Reverse Patterning the Squat


I’ve gotten some great ideas from reading Gray Cook’s Movement and Athletic Body in Balance.  (I’ve written several times recently about the information in these books.  I don’t want to sound like I’ve joined the latest UFO cult or anything, but it’s what I’m into right now.  I’m seeing very interesting results, so that’s what I’m talking about.)  One concept in particular I’m finding very useful and exciting.  It’s known as reverse patterning.  Reverse patterning is discussed in chapter 14 of Movement.  Though it’s not called “reverse patterning” in Athletic Body in Balance, a very similar process is explored in chapter 6 of that book.

I’ve applied this concept to the squat and I think I’ve discovered a much better way to teach the squat.  It’s simple to teach, safe, and similar to the half-kneeling position, there’s pretty much only one way to do it correctly, that is the only way to do it in any form is to do it correctly.  If you do it wrong you basically won’t go anywhere at all.

Problems with teaching the squat

Most of us teach and learn the squat from the top down.  That means we start in the standing position, lower ourselves down low in a sitting-type of maneuver, then we stand back up.  It’s a fairly complex movement.  Coordinated movement must occur at the ankles, knees and hips.  Meanwhile stability must occur through all these structures plus the spine.  All the while the squatter must stay balanced.  Teaching this process can be quite challenging.

Very often a client has no idea at all how to do this: Their knees shoot forward, heels pop up, knees cave in, spine rounds forward, pelvis tucks way under–all kinds of movement faults occur.  Then I have to teach this funny movement by using all sorts of language and cues that may or may not resonate with the client.  So now it’s almost like learning to juggle, ride a bike and recite the Gettysburg Address all at once. Sometimes it goes very well.  Sometimes it can be a real hair-pulling sort of event for both parties.

(The funny thing is, if you watch any number of young children, you can see superb squat technique done over and over and over.  No one taught them.  They figured it out for themselves!  How did they figure this out?  Must be some simpler way to do this, no?)

Squatting from the bottom up

Gray Cook talks about primitive patterns.  These are movement patterns such as crawling, rolling, squatting and other movements that precede activities like walking and running.  These are fundamental patterns to humans. (Modern living tends to rob us of these patterns.  We sit too much.  We hunch over keyboards and steering wheels too much.  We don’t get down on the ground and move in funny ways enough.)  In the case of the squat, we all did our very first squat a long time ago.  I don’t remember my first squat and neither do you.  That first squat actually started at ground level as we were trying to emulate the people around us who were standing and walking.  At some point probably after several attempts, we stood up.

Typically when teaching the squat the difficulty comes from our trying to get to the bottom of the thing.  As I said previously, we often do it all wrong and it takes a bunch of work to do it right.  So instead of making it difficult to get down, why not make it as easy as possible to get into the bottom of the squat position?  This is very easy to do.  Watch the video to see the process.


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