Defending the Squat

I spend much of my time as a coach defending the squat exercise to many of my and their parents. It usually starts in the evaluation process when I discover there has been some sort of past injury of the knee or low back. So I usually know what is coming next. I hear the blanket statement “I was told that squats are bad for my knees and low back”. Then the frustration hits me right between the eyes. I spend the next ½ hour trying to re-educate and deprogram my client of the misinformation they have been given. Ironically had some of these individuals squatted in the first place they probably would never had sustained knee or low back injuries to begin with.

The squat has earned the nickname “the king of all exercises” for good reason. Along with being a tremendous trunk and core strengthening exercise in my opinion it is unquestionably the most effective exercise you can use for leg strength and the advanced stages of both knee and back rehabilitation for athletes. When my clients are instructed by a physician not to engage in the squat exercise it usually relates to a disc injury to the spine or an injury to the meniscus (cartilage) of the knee. Unless there is a significant contraindication to squatting it should be prescribed appropriately during the correct phase of rehabilitation or executed with proper and a full range of motion.

Think about this Case study:

Three groups of 15 year old male and female athletes were put on a leg strength consisting of just squats during the summer for 10 weeks.

Group One – Did Full Squats (full squat to floor)
Group Two – Did ½ Squats (squat to 90 degrees)
Group Three – Did No Squats. (No squats at all)

Results: The group that did the ½ squats was found to be the most often injured! In group one (the full squat group) no knee injuries over the next one year were reported. In group two (the ½ squat group) 3 of the five athletes reported some kind of knee pain or injury. One ACL tear in a female, patella tendonitis in a female, and an MCL sprain in the third athlete a male! The other two reported no incidence. In group three (the no squat group) 2 of the five reported knee injuries, an ACL rupture in a female and quadriceps tendonitis in a male athlete the other three reported no incidence.

Conclusion: This research study is one of many that bear out the fact which is common knowledge in strength research. Females are more susceptible to ACL injuries due to hormonal levels and quadriceps angle or Q-Angle (increased angle of the femurs). Doing half squats can cause flexibility deficits and muscle imbalances to the quadriceps. EMG (electromyography) studies show the ½ squat under recruits the VMO or Vastus Medialis oblique (the teardrop or inner portion of the knee), hamstrings and gluteals forcing the lateral quadriceps to do most of the work. Omitting squats completely will deprive the athlete of knee and hip stabilization that may help prevent or reduce knee injuries. Half squatting disallows the knee to travel across the toes and move through a full range of motion again facilitating quadriceps/muscle imbalance by under recruiting the VMO muscle which is the pillar of knee joint stability.

Ok so who cares about research studies, VMO’s and squats? If you want a good insurance policy for your knees and low back incorporate squatting into your strength program! Squat variations are a staple in all of my athletes but prescribing correct squat technique, progression and exercise sequence can be the in effective and non effective outcomes in your program.



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