to poor leverages (long legs, short torso). Physics is unforgiving!

    Would you recommend that I invest in some squat shoes? Or am I fighting a losing battle?

  • Stephanie Dooley says:

    How does torso length impact the ability to grow glutes? I’m super short waisted 😩

  • […] Hier habe ich einen schönen Blog Artikel von The Glute Guy gefunden, der dieses Thema ebenfalls aufgreift und Bilder von zwei Frauen zeigt die zwar gleich gross sind, aber unterschiedlich lange Oberschenkel haben: How Femur Length Affects Squat Mechanics […]

  • […] coach Bret Contreras does an excellent job of explaining that these totally different bone buildings will end in completely totally different squat types. […]

  • […] How Femur Length Affects Squat Mechanics […]

  • […] coach Bret Contreras does an excellent job of explaining that these different bone structures will result in totally different squat forms. The same is true […]

  • […] coach Bret Contreras does an excellent job of explaining that these different bone structures will result in totally different squat forms. The same is true […]

  • […] coach Bret Contreras does an excellent job of explaining that these different bone structures will result in totally different squat forms. The same is true […]

  • […] coach Bret Contreras does an excellent job of explaining that these different bone structures will result in totally different squat forms. The same is true […]

  • […] coach Bret Contreras does an excellent job of explaining that these different bone structures will result in totally different squat forms. The same is true […]

  • Christina Hoptak says:

    Thank you!! This is exactly me! My son, husband, and I took a lot of time and tried to figure out why I have to lean forward so much while squatting – and I feel like I’m fallling. I have a short torso and longer legs!!! This was great information! I’m going to try a wider stance. I will also rely more on lunges and leg presses. I already do rely on lunges because I’m so embarrassed of my squat form – LOL!

  • Demi Johnson says:

    I have long femurs and lean forward too much while also hyperextending my back (chest up). The result is that i feel all the load on my lower back, oftehn leading to pain. I tried minimizing this problem by squeezing my glutes and contracting my abs but now my knees go past my toes and I have chondromalacia patella so i dont want this. It seems that i should give up squats.

  • AmazonX42 says:

    Hi, Brett, I’m glad I found this entry!
    I have long femurs, femoral antiversion, and genu valgus (knock knees) because my tibia grew twisted so I could point my toes forward instead of in when I walk, and I also suppinate at the foot. Widening the legs creates more problems for me because I have trouble externally rotating the hip. Now what? Squat in WL shoes? Leg press 4eva? Accept forward lean?
    A (short!) trainer watched me try to squat with just the bar the other day and stopped me and sent me to the Smith machine! I guess that’s why they say to leave the ego at the door!

  • jpvisual says:

    Brett is totally correct on this.

    A low bar squat is much better for the long leg folks. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a long femur/leg person being more horizontal in the low bar back squat. Do the lift correctly and you will be fine. If you need help with a proper low bar squat, read “Starting Strength” 3rd edition. And get some proper weightlifting shoes with a 1/2-3/4 inch heel, instead of your nike running shoes, chucks, five fingers or whatever else you squat in that is not a lifting shoe.

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