TIPS FOR SAFE SQUATTING
Whether you love them or hate them, the good old squat offers a lot of benefits for both sexes when it comes to strengthening, building and increasing overall performance for sports. The only issue with squats is the risks can outweigh the benefits if they are not performed with good technique. One thing I discovered from my years in the gym business was some people are able to pick up the proper squat technique right from the start where others tend to struggle and appear awkward! The only thing I could put this down to was genetic structure; some people’s bodies are more suited to the squat movement where others are not. In general I found taller people struggled with correct form, they tend to tilt forward and round their backs on the downward part of the movement. Despite these genetic variations that are obviously out of our control how can we assure we perform the squat safely with good form and technique? To start with how do you know if your form is good? If anything hurts when you squat or the movement feels awkward or imbalanced, those are good indications that you’re doing something wrong or using too much weight. More importantly, if your lower back is rounding at the bottom of your squat, that is an issue that needs to be addressed before you start increasing the weight. By experimenting with different squat variations you can find a squat that will not only feel right for you but also provide the maximum benefits. The two main variations are the front squat and back squat. Whichever squat variation you use, start light and make gradual progress as one of the main causes of injuries are letting your ego get in the way of exercise form. In most instances a lighter weight squat performed correctly will target the key muscle groups more effectively than an excessive load. Adding weight gradually will allow your body to recover and adapt, a concept that is completely ignored when you read or hear about the supposed dangers of squatting. Amazingly, your body will adapt to the demands placed upon it, as long as you don’t exceed its current ability or its capacity for recovery. Usually, this is more of an issue with men, who try to add 20, 50kg at a time to the bar in an attempt to force progress or prove their masculinity. (Women typically go in the opposite direction, hesitating to add much weight at all out of an irrational fear of getting big and bulky and losing their femininity, another stubborn myth that has no basis in reality.) A good way to avoid this mentality is to approach each squatting session as an opportunity to practice the squat, rather than a chance to show off how much weight you can lift. Keeping your ego in check is vital when it comes to avoiding injury. One of the key points to determine is why are you performing the squat movement in the first place! Is it to increase strength for your chosen sport, build and shape your quads and glutes, or is it purely just for the sake of how much you can lift? For most gym goers the squat is performed purely to build and shape the quads and glutes. In this instance your goal should be to focus on feeling the quads and glutes contract not merely moving the weight from A to B. For the taller people front squats may be a better option because you have to hold the barbell across your chest in an arms crossed fashion so the bar sits across your collar bone. The front squat tends to keep your body more vertical. You can’t tilt forward because the bar will fall off your shoulders. I have found that the front squat does tend to place more load on the quads and to a lesser degree the glutes.
So if your focus is to shape or build your glutes as well the
back squat is probably your best choice. One thing to keep in mind when performing the back squat to ensure you do not round your back or tip forward. Before you descend with the bar focus on a fixed point at eye level in the mirror and always maintain visual contact with that point when you are descending into the squat. This will keep your head up and help to maintain a neutral back position so you don’t round your back. Another key point is to descend into the squat in a controlled fashion. Don’t drop at high speeds and bounce as you bottom out as this will leave you open for serious injury. Don’t laugh I have seen this technique performed numerous times in my career! Lower slowly to just below parallel and then drive back up to the start position. Remember at all times keeping your eyes fixed on that one spot! There are a few misconceptions about how deep you should squat, some state that you should not go below parallel, however if you perform the squat in a controlled manner there is no reason to fear going below the parallel point. I have been squatting for years and have never had any issues as long as I used a correct weight and a controlled movement. Some folk suggest partial squats. My thoughts on this are if you only want to partially work the quads, glutes and hammies then perform partial squats. Half an exercise or a quarter in some cases will never provide the same results as a full movement. I like to call partial squats – Ego Squats because you can load a ton of weight on the bar and squat down 23 inches and feel like you have lifted half a ton but in all reality you have achieved nothing. In most cases if the partialsquatter was to descend to below parallel they would never get back up! Purely an ego boosting performance. On a final note squats are one of the most productive exercises you can perform. The secret is to master the form, start slow and gradually increase the weight. Experiment with both front and back squats to see what movement works for you.