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You Don't Know Squat!

by Jeremy Barnett

Ok, so you think squats are bad for the knees and back. Well then you don't know squat about squats. This is one exercise that can benefit almost every muscle in your body if you do them correctly and safely. So good, in fact, that you MUST do them. I don't care if you're a power lifter, bodybuilder, or a ballerina. You gotta do them! Question is, how? The answer is, as safely as possible without losing any of the benefits! The art and science of medicine dictates that while using drugs, you must minimize the risks while maximizing the benefits. If there's one way to take your iron pill, then, it's in large doses! That means SQUATING!!

Here are a few myths about squats:

MYTH #1: Squats are bad for the knees.

SHATTER THE MYTH
Just as calluses build up on the hands with the application of stress, ligaments, tendons, and other connective tissues thicken in response to the stressed imposed upon the joints during weight training. Also, strengthening the muscles that move the knee joint improves its stability, and there's some evidence that even the portion of the bone into which the tendons insert becomes stronger, further improving the joint's integrity. While proper stress produces adaptation, overly stressful exercise can cause breakdown of bodily tissue.

Whenever you squat, hack squat, or leg press your feet position is an important variable in determining not only the results you'll obtain from the exercise, but also the safety of your knee joints. Although each individual must determine their own best stance exercise per exercise (based on their own anatomical peculiarities such as height and leg length), the following variables must be taken into consideration:

The quadriceps muscles can contract more efficiently when the feet are pointing slightly outward. They should NEVER point straight ahead. If you squat with a very wide stance, your adductors (inner thighs) tend to assist the quads. This can result in stress to the medial collateral ligament, abnormal cartilage loading, and improper patellar tracking.

During the descent phase of any type of squat, leg press, or hack squat, do not allow the knees to extend beyond your toes. The further your knees travel over your feet, the greater the shearing forces on the patellar tendon and ligament in the knee.

Although many top bodybuilders advocate a very close stance for the purpose of isolating the outer quads, this is a myth, and it places you at risk, particularly since you'll have to use a lot of back to execute the lift, or (if you use heels) place great shear and compression on the knees, especially the posterior cruciate ligament which stabilizes the knee joint and limits rotation and hyperextension of the knee.

Always warm up thoroughly before squatting. Your muscles and other tissues of the knee joint LOVE warmth! Think of this analogy, cold taffy breaks, warm taffy doesn't. So warm up to prevent injuries.

MYTH #2: Squats are dangerous for the spine.

SHATTER THE MYTH
If performed with a relatively straight back, the weight is borne directly over the spinal column, and torque as well as shearing force is minimized. Weight training is supposed to strengthen the supportive tissues of the body (bones, muscles, and connective tissues). So wear a belt when the weight is heavy and the reps are low, but stay away from such supportive devices otherwise.

MYTH #3: I can isolate my quads better by using a block or weight under my heels.

SHATTER THE MYTH
The practice of putting blocks or weights under your heels is widespread among bodybuilders in order to gain better isolation of the quads while squatting. The problem is that your knees go way out over your feet, placing great shear and compression on both the cartilage and ligaments of the knee, which over time can cause serious damage to the knee joint.

MYTH #4:Bodybuilders will get bigger, more defined quads with leg extension, and they'll get bigger, more defined hamstrings with leg curls, so they don't need squats.

SHATTER THE MYTH
I recognize the need for other leg exercises in a bodybuilder's routine. Leg curls and leg extensions are great, but don't get the idea that they are how a bodybuilder gets definition! DIET provides definition. As for squatting, well, let me give you words of wisdom from Jeff MADDOG, the ISSA strength coach for the university of North Carolina.

Down the road, in a gym far away
A young man was heard to say,
"No matter what I do, my legs won't grow!"
He tried leg extensions, leg curls, leg presses too.
Trying to cheat, these sissy workouts he'd do!
From the corner of the gym where the big guys train,
Through a cloud of chalk and the midst of pain,
Where the big iron rides high, and threatin' lives,
Where the noise is made with big forty-fives,
A deep voice bellowed as he wrapped his knees,
A very big man with legs like trees,
Laughing as he snatched another plate from the stack,
Chalked his hands and monstrous back,
Said, "Boy, stop lying and don't say you've forgotten!
Trouble with you is you aint been SQUATIN'!!"

MYTH #5: Squats will give you a broad butt.

SHATTER THE MYTH
Lots of people squat without getting big glutes. Fact is that gluteal development is more often due to genetics and not squats. If this myth were true then everyone performing squats would have a broad butt. The simple movement of sitting down and standing back up mimics the same body movements as a squat. So, if this myth were true then everyone would have a broad but just from sitting and standing. Your maker gave you your genetics whether it is a small, medium, or large butt. Be proud of what you have and SQUAT with it!

MYTH #6: Squats are only good for strong men or serious athletes.

SHATTER THE MYTH
If you've never performed a squat before and you're interested in trying this great exercise please seek professional help from one of our certified fitness trainers to teach you proper form and technique. If performed properly and safely the squat can be a very rewarding exercise for every person. There are so many benefits to the body from this one exercise; increased lower body strength, stamina, stability and balance, increased bone density in the legs and hips to help prevent osteoporosis, possible broken bones and fractures, increased strength in the low back, obliques, and abdomen plus so many other benefits to the body that I could write a whole just on the rest of them.

Squats are often called the "KING" of all exercises. Every athlete and fitness person should do squats; but you have to do them correctly and safely! You must maintain a very erect body position when descending into the deep squat position. Leaning too far forward in the squat can be dangerous to your lower back. You should also learn how to go down into the squat position so you are low enough. The top of your thighs should be parallel to the floor in a well-executed squat. Higher than that, and your losing some of the benefit to your strong hip muscles (gluteals and hamstrings). The pressure of the weight should be placed on your heels while descending as well as ascending and never on your toes as this can cause abnormal patellar (knee cap) tracking and over time serious damage to the knee joint. If you've never done squats before or if you've been doing them and are unsure if you've been doing them correctly make sure you see one of our certified fitness instructors. They will instruct you on proper foot spacing and bar spacing on your back as well as proper body alignment and body mechanics.

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