Really pleased to have my 2nd Guest Blog on here, this time Charlie Shotton-Gale, Strength and Conditioning Coach and International Powerlifter (currently ranked 5th in the world) takes us through the ins and outs of one the best, most used, and often one of the worst executed exercises you will see in most gyms…
The squat exercise has been used by Sports professionals and leisurely athletes for decades and has been shown to be a very effective mechanism for developing muscle strength, size and tone. But why should you do it? What if you have a bad back, knees or ankles, should you still attempt to squat? What type of squat should you do?
This short article should help to answer some of those questions.
What is The Squat?
The squat is where a person bends their knees and hips to lower their upper body without bending over. You can squat with no weight at all (Body Weight), with a barbell (Barbell Squat), or with weights in your hands such as Kettlebell or Dumbbell squat’s.
The Squat strengthens leg and buttock (Caterisano et al., 2002. Schoenfeld, 2010) muscles and can enhance knee stability in healthy individuals. This means that the Squat exercise is using all your leg and bum muscles to work, making them stronger with better tone and shape. It also means that if you have healthy knees, keeping your squats to a depth of parallel (which is where the hips are lowered to equal height of the knee), the pressure through the knees shouldn’t cause any damage (Escamilla, 2001. Fry, Smith, & Schilling, 2003).
But what if you have had a knee injury? Esamilla (2001) shows that squatting to a knee rang of 50 degree bend can still help to develop the leg muscles without putting pressure on the knee.
This could be a simple act of sitting on a dinning room chair and standing up again, repeatedly over a number of weeks until you are comfortable with the movement through your knees.
How can I learn how to Squat?
The best way to learn to squat is:
- Hire a professional to teach you
- Watch the videos on this post (below) over and over again, film yourself over and over again until you are happy what you are doing is what you are seeing here!
The second option, granted, is slightly more risky then the first however it is cheaper and you might get a terrible professional who teaches you wrong anyway!
If you are going to learn how to squat make sure you follow these rules:
- if you do hire a professional, make sure you get them to show you how they squat and make sure it is like a video you see here (below).
- If you are going to learn alone, don’t just be the only one watching you, get others to watch the videos here and watch you to compare.
What about my back? Isn’t squatting bad for a back?
If you have never squatted before, or are still learning, read this section carefully.
A Rounded back will incur greatest amount of pressure on the lower back due to smaller amounts of back muscles being recruited (Holmes, Damaser, & Lehman, 1992, (Delitto, Rose, & Apts, 1987). This means that if you do not keep your back muscle ‘tight’ and ‘engaged’ they will not help with the movement, which will cause your back to ‘round’ and increase the amount of forces being sent through your spinal column. The great news is this is easily fixed and once corrected prevents almost all lower back pressure when squatting for healthy individuals.
A narrow stance will increase lower back strain due to pelvic movement at deep squats (Chiu, Comfort). You can see in the picture someone doing a narrow stance (feet hip width apart) and a wide stance (feet wider then hip width). The narrow stance will increase the strain on the lower back when squatting because the structure of the pelvis is that if the thigh bones are closer together the pelvis struggles to stay still and so has to move backwards, causing strain on the entire lower back.
However, if the feet are wider and the toes are pointing outwards (like your hands when you were taught to drive, at ’10 and 2’) then they thigh bones don’t get in the way of the pelvis allowing it to stay in a neutral alignment with the spine whilst still developing the leg muscles, regardless of stance (Swinton, Chiu, Comfort, Acaw, signorile).
The distribution of forces through the knee and hip depend on how far the knees travel in front of the toes during squat. Knees forward means there are more forces going through the knee (weightlifting style squat). However, if the knees stay still and hips move back this means more hip and lower back forces are experienced (powerlifting style squat). (Fry, Smith, & Schilling, 2003).
Wretenberg, Feng, & Arborelius (1996) demonstrated this difference by studying weightlifting style ‘high bar’ vs powerlifting style ‘low bar’ squat and showed that the powerlifting squat put more emphasis on the hips, whereas weightlifters had a load distribution that was more even between the hip and knees.
The Squat can also enhance ankle strength, however if you see the knees collapsing together whilst squatting it could be due to poor ankle flexibility (Shaub). This can be remedied by sitting back in squat (powerlifting style squat) which can also activate the bum muscles (Gluteals) more and reduce need for ankle flexibility by keeping lower leg upright. (Chiu, 2009).
What is the difference between weightlifting and powerlifting squats?
To see examples of a ‘Weightlifting ‘high bar squat’, Powerlifting ‘low bar’ Squat,Single leg squats (Unilateral) and much more , please go to http://sg-fitness.co.uk/blog/why-squat/#.VUDu77d0wdV and continue reading this, and numerous other brilliant articles.
N.B. There are no ‘one size fits all’ style quick fixes in most injury scenarios, so these article shouldn’t be seen as such. They are merely guides to a better understanding of how our bodies work.