|We Build Muscle the Old Fashioned Way - With
Sweat and Steel - OSHIIT
Do You Know Squats?
Myths About Squats
The way most people do squats WILL cause
- Myth 1: They'll hurt your back. FALSE. Done properly, squats will
strengthen your back. And this is important: The squat requires (and
develops) core and back strength. Most adults have legs that are stronger than their
core. This is especially true if they been using leg machines to develop
their legs. One of the reasons people injure themselves on the squat is that
they try to lift what legs are capable of, instead of what their body is
capable of. Start light and develop your core along with your legs.
- Myth 2: They'll hurt your knees. FALSE. In fact, Robert Gotlin, DO,
director of orthopaedic and sports rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical
Center in New York, says that if you have knee pain walking down stairs, then
quadricep weakness is a likely cause and strengthening your
quads with squats may very well help (see
article). However, partial squats where you only go down half way or so
do little to develop knee strength and stability. That is why it is
important to go down to at least parallel (or even slightly lower). These
work the knee through its full range of motion strengthening the joints.
Partial squats also don't do much for the hamstrings and ankles. Eventually
these will become weak compared to the quads and this will lead to injury.
Check your ego at the door, take some weight off the bar, and do squats
correctly. Your knees will thank your for it years down the road.
- Myth3: Leg press machines, leg extensions, and leg curls are just as
FALSE. While these exercises will build your muscles, it's difficult to
develop them in a balanced manner using isolation exercises. Your legs are
designed to work as a unit, not as individual muscle groups. Doing isolation
exercises, such as leg press and leg curls, will most likely develop muscle
imbalances that will lead to knee stress and eventually to knee pain.
Forget what you've seen in the gym. Very few people in gyms do proper
squats (For that matter, very few trainers do or teach proper squats). What you see them doing WILL cause injuries. However, numerous
studies have shown that properly done squats strengthen your knees and back and
make them healthier and less prone to injury.
First of all, check your ego at the door. Most people do what are known as
"partial squats," or what I call "gym rat" squats. This is where they don't go low enough for their thighs to
reach parallel to the ground. You should go to parallel or lower if possible. The reason most people do
squats (and ultimately end up injuring their back and knees) is because
partial squats enable them to squat bigger weights and impress their gym
buddies. This will eventually lead to injury. Doing a proper squat requires
greatly reducing the amount of weight you train with. If you do squats my
way, you'll be squatting about a third of what you could squat "gym rat" style.
However, your legs will develop faster and you'll have better muscle balance
between your hamstrings, glutes, and quads. Also, the reduced weight means
much less stress on the knees and back and less chance of injury.
Above all else, you must do squats in perfect form.
I use "Very Low Box Squats" (VLBS) with my newer clients. The box I
use personally is about 6½ inches (16.5 cm) high, however, most adults don't
have enough hamstring and hip flexibility to perform a squat in proper form to
this depth (Typically their lower back will start to round as they get near the
ground). Therefore, start with a higher box and work
your way down as your flexibility improves. Most people will never work down to 6½
inches, but that's okay. The main thing is to work as low as you can while
maintaining proper form. Never go so low that it prevents you from doing the
exercise in perfect form. Again, most people tend to round their lower back
when they go too low for their ability. If your lower back starts to round, then
you are squatting too low for you ability. Squat higher for the time being, and
work on improving your flexibility.
reduced weight of VLBSs is especially good for beginners, since most untrained
adults have legs that are much stronger than their core. The weight they would
use for a VLBS is much less than what they would use for partial squat. This
reduces the risk of injury while their core strength is developing. After their
core strength becomes adequate, I will start to introduce parallel squats into
Here's a good description of
how to do a proper box squat.
experience lower back pain from squatting, it's usually due to rounding of
the lower back.
Advantages of Very Low Box Squats (VLBS)
- Greatly reduced weight, therefore less stress on the knees and back and
less chance of injury.
- Builds a better muscle balance between the hamstrings, glutes, and
- Develops strength across the full range of motion of the legs and knees.
Studies show that deep squats develop strength across the full range
of motion of the muscle. However, this is not true for partial squats (see
Science and Practice of Strength Training
- Stopping on the box reduces the stretch reflex. Your tendons and muscles
store energy like springs at the bottom of a regular squat. This stored
energy helps lift the weight. By stopping on the box and reducing this extra boost, you force your
muscles to work harder which in turns further reduces the amount of weight
you need to get the same level of muscle exertion. Most people think the box
is there to make it easier. In fact, the opposite is true. Using the box
actually makes it harder.
- Stopping at the bottom (when you hit the box) also increases your dynamic power more than standard
squats. This means the strength gained will translate better into real world
activities such as jumping.
- Helps teach proper squat form. A proper squat requires that the hips
move backward. Many gym squatters omit this portion from their form. Having
to move your hips back to land on the box helps ensure that you are using
proper form. Squatting should be more like the motion used to sit on a
toilet rather than just simply going up and down.
Disadvantages of Very Low Box Squats (VLBS)
- Others may giggle when they see you squatting very low weights - Unless
they try it for their self. The guy doing 300 pound partial squats
will probably not be able to do 100 pounds VLBS; especially if he only does
partial squats, since his hamstrings will likely be disproportionately weak.
- You have to have something that serves as a box. I made my own for about
$10. Good quality aerobic steps will also work. Just make sure they are
sturdy enough to handle you plus the weight you're lifting. You can also stack up 45 pound weight plates (Warning: Some
weights are not stable when stacked together, therefore they are not
suitable for this purpose).
Don't get me wrong, I'm not against doing parallel or higher squats. They
have their place and should be
included in well rounded advanced weight routine. But develop your low squat
first and don't neglect the muscles that are
needed to go deeper than parallel.
One-legged squats are great for developing knee strength and stability. They
should definitely be part of your overall squatting routine.
Don't use the bar pad when squatting! If you have the bar positioned correctly, it does not cause pain.
It is only painful when positioned incorrectly. Use of the pad will only serve
to mask bad form. It's better to correct your form and do the exercise properly.
When doing back squats, the bar should rest on the upper back, not on the collar bone or neck.
Shoes Should I Wear?
|The best shoes for squatting are flat-soled shoes such as Converse Chuck Taylors.
I also like Vans and just about any low cost, flat-soled shoes will
Running shoes or cross shoes with a lot of cushion will make your ankles
more unstable as the cushion gives to and fro. You also need to be able to
"feel" the floor to know how you are pushing into it.