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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Workout Wednesday - Why Squats are King

When I train somebody for the first time the squat is always (99.9% of the time) the first thing I teach. There are two reasons for this. First, having somebody squat is a great way to see where their weaknesses are. Are their knees buckling? Is their back rounding at the bottom? Are they shifting their weight from their heals to their toes? All of these things can show weakness in certain areas (glutes, hip adductors, hip flexors) or lack of mobility in certain joints (hip, ankles). Second, the squat is probably the best exercise for developing strength, mobility, flexibility, athleticism...

There is one problem with showing everybody how to squat. I often times have to answer the question "I thought squats are bad for your knees, back, hips?" To which I often reply

"shut your trap and do what I say!"
"let me kindly explain to you why I want to take time to teach you this extraordinarily safe and effective exercise!"

The reason the squat has gotten a bad name over the years is because of people like this guy...

Holy ACL Tear Batman!!!

This guy did do a couple things right. He took the bar off the rack nicely. OK, he only did one thing right, after that it was a shitstorm. What did he do wrong? Initiated the movement by bending his knees, not his hips. Went down to about 25% depth, which is the second worst thing you can do to your knees (hitting them with a sledge hammer is the worst!). Tried to set the bar on the rack instead of dragging it down the uprights. (safety tip for the day: When racking a bar always drag the bar down the uprights until it hits the pins, that way you will never miss) He did keep his back straight, so I guess he did two things right! Good for him!

So this dope goes to his friendly neighborhood orthopedic doctor and tells Doc that his knees hurt! Doc asks what he has been doing? Dopey tells Doc "I've been squatting". Doc makes the conclusion that squats are bad for the knees. What Dopey fails to tell Doc is that he's been performing his "squats" with bad form and too much weight. (safety tip #2 for the day: Two sure fire ways to hurt yourself in the gym 1. Perform a movement with terrible form and perform a lot of said movement. 2. Perform a movement with terrible form and add a lot of weight.)

That is how squats should be performed!

Before adding any weight to a squat, you should develop the capacity to perform a perfect air squat! Some people, depending on your goals and needs, never need to add resistance to the squat. I have many people work on squatting to a box in order to develop and maintain the capacity to sit and stand. I also progress people to more difficult squat variations like lunges and 1-Leg Squats.

Reasons why squats are not bad, but very good for your knees, back and hips:

  • Back: With good form, as seen in the second video, the lower back stays nice and flat. By flat, I do not mean vertical, but keeping the spine in a neutral position. By developing the capacity to keep the back in this position you have developed strength in the abdominals, lower back and hips. The stronger these areas are the more support your spine has. Which means you can shovel more snow without getting a tight and sore back!
  • Hips: Our hips are designed for mobility. In western culture we spend a lot of time sitting at computers, in cars, on the couch... Which causes a lot of tightness in the hips. Working on proper squat technique helps increase functional mobility in the hips, something other cultures don't have a problem with.
  • Knees: Squatting deep causes the quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, hip flexors and extensors (mainly the glutes) to apply even forces on the joints. This ensures there will be no forces on the joint itself, which is a good thing for a joint. When performing a high squat (or what I like to call a knee bend, because you are not actually squatting) the quadriceps do most of the work. The quadriceps will pull forward on the Tibia and will cause the ACL to work very hard. If you are holding a lot of weight or performing a high amount of this type of movement, then your ACL, or other ligaments in the knee, will fail. Tissues in your body can handle a certain amount of force, but there is always a breaking point!
Should everybody squat? YES! At least a variation of a squat. It is very important to have the capacity to sit and stand. Think about the daily activities you would not be able to do if you could not squat. Sitting on the toilet would become quite a task!


I agree with you :" Squats are King"

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