Squat thoughts

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Squat thoughts

Postby Pete » Thu May 06, 2004 5:42 pm

I’ve been pondering some of the commonly held thoughts about the squat. Here are some thoughts I’ve had. I’m not attacking anyone or anything, just thought this might be an interesting topic to discuss? I’ll start with a quick analogy, so you can see where my wandering mind has led me:

Here’s the best way to curl. First you start with the bar up at your shoulders, then you lower, but only until your elbow joint is at 90° angle, then you lean forward slightly & heave the weight up using your bicep & lower back, you also let your elbow move slightly forward so you can get some shoulder power into it as well. Sure, there are other ways to lift it, but this way gets the most weight up & that’s what’s important!

Hopefully you will disagree with just about everything I’ve said above. Most say you should use full Range Of Motion (ROM), you should isolate the muscles as much as possible, & use strict form, doing the move slowly & under control, so let’s look at how 99% of people squat:

First you take a very wide stance that reduces the range of motion (ROM), you make sure you descend to no more than parallel & at the 'bottom' use ‘muscle rebound’ to aid the lift out of the hard bottom bit. Sure, there are other ways to lift it, but this way gets the most weight up & that’s what’s important!


The question I ask is, why is it that the squat alone has such a different set of rules to every other exercise? Let’s look at some of the points & see why they could be there:

A wide stance means a small ROM (you don’t have to move the weight as far). Also going to parallel also shortens the ROM considerably. Can this make the squat a better exercise, or just a partial move that allows a lot of weight to be lifted?
Up until the 1950’s it would seem that the full range squat (arse to ankle) with a shoulder width stance was the norm, but with the growth of Powerlifting, & the bigger weights involved, it seems it died out, why? Was the parallel squat superior, or was it easier?

Let’s look at a full range squat & see just what it is, & the problems you can encounter:

Firstly, most people can’t do a proper full range squat without your back rounding unless they do some serious flexibility work. For some people it can take a long time, & a lot of practice to learn how to get all the way down without even falling over! So, it’s tricky to master. Where as, in contrast, most people can learn a parallel squat, in one session, under the supervision of a trainer. Next is ego, think about how much you can lift doing the curl mentioned above, you can do a lot heavier than doing a full strict curl. The same holds true for a full squat. It will make you use a lot less weight than you can do using a parallel squat, so your ego has to take a bashing.
Let’s talk about synovial fluid for a while. Synovial fluid is the lubricant of the joints, it is spread by movement of the joint (one of the reasons warm ups are good). Now, let’s look at the knee & how it moves in everyday life. How many of you sit on chairs? So, you sit & stand using no more than 90° flexation of the knee joint, you also squat using no more than 90° flexation of the knee joint. When does your knee get a chance to get fully lubricated? Unless you at least take the time to do full knee bends, the answer can often be never! Also how strong do you think you are when your knee passes 90°? Probably very weak indeed as you’ve never trained over the full range of motion!
So, you have a move that can take a very long time to master (up to a year has been quoted in some books I’ve read) & it lowers the weights you can move as well.

Also a point to bear in mind, is 99% of all the empirical research done on the 20 rep squat appears to have been done with the full squat, as far as I can tell. Joseph Hise, John Grimek, all the old timers used full squats to achieve their aims. Although it’s true that for a very small minority, a full squat is impossible, nearly all trainees can learn to do it over time, if they work on their flexibility, practice & accept a much lower weight on their backs for a time.

So far, I rate the parallel squat as an excellent partial move, that’s a great adjunct to full range squatting, but not a replacement for the full range move, which is the one that should be the cornerstone of most peoples training (who aren’t training specifically for Powerlifting, but functional strength, knee health &/or physique)

Have a think about it & let me know if you’ve got any thoughts on the above. As I said, this isn’t an attack on wide-stance, to parallel squatters, or Powerlifters generally, just some thoughts I’ve been pondering & feel in need of some other options before I can productively continue to work on these ideas. Also, I don’t discount the possibility that I’ve overlooked something basic (we all do that often enough), so let’s have your views.
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Postby JP » Thu May 06, 2004 6:15 pm

i agree totally (though can't comment on the physiology side of things, but i take your word).

one has to only take a look at the olympic lifters and their HUGE legs for common sense evidence, and they train full squats and overhead squats all the time.

used weight is not as important like you said. Anyone can do double the weight on leg press than they can on barbell squats, at least. It is still an inferior execise.

pete, in my gym i see dozens of guys squatting. Only me and one other guy do parallel ones and couple others are in progress of changing their style (after having couple sessions with me and getting convinced that fuller range of motion - in parallel sense - in beneficial). All other guys do quarter squats, going to parallel for them would be a major improvement.

So why do i do parallel only? Well simply because that is the lift i want to get good at. If i would be into olympic lifting i'd do full squats, deep front squats and overhead squats.

Why do i go wide? Because that seems to suit my bodytype the best. With narrow i went even further ahead than is shown in the video in another thread and i had real troubles going parallel. Just never worked that way. The range of motion thing hasn't really yelded anby benefits, the trouble is not on the way up, it's in the hole anyway. If i get it moving from the hole, it will go up.
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Postby Pete » Thu May 06, 2004 6:24 pm

Phew :!: I was worried about getting a roasting for this post :shock: Wasn't sure I had all the physiological data & was looking to see if I was wrong on any obvious point (maybe I still am, anyone... :?: ). Just been rolling about in my head & fancied talking about the whole thing. As you know I can't wide stance squat & strangely I get knee problems going to parallel, so I'm kind of "stuck" with arse to ankle, whether I like it or not :oops: Still when I can get the same weight as you I'll do a video :lol: . Gonna have to watch that in a mo (just going to lounge about on the board for a bit first though, as I've got the chance :!: )
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Postby Rochellita » Thu May 06, 2004 7:21 pm

I agree with most that has been said but I get sore knees when I DON'T use a wide stance and in fact I hated squatting because of that. Now I have started adopting a wide stance and it feels more natural for my bodytype and my knees are just fine and I'm actually starting to not hate squatting as much.

I'm trying my best to squat as parallel as I can as it seems the most sensible way to properly execute a squat, but it's bloody hard work and you need to drop the weight significantly if you have ever cheated and done half-squats!

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Postby Pete » Thu May 06, 2004 8:01 pm

I've really noticed how tricky squatting is, not just though my own experiences, but much more since I've started training other vegans.
I got a few bods coming round now & the general differences are staggering, especially for the older people who haven't trained at all (usually just heavy drug & drink lifestyle that seems the norm for the UK vegan). I do insist on them doing deep knee bends regularly, as I think they are vital to the good health of the knee & stretching.
The main problem I can see with very wide stance are the dangers of patellar mis-tracking (your adductors tend to assist your quads, so this can result in stress on the medial collateral ligament, so abnormal cartilage-loading can occur). Also one other thing to watch is that the powerlifting stance places shear on the lumber spine, so great erector spinae strength will be vital.
That's not to say there aren't potential problems with all squat stances & depths, like there's much more chance of your knees going "over" the front of your feet with a closer stance, so great shearing forces on the patella tendons & ligaments can occur.
Also for some people, they thrive on, what for most would be leg suicide, so it's impossible to make statements in concrete.
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Squatting.

Postby Oak » Fri May 07, 2004 11:33 am

Excellent thougths Pete!

I see the parralel squat and the deep squat as different exercises.
Even though a joint has a certain range of motion the muscle assisting the joint changes and is utilised less or more.

The quarter squat, the parralel and the the deep. All have different muscle assistance. I would say for pure bum muscle the deep squat is the full range of motion but for stress and range of motion the parrallel squat is better for the legs. Up until recently i was doing 3/8 squatting :lol: No one trainer knew what parallel was, t took a bodybuilder to show me how!

I think a good assistance to keeping a staight spine when doing deep is to keep your head up. I've seen people looking down and there back is all bent. Not that mines much better :lol:

I think that for deep squats are good exercise. I can appreciate the sinovial fluid thory. Especially for people that don't cycle or kneel down - Inactive people for example.

I think that using the heaviest weight possible has it's advantages. You will get the most strength improvement in that area from doing it. But if you do a fuller range of motion you are going to get more general strength and more muscles used, i'd probably favour the greater ROM. Who cares if you look like a wimp.

A good varient for a good range of squat motion is apparently the box squat. A lot of big squatters use it.
I think that the different stances of the squat do change the stresses so high lighting any weaknesses. I think it would be a bad idea for anyone with a small ROM in the hips to do a wider stance (Oak for instance :lol: ). But if you could it would have it's own benifits.

Quite often exercises could be taken through a greater ROM. Take the dip - you could go a lot lower on that not just to a right angle or humerus to radius. With the shoulder press you could start off with the weight at your sides for each rep. I Think an awful lot of compound moves could be more compound.

Were was i? Oh yeah, pretty much agree Pete.

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squatticus

Postby prefab » Fri May 07, 2004 12:58 pm

My trainer says the only difference in coming down past parallel and going all the way down is that the latter will destroy your knees
Last edited by prefab on Sat May 08, 2004 9:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: squatticus

Postby JP » Fri May 07, 2004 1:10 pm

prefab wrote:My trainer says the only difference in coming down past parallel and going all the way down is that the latter will destroy your knees


but if that was the case, where are all the thousands of olympic lifters with their knee problems? I don't think a movement as such destroys anything, but the way one may execute it can be dangerous - that i admit straight away.

one thing pete, why only talk about knee joint? Squat is not a single joint exercise anyways, so if you are for full range of motion, why not advocate maximum knee and hip joint ROM ;) Thats not really an option i know, but just as an argument that perhaps the knee joint ROM is not the be all and end all in squatting.
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Postby J » Fri May 07, 2004 4:53 pm

I think the key to not destroying your knees is that at the bottom position of a deep squat you should be using your hamstrings and gluts and Not your quads (as much) to start moving back up.

I just started squatting again after years away from it. I noticed on my second set that my left knee started hurting. So I took a closer look at myself in the mirror and noticed that I was leaning towards my left slightly. I made sure to put equal weight on both legs and the pain stopped. Although my right leg is much sorer today. Apparently it had become weaker than my left..... :?

Anyway in the past when I worked up to a 400 pound squat I went all the way down and never had even the slightest knee pain.

One difference now is that I have ligament damage in my right ankle which means I have to put a weight under my heels because the right ankle/foot doesn't have the flexibility to do deep squats while keeping the heel on the ground. Even with a weight underneath my heel I have to use at least 185 to push the heel down enough to touch the weight laying on the floor.

Anyway I think deep squats definitely put way more mass on your legs as my legs were always too big relative to the rest of my body when I did deep squats. If the goal is just to lift as much weight as possible then (shrug?) I don't know.
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Postby Pete » Sat May 08, 2004 1:30 pm

There's been a lot of interesting thoughts on this thread :idea: (I'm glad I brought it up :) )
Oaks point about dips is a valid point, you could increase the ROM, but I think for most it would be elbow suicide :!: (if anyone's got any facts abouts dips & elbows could they pass it on as I'd be really interested as all the stuff I've got is hearsay, not physiological evidence)
& his point about different ranges of motion doing different jobs when it comes to leg training is almost a mirror of what a lot of the old writers used to say, although it was more common not to use 3 types of squat 1/4, parallell & full squat, but something like a full squat, straddle lift & hand & thigh to work the leg to the max through several angles of flexation.
Joni is right to ask if knee ROM is the be all & end all, that was just about the main reason for writing the original bit (ok he said it one line - huff :!: ). Which type of squat, all things being equal, should be the main stay of a routine, quarter, parallel or full, if full squat :?:
I'd still say on balance that a full squat should be the main event, but that other areas would need to be addressed to get the maximum benefit for your legs (whether that be by using smaller ROM squats, or other moves).
One really side issue that came up in my thinking was when do you actually use a squat, in real life :?: I thought the main reason was literally to squat down & lift someone on to your shoulders, a full squat (at least one real world example of the need to practice it-especially if you haven't the smallest partner-I keep thinking of poor Rochelle having to squat JP up :lol: , she'd need some serious full range squat work to crack that weight off the ground :lol: :lol: :lol:
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Postby wannalift » Tue May 18, 2004 3:00 pm

so pete, what is you're method exactly to avoid your knee acting up. i'm trying to get back into squatting, but my knee gets tight right before parallel. cheers.
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Postby Pete » Tue May 18, 2004 6:26 pm

First, I'll hasten to add, that everyone (due to bone length, insertion points etc etc) have to iron out some details for themselves (or with the help of a hands-on coach), but here's what I've done with the people I've been teaching.
I warn you now this is going to get a bit long :oops:

First I have them start with a broom stick & get them to do deep knee bends daily. How they do this depends on how flexible they are. If they can get arse to ankle while keeping their knees over their toes, their knees not caving inwards or their lower backs rounding, then I get them to do 10 reps every day, if not then they do 10 full range deep knee bends (to lubricate the knees), then 10 reps going as deep as they can without any of the above happening.
I've found that it's almost impossible to learn to squat properly without someone at the side of you, with their eyes level wth the knee checking all the points for you and their are several points you have to feel yourself (they are just small for an observer to notice),
Points for the trainer/spotter to notice are:
1/ You sit back into a squat, you don't go up & down. A good thing to try is go & sit down on a chair, the loo, notice how you do it, that is how you should feel going down (free hint: don't use your arms to get up/sit in chairs, practice slowly lowering/raising yourself under full control, no slumping down)
2/ Knee must (nearly) always stay over the knees at all times (the exception is if you've got long legs, then they may be forced to creep slightly over)
3/ Only go to an inch above the point where your back starts to round (if you are practicing DKBs daily this will slowly increase in depth, one guy I'm training took 5 solid weeks of training doing slightly lower each week until he finally got to a full squat- but don't hurry it, it can take up to a year to develop the necessary flexibility & in a minority, they never will)
4/ Check knees are not caving inwards (your trainer would have to go to front-there's a point you have to note about knees during squatting that a trainer can't see, but I'll mention that later)
5/ Make sure they move slowly & the turn around is done without using "muscular rebound" - ok, all powerlifters use muscular rebound to get heavier weights up & to help them out of the hole, but I think for the average trainee who's not planning life as a powerlifter, slowly, with a careful changeover is safer & puts less stress on the connective tissue. The issue to me isn't how much you can get up, it's what do I believe the safest way to get a weight up is. I warn you now this slowing will decimate your total :!: It's a whole different ball game when you have to slow, then from a virtual stop "muscle out" the weight from the bottom (you don't totally stop at the bottom just a slow change over from slow descent to slow ascent, then crank-up the power to force that weight up).
6/ Make sure that you push either through the heels, or the middle of your foot, never your toes during the ascent (when you get tired it happens much easier)
Things for you to notice:
1/ When you get under the bar do so by dipping your knee, your torso, abs should be tight & you should have retracted your scapula (this forms a "shelf" for the bar)
2/ Lift off, take 1 step back then spread your legs to about shoulder width (the will vary, you should have worked out the best stance for you using a broom stick before you ever get under a bar)
3/ As you go down you sit back & push out to the sides a hint with your legs (a lot of people do this "outward push" sub-conciously, but some need to be trained to do it)
4/ Keep the controlled, don't drop, then as you near the point to ascend consciously slow the descent to a crawl, then change to a creeping ascent
5/Once ascending add full power to the ascent
6/ Make sure you push through your heels/middle of foot
7/ Make sure you don't round you back & use lower back power to help the ascent
8/ Use that slight outward push of the knees on the ascent
9/ Finally (& this is damn hard near the end, slow the ascent as you near lock-out).
It's the team work you can build up with a person looking & your input that really helps (as well as time to pick up on little faults that are pecular to your make-up)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I've probably missed out heaps there as just wrote it off the top of my head, so there may be several important points I missed :oops:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Obviously I don't know your particular knee problem, but if it's only a problem you get squatting, then that could point to a flaw in your technique. I'd spend some time with a broom stick trying out my form & getting it checked by a (patient) friend/family member etc (after teaching them what to look for). If that seems to be ok & you don't get the tightness doing DKBs with a broom, then keep doing that daily (first thing works good for many), & move onto trying your form with an empty bar (yea, you could well get the odd bit of piss-take but ignore it). If that's ok, go up say 5k a session for few weeks until it starts getting hard (not very hard, just a couple more & it'll get tough), then slow your increases. You can either go to 2.5 a session, or if that looks like taking you into "very hard" territory, 1K per session, or if you prefer use a double progression system (You could try 20-30 reps going up 2 reps per week, then add 5k or whatever).
I'd suggest you start at 20 rep sets (do one warm up, just to get a feel, then straight onto 1 set of 20), at first, you may want to jump up more, but if you've got knee problems slow is best in my book & hopefully once you've got it sorted your total in a year or two will not only be heavier, but as your doing it the hard way, you'll be a damn sight strength in the thighs as well.
Hopefully, although I've more than likely forgotten to put in a few points that should cover some of the basic points of squatting that I use, one other non-squat point you should think about is stretching. You should do 5 minutes of skipping, jumping jacks, whatever gets a bit of sweat going then stretch your thighs, hams hips, lower back etc before doing squats (& at the end of your session too).
I'll probably think of something else the moment I post this, but that'll do for a start
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Postby JP » Wed May 19, 2004 7:37 am

exellent, erm... essay, pete!

I don't agree with the speed point, but like you mentioned powerlifters have a different take on that.

One thing though: head positioning, thats something i'm only now learning.
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Postby JP » Wed May 19, 2004 1:31 pm

Here's one article which is pretty good because it covers many angles and styles.

http://www.bodybuildinguniverse.com/routine10.htm

Squat Theory and Execution

Written by ?Arioch?

The squat should be a standard exercise in any lifters program. Whether the goal is strength, hypertrophy (increase in muscle size), increased accelerative ability, or a heightened vertical jump, the squat is the tool for the task. In addition to working the muscles of the legs, hips, lower back, abdomen, and obliques, the demands of squatting should stimulate a growth response from the body that will carry over into strength and size increases in other areas.

The basic technique of the squat consists in placing a loaded barbell across the shoulders, then bending at the hips and knees, descending into the bottom position, ?the hole,? and returning to an erect position. We will examine the squat from the deck up.

Stance. This varies from individual to individual, but one thing is necessary for all who wish progress: you must keep your feet flat on the deck at all times. The center of gravity may be maintained over the center of the foot, but it is generally best to push through the heels. This will help in maintaining bar position and help eliminate a small degree of forward lean. To achieve this, some people find it necessary to curls the toes upward while squatting, forcing their heels flat. The feet should be placed at least shoulder width apart, and some individuals may best utilize a stance nearly twice shoulder width. The narrower stance tends to place more direct emphasis on the quads, and creates a longer path for the bar to travel. The wider stance (often called ?sumo?) tends to be favored by many powerlifters, although some have enjoyed great success with a relatively narrow stance. The sumo stance place more emphasis on the adductors and hamstrings. As a rule of thumb, lifters with longer legs will need a wider stance than shorter individuals. However, there are exceptions. A wider stance will tend to recruit both the adductors and buttocks to a greater degree than a narrow stance. (1)

The shins should be a close to vertical as possible throughout the entire movement. This lessens the opening of the knee joint, and reduces the shearing force as well. By reducing the workload that the knee joint is required to handle, more of the work is accomplished by the larger muscles around the hip joint. For powerlifters, this decreases the distance one must travel with the bar, as the further the knee moves forward, the lower the hips must descend to break parallel.

There are several schools of thought on squat depth. Many misinformed individuals caution against squatting below parallel, stating that this is hazardous to the knees. Nothing could be further from the truth. (2) Stopping at or above parallel places direct stress on the knees, whereas a deep squat will transfer the load to the hips,(3) which are capable of handling a greater amount of force than the knees should ever be exposed to. Studies have shown that the squat produces lower peak tibeo-femoral(stress at the knee joint) compressive force than both the leg press and the leg extension.(4) For functional strength, one should descend as deeply as possible, and under control. (yes, certain individuals can squat in a ballistic manner, but they are the exception rather than the rule). The further a lifter descends, the more the hamstrings are recruited, and proper squatting displays nearly twice the hamstring involvement of the leg press or leg extension. (5,6) and as one of the functions of the hamstring is to protect the patella tendon (the primary tendon involved in knee extension) during knee extension through a concurrent firing process, the greatest degree of hamstring recruitment should provide the greatest degree of protection to the knee joint. (7) When one is a powerlifter, the top surface of the legs at the hip joint must descend to a point below the top surface of the legs at the knee joint.

Knee injuries are one of the most commonly stated problems that come from squatting, however, this is usually stated by those who do not know how to squat. A properly performed squat will appropriately load the knee joint, which improves congruity by increasing the compressive forces at the knee joint. (8,(9) which improves stability, protecting the knee against shear forces. As part of a long-term exercise program, the squat, like other exercises, will lead to increased collagen turnover and hypertrophy of ligaments. (10,11) At least one study has shown that international caliber weightlifters and powerlifters experience less clinical or symptomatic arthritis. (12) Other critics of the squat have stated that it decreases the stability of the knees, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Studies have shown that the squat will increase knee stability by reducing joint laxity, as well as decrease anterior-posterior laxity and translation. (13,14) The squat is, in fact, being used as a rehabilitation exercise for many types of knee injuries, including ACL repair. (15)

One of the most, if not the most critical factor in squatting is spinal position. It is incredibly important not to round the back. This can lead to problems with the lower back, and upper back as well. The back should be arched, and the scapulae retracted, to avoid injury. This position must be maintained throughout the entire lift, as rounding on the way up is even more common than rounding on the way down, and people who make this mistake are the ones who perpetuate the ?squats are bad for your back? myth. Furthermore, spinal position is essential to maintaining a proper combined center of gravity (CCOG). The farther one leans forward or, even worse, rounds the back, the more strain the erectors are forced to bear, and the less the abdominals can contribute to the lift. To say nothing of the fact that the greater the lean, the greater the shearing force placed on the vertebrae. Proper spinal alignment will assist in ensuring that the majority of the force the spine must bear is compressive in nature, as it should be. Another reason for descending below parallel is that the sacrum undergoes a process known as nutation (it tilts forward, relative to the two ilia on either side of it). At only 90 degrees of knee flexion, the sacrum is still tilted backward, which inhibits proper firing of the erectors and gluteus maximus and minimus. Going through a full range of motion completes the rotation of the sacrum and allows maximal muscular recruitment.

?Squats are bad for your back? is yet another cry of the weak of both leg and spirit. While an improperly performed squat can cause problems, so can improperly performed barbell curl, yet many of the people who use the squat rack only to curl do not seem to have a problem strengthening their elbow flexors. While the squat can be hazardous to the back among the untrained who often incline the torso to an unsafe degree, as well as round the back, skilled athletes have been shown to minimize trunk segment torques by maintaining a more erect posture. (16) It has been positively shown that maintaining an upright torso during the squatting motion reduces both spinal compression and shear forces. (17) Several studies have shown that weightlifters experience not only less back injury and pain that many other athletes, but often even less than inactive individuals, which clearly displays that a proper weight training program, which includes squatting, is beneficial in avoiding injury. (18,19)

The placement of the bar is another very important consideration when squatting. If one places the bar high on the traps, more emphasis will be placed on the quads, and a low bar squat recruits more of the lower back and hamstrings, by virtue of back extension, simply because the lower the bar is placed, the greater the degree of forward lean. Even when high bar squatting, the bar should NEVER be placed on the neck. This is far more stress than the cervical vertebrae should be forced to bear. When a powerlifter squats with a low bar position, the bar should be placed no lower than three centimeters below the top of the anterior deltoids. For other lifters, comfort and flexibility will go a long way towards determining bar positioning. When gripping the bar, at first it is best to place your hands as close together as possible, to maintain tension in the upper back, and to avoid any chance of the bar slipping. As a general rule, the lower you place the bar, the wider your hands will have to be. Anything placed between the bar and the lifter, such as a pad or towel, decreases the force of friction and increases the chance of the bar slipping. It is to avoid injuries that this practice is banned in competition. Also, this will artificially raise the lifter?s CCOG, which makes it harder to balance under a heavy load.

Look slightly upward when squatting, to avoid rounding the upper back. The movement should be initiated from the hips, by pushing the glutes back, not down. This will assist in keeping the shins vertical. On the way down, keep the torso as close to vertical as possible, continue to push the hips back, and push the knees out to the sides, avoiding the tendency to allow them to collapse inward. The manner in which the lifter descends will greatly influence the manner in which the ascent is made. When the necessary depth is achieved, begin ascending by pushing the head back, and continue to concentrate on pushing the knees outward.

One of the most common mistakes made while squatting, or performing any exercise for that matter, is improper breathing. At first, the lifter should inhale on the way down, and exhale on the way up. Many advanced lifters will take several large breaths, hold it all in on the way down, and then exhale forcefully at their sticking point on the way up. This technique, known as the ?Partial Valsalva,? requires practice like any other.

There are many other types of squats, but all of them are secondary to the squat itself, which is appropriately termed the ?King of Exercises.?

The front squat is performed in a similar manner, but the bar is held in the clean position, across the anterior deltoids, not the clavicles. The hands should be slightly wider than shoulder width, and the elbows should be elevated as much as possible. The bar is maintained as high as possible by elevating the elbows. This allows the lifter to maintain a more upright posture, and increases the emphasis on the glutes, while lessening the involvement of the lower back. This exercise may allow a lifter who lacks the flexibility required to perform a full squat achieve a reasonable depth while improving flexibility. The front squat will place far more emphasis on the quadriceps muscles and less recruitment of the hamstrings takes place. 7 (20) When comparing the squat to other exercises, it is important to note that the squat causes less compressive force to the knee joint, and greater hamstring activation, than both the leg press and the leg extension. (21)

Another popular type of squatting exercise is the split squat (?lunge?). In this type of squat, the legs are placed at approximately shoulder width, but one foot is out in front of the athlete and one is placed to the rear, as if a lifter has just completed the jerk portion of the clean and jerk. The athlete descends by bending the front leg until the knee is slightly forward of the toes. The shin of the front leg should be ten degrees past perpendicular to the floor. It is important to maintain an upright posture when doing so. As when squatting, co-activation of the hamstring serves to protect the knee joint during flexion, (22) which is very important as often a greater degree of flexion will occurring when performing the split squat.

Certain misinformed and so-called ?personal trainers? will have people squat in a smith machine, which is, quite simply, an idea both hideous and destructive. This is often done under the misguided ?squat this way until you are strong enough to perform a regular squat? premise. Even if one overlooks the obvious fact that it is better to learn to do something right than build bad habits from the start, there are numerous other factors to be considered. The smith machine stabilizes the bar for the lifter, which does not teach the skill of balancing the bar, balance being important to any athlete, as well as the fact that free weight squatting strengthens the synergists which goes a long way to preventing injuries. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the smith machine leaves far too many weak links. To say nothing of the fact that free weights provide a greater transfer of functional strength than machines. (23)Furthermore, the bar moves straight up and down, and very few people squat in this manner, which means that the smith machine does not fit a lifters optimal strength curve. (24) The smith machine also requires that the lifter either squats with his torso much closer to vertical than would be done with a real squat, which mechanically decreases the involvement of both the spinal erectors and the hamstrings. While this would be fine if it was done by the lifters muscular control, when the smith machine does this it is disadvantageous to the lifter by virtue of decreasing the ability of the hamstrings to protect the knee joint. Another mistake made, aside from simply using it in the first place, is allow the knees to drift forward over the toes, the chance of which is increased by the smith machine. As was previously mentioned, this greatly increases the shearing force on the knees. This from a device touted by the ignorant as ?safe.?

There is a great debate about the use of belts when squatting, some sources insist that you must wear one, while others state quite the opposite. It is worth noting that there are plusses and minuses to wearing one. Using a proper belt while squatting can serve to increase intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) which will serve to stabilize the spinal column, reducing compressive forces acting upon the spine and reducing back muscle forces. (25) However, muscle activity of the trunk appears to be significantly reduced when using a weight belt, which can lead to the muscles of the trunk receiving a less than optimal stimulus when using a belt. (26) Other proponents of belt use have shown that the use of a properly designed power belt may improve a lifter's explosive power by increasing the speed of the movement without compromising the joint range of motion or overall lifting technique. (27)

There are numerous methods of utilizing the squat in any athlete?s training program. While a variety of rep and set ranges are optimal for a bodybuilder who wishes to maximize hypertrophy, an athlete?s must carefully plan a training program to meet their goals. Even though squatting will lead to gains in size, strength, and jumping ability, the more specific the program, the greater the results. When an untrained subject begins lifting, numerous programs produce gains in practically all areas, but this changes rapidly, with limited progress being made unless something is altered. (2

To utilize the squat to gain in size is both simple and complex. Individuals will respond to a variety of rep ranges in different manners based on fiber type, training history, biomechanics, injuries, etc. Bodybuilders, who are concerned exclusively with gains in size, should squat heavy, as fast-twitch muscle fibers have the greatest potential for hypertrophy. However, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (growth of muscle tissue outside of the sarcoplasmic reticulum) will contribute to overall muscular size, and is obtained by training with lighter weights and higher reps. Rate of training is once again an individual decision, but as a general rule, the greater the volume of training, including time under tension (TUT) per workout, the longer one must wait before recovery is optimized, allowing supercompensation to take place. A word of caution about performing higher repetitions while squatting: As the set progresses, the degree of forward lean increases. While this is desirable to increase the stress on the hamstrings, it takes the emphasis off of the quadriceps, as well as increases the risk of injury. (29)

An athlete wishing to improve his vertical jump should not only squat, but perform a variety of assistance work specific to both improving squatting strength as well as specifically improving jumping skill. As jumping requires a great expenditure of force in a minimal amount of time, exercises such as squatting should be performed to increase muscle power, as muscle cross-sectional area significantly correlates to force output. (30) When wishing to increase one?s power through squatting to assist in the vertical jump, one must train to generate a high degree of force.(31 ,32 ,33 ) This is done by squatting a dynamic manner, where one is attempting to generate a large amount of power while using submaximal weights. This has been shown to provide a great training stimulus for improving the vertical jump. (34) A program consisting of a session once-weekly heavy squatting, ballistic lifting, and plyometric training, with each being performed during a separate workout, should provide maximal stimulus while allowing maximal recovery and supercompensation.(35,36)

When training to improve one?s overall squatting ability, expressed as a one-repetition maximum (1rm), once again a variety of programs may be utilized. The most common is a simple periodized program where, over time, the training weight is increased and the number of repetitions decreases. This sort of program is utilized by both Weightlifters and Powerlifters alike. A sample periodized program is included in Appendix B. Some sources state that you must train to failure, while others state that one should train until form begins to break down, leaving a small reserve of strength but reducing the risk of injury. It should be stated that there is no evidence that indicates training to failure produces a greater training stimulus than traditional volume training.

Far and away the most complicated, and controversial training program is the conjugate training method. Using this method one trains to develop maximal acceleration in the squat during one workout, and in another workout (72 hours later) generate maximum intensity in a similar exercise to the squat. This is based on an incredibly lengthy study by A. S. Prelepin, one of the greatest sports physiologists of the former Soviet Union. (37) This method also uses the practice of compensatory acceleration, where an athlete attempts to generate as much force as possible, by not only generating maximal acceleration, but by continuing to attempt to increase acceleration as the lifter?s leverage improves. The addition of chains or bands can increase the workload as well as force the athlete to work harder to accelerate the bar. Utilizing this system, the squat is trained for low repetitions (2) but a high number of sets (10 ? 12), with training intensities being 50 ? 70% of the athlete?s 1rm. Rest periods are short (45 ? 75 seconds), and the squats are often performed on a box, which breaks up the eccentric-concentric chain, and inhibits the stretch reflex, forcing the athlete to generate the initial acceleration out of the bottom of the lift without the benefit of the elasticity of the muscle structure.

During the second workout, an exercise which taxes the muscles recruited when squatting, but not an actual squat, is performed for very low repetitions (1-3, usually one). The goal on this day is to improve neuromuscular coordination by increased motor unit recruiting, increased rate coding, and motor unit synchronization. This allows the athlete to continue to generate maximal intensity week after week, but by rotating exercises regularly optimal performance is maintained. For one microcycle, a squat-like exercise is performed, such as a box squat, rack squat, or front squat is performed, then the athlete switches to a different type of exercise, such as good mornings, performed standing, seated, from the rack, etc. for another microcycle, then switches exercises again, often to a pulling type exercise such as deadlifts with a variety of stances, from pins, from a platform, or any number of other variations. Once again, chains or bands may be added to increase the workload. A sample training program is included in Appendix B, and a variety of maximal effort exercises can be found in Appendix C.

Assistance work for the squat is of the utmost importance. The primary muscles which contribute to the squat, in no particular order, are the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors/extensors, abdominals, and spinal erectors. When an athlete fails to rise from the bottom of a squat, it is important to note that not all of the muscles are failing simultaneously. Rather, a specific muscle will fail, and the key to progress is identifying the weakness, then strengthening it. A partial list of assistance exercises is provided in Appendix D. While it is impossible to simply state that if x happens when squatting, it is muscle y that is causing the problem, some general guidelines follow. If a lifter fails to rise from the bottom of a squat, it generally indicates either a weakness in the hip flexors and extensors, or a lack of acceleration due to inhibition of the golgi tendon organ (no stretch reflex ? train with lighter weight and learn to accelerate if this is the case). If an athlete has a tendency to lean forward and dump the bar overhead, it generally indicates either weak hamstrings or erectors. If an athlete has trouble stabilizing the bar, or maintaining an upright posture, it is often due to a weakness in the abs.

The above factors assume that proper technique is being maintained. If this is not the case, no amount of specific work will overcome this problem. Drop the weight and concentrate on improving skill, which is far more important than training the ego, and less likely to lead to injury.

Safety is the key issue when squatting, or performing any lift. With a few simple precautions, practically anyone may learn to squat, and do so quite effectively. The rewards are well worth the effort. Squat heavy, squat often, and above all, squat safely.
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Postby JO » Wed May 19, 2004 2:03 pm

This article is a good read. Thanks JP for posting it.

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