How To Utilize The Squat
There are tons of rumors floating around that state squatting is bad for you, or that it's an unnatural and unnecessary movement -- but that couldn’t be further from the truth. So, in hopes of dispelling that claim, CoachUp has put together some of the most important facts about squatting. It’s essential for us to be able to move into that extreme range of motion for several reasons including digestion, strength, balance, coordination, spine health, and it’s easy too! So, the next time you’re at the gym and wondering about squats, do them without hesitation!
As we get older, the natural need to squat decreases. We lose strength in various parts of the body like the hamstrings, gluteus, and lower back, and this limits our range of motion until squatting is just flat out uncomfortable. So, in most of the lower body exercises and tasks we take on, including most people’s version of a squat, they become quad dominant in order to make these tasks easier.
In the fitness and physical therapy world, it’s common knowledge that lower back issues start due to hamstring weakness. The lower back, hamstrings, and glutes always work together and share the same fate. If one is weak, there is an imbalance and the other two have to take up the slack. Typically, they’ll then become overused, overstressed, and, ultimately, inflamed. Frequently enough, either the hamstrings or the glutes are weak, resulting in a lower back that becomes inflamed.
This happens because most people are rarely required to fully use either their hamstring or glute muscles in their daily activities. Often, and especially for athletes, the only time these muscles are needed is when you're sprinting and jumping at a high intensity. The main functions of these muscle groups are hip extension and knee flexion -- both of which are largely present when sprinting and jumping. Since most of our lives don’t require us to workout them out consistently, these muscles are often some of the first to atrophy as we age.
What’s In A Muscle?
Since the glutes are primarily muscles which contract on demand, they become flaccid as they atrophy -- which can be incredibly painful and inconvenient. On the other hand, your hamstrings are a very important component of posture. They must maintain a certain tone, so as they atrophy, they become tight to help the pelvis hold us upright and fight the forces of gravity.
If the lower back is continuously overused, it becomes inflamed, which results in a decreased range of motion. Once this happens, the hamstrings become extremely tight, causing added stress on the back. Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle that can only be stopped by properly strengthening the hamstring and glutes in symphony.
Break It Down, Buddy
Ultimately, the best way to strengthen all of these muscles together is by squatting. Correct form is only achieved when you can assess a person’s ability to maintain balance, center of gravity, and hip mobility. Then, establish the proper foot placement -- or, putting the center of your heel vertically in line with the center of the shoulder joint. Fully extend your arms straight out in front of you and focus on these three points.
First off, keep your feet completely flat at all times. Second, have a completely rigid but neutral spine, and, finally, stay balanced over your center of gravity. As someone reaches the bottom of a full squat, the lower spine tucks under and flexes the lower five vertebrae. Most trainers, physical therapists, and coaches will restrict knee movement by telling clients to keep their knees from going over their toes. This is wrong and cannot be applied universally because everyone is built differently. In fact, it is just simply impossible for some people based on the length of their femur.
As long as the feet stay flat with 90-100% of your body weight between their heels and ball of their feet, you’ll be in perfect balance. This allows the hips to do the work of the squat, as intended. In most cases, the knees will be lined directly above or in front of the toes, which places the force in the hip, not the knee. Based on force angles and body geometry, if you restrict knee movement, you will send most of the force through the knee joint and lower back.
Simply enough, the squat is a hip exercise. If done correctly, you’ll allow the hamstrings and gluteus to dominate this movement and gain incredible results. Regardless of what you were taught, heard, or read, the leg press and squat machines are not suitable substitutions for a properly executed squat. The movements require the body to function at its fullest potential, creating high amounts of nerve activity and coordination within the muscle system -- that is unmatched by a machine of any kind.
(Related: Read about why core strength is so important here.)
Do not fear the squat! It is one of the single most important exercises one can learn and master for lower back and leg health. Invest the time building the proper foundation and the results will astonish you. Your lower back will feel awesome, your knees will be strong, and your hamstring injuries will disappear. Ultimately, you’ll feel like you can jump through the roof and run through walls.
If you’re still struggling with the form or ideals behind squatting, consider booking a private trainer from CoachUp to straighten you out. Our incredible team has decades of workout and fitness experience and they’ll have you improving your overall health in no time. What are you waiting for?