SQUATS - Common Misconceptions

Pretty much the answer to every question I'm asked has one of two answers: squat or gouda. I'll explain "gouda" another time.

The squat is one of the most comprehensive and functional moves for total body strength and mobility. It can increase joint strength and flexibility, causes the greatest neuro-endocrine response, and has some of the greatest cross over into other movement. However, it can only do all this if you're doing correctly, and most people don't.

1) Squats are bad for your knees

2) You shouldn't go past parallel with the thighs

3) Your knees shouldn't pass the toes/o:p

All of these ideas can be attributed to poor technique and poor understanding of what the basic mechanics of the squat are.

Squats are bad for your knees

This idea comes from the fact that most people don't know the importance of doing squats with the weight in your heels. And even if they do know, many people don't know what that feels like and how to attain it. Because of the way most of us move through life today, we're very loaded up on our toes, which feels perfectly natural. However, when you squat this way, you are putting the majority of the work on your quads, neglecting the posterior chain. If you do this consistently, then the imbalances you create will cause knee pain. The longer it goes on, the greater the pain will become.

You get around this by (1) putting your weight back in your heels and (2) getting a good coach or trainer that can spot when you roll onto your toes. By putting your weight in your heels, you activate the posterior chain. Quads can be strong, but the combination of glutes, adductors and hamstrings are stronger, and by working them all together you're creating a balance of strength around the the hip and knee joints. Also, but putting your weight into your heels, and therefore into the hamstrings, you're able to better utilize the stretch reflex at the bottom of your squat, which also frees up tension in the knees.

/o:pYou shouldn't go past parallel with the thighs

T/o:phis one came from a couple of places. First, you're going to see a lot of trainers at box gyms trying to get their clients to squat with their feet hips width apart and toes straight forward. With this set up, half way down is about as far as you can go without putting excess torque on your knees. To correct this, put your heels about shoulder width apart and point your toes slightly out. Hips are meant to rotate in this way.

/o:pThe truth is, with proper foot placement and while keeping your weight back, going below parallel is actually better for your knees and back. When you stop your squat early, you're having to tighten the quad prematurely, pulling on the knee joint, and you don't get to fully use the hamstrings and glutes. Therefore, as mentioned earlier, you end up with quad/hamstring imbalances which eventually WILL lead to knee pain.

/o:pYour knees shouldn't pass the toes

/o:pThis, again, ties in with the theme of "keep you weight back in your heels". When a person is squatting on their toes, what you'll typically see is that they (1) don't send their hips back first and (2) their knees shoot forward immediately. By this point, you can probably guess what that leads to: quad over development and quad/hamstring imbalances and therefore, knee pain. So trainers have been told to not let clients push their knees in front of their toes, because for many people that will force them to keep their weight back off the toes, and engage the posterior chain.

/o:pThe problem with this is due to how some people are built, you can't keep your knees behind your toes while keeping your chest up. You end up having to push your hips further back, and to keep the bar over your heels, you end up leaning further over, and now you have a back squat / good morning hybrid. Again, a good coach or trainer will be able to spot the difference between knees shooting forward prematurely versus drifting over the toes as a result of mechanics.

/o:pHow is a proper squat performed?

/o:p1) Start with your heels under your shoulders, toes pointed slightly out. Focus on keeping your core tight and notice how your back is positioned.

/o:p2)First, with your weight in your heels, push your hips back as you start to bend your knees, keep your chest up

/o:p3) As you descend, keep focusing on your chest staying up and your back tight to maintain an arch in your lower back. Focus on pushing your knees out so that the track over the toes.

/o:p4) When you either start to feel your lower back curve down or you hit rock bottom, begin pushing back up through the heels and keeping your knees pressed out.

5/o:p) Repeat