In the last post I discussed 2 classic rules that are commonly applied to squats and why these rules may need to bend, or even break when it comes to doing body weight squats as nature intended.
So let’s keep this party rock’n with 2 more squat myths that need to die!
Rule #3- Don’t round your back.
This rule is very important when you have a heavy weight on your back or in your arms, but it’s also a rule that can seriously hold you back when it comes to body weight squats.
Your spine is a series of very important joints running from your tail bone to the base of your skull. Like any joint in your body it’s crucial that it remain strong and flexible throughout your life. Unfortunately our modern society is not very friendly to your spine. Our sedentary ways have us sitting with back support for much of the day causing your entire spine to grown stiff and weak. If you are one of the few folks who do workout, the gym isn’t all that great to your spine either. Many machines and free weight exercises involve sitting or laying down to keep your spine supported which continues to keep things weak and stiff. If you are involved in an exercise that doesn’t require sitting or laying down you’re probably holding a weight in your hands. The rule now is that you keep your back stiff and strait, which is a good rule because a heavily loaded bent spine can cause serious injury. The down side is that you’re still training your back to be stiff. Even though it will strengthen your spine to some degree, that strength is primarily conditioned in a limited range of motion leaving your vulnerable to stress outside of that position.
The result of all of this is that you are using some of your most important joints and keeping them as mobile as possible. Any strengthening they do experience is done in a very limited range of motion if any movement is encouraged at all.
It’s not just the lack of flexibility and strength that is the problem. The vulnerable disks and soft issues in your spine have very little blood flow so the essential nutrients they need to stay healthy are only infused by getting worked in through movement. It doesn’t matter how great your diet is or what supplements you take. Far less of that nourishing stuff ever reaches your disks if you keep your spine stiff and supported. This is why back and spine trouble is the plague it is today. It’s so common many people simply accept it as a part of aging.
The sad thing is all of this can be easily avoided! It doesn’t have to be this way! The solution is simple, MOVE YOUR SPINE! Move it up, down, left right, twist, flex and bend! Just be sure to use a natural load ie. your own body weight and one of the best examples is the simple body weight squat! As you squat down let your shoulders round forward a bit, let your butt tuck under. I promise you it’s fine. The catch is to make sure you keep as much tension along your entire back as you do it. Don’t just squat down and let your spine collapse forward, keep your entire back engaged. As you stand up, use your whole back to fully extend your pine while pulling your shoulders back and stick your chest out. Being able to use this motion is one of the biggest advantages body weight squats have over weighted squats. If you did this with a bar on your back you would risk your spinal health not to mention cause the bar to crash to the floor behind you at the top of the range of motion.
So keep your back tight and mobile, that’s the way to keep your spine strong, flexible and pain free!
Rule #4- Squat until your knees are bent 90 degrees or the top of your thigh is parallel to the floor.
I have a general rule regarding the range of motion of any given exercise. That rule is to use every single damn millimeter possible. There is no such thing as low enough, close enough or high enough. If you can squeeze out even a fraction of an inch more range then do it. So when it come to squats I disregard the rules of range of motion and simply keep lowering myself until I physically can’t get any lower. When I stand I reach for every bit of height I can. There is no such thing as close enough. If it’s close, it’s not enough.
There’s a myth that deep squats are bad for the knees, but it’s actually the opposite. It’s the shallow squats that screw you over.
The bigger range of motion is important for many reasons. the first one being that your muscle activation and joint control is only as strong as the range of motion you train in. So if you’re used to doing squats to a certain level and not lower you’re training your muscles to engage and keep your joints strong within that limited range of motion. This is fine as long as you never need that deeper range, but if you ever do need that range in an emergency you’re placing your joints in a highly compromised position.
This is why believing that deep squats are bad is a self fulfilling prophecy. Someone believes they shouldn’t squat deep so they don’t creating a narrow range of motion they can use their legs in a safe and strong way. Then one day they do a super deep squat or do a jump and eat their knees on the landing and something goes POP! They just hurt themselves in the deeper range and believe they need to stick to the shallow range to stay safe. However the entire reason why they hurt their knees in the deep range to begin with was because their joints and muscles were not conditioned for that range and couldn’t handle the stress.
Another reason people love using a short range of motion is because the shorter range of motion makes squatting easier. Using a shorter range of motion on many exercises means each rep is easier so you can use more weight and accomplish more reps. I used to place far more importance on reps and weight back when I was lifting weights. In my search for more reps and weight my range of motion slowly eroded over the years. It wasn’t much, just a little bit here and there. Then one day a friend of mine saw me squatting with a bunch of weight for 12 reps and she gave it to me strait when she said “That’s not a squat that’s a cry for help.” She made some simple corrections to my technique, but they hit my ego hard. I was now struggling to get half the reps with half of the weight! I thought it was a step backwards but looking back now I know it was a massive leap forward.
The biggest range isn’t just about the joints either. Your muscle activation is highly sensitive to range of motion. A good example would be the ability to engage your quads and glutes. Most folks can flex those muscles hard at the top of squat, but they struggle to keep them engaged as they lower themselves down. Some folks might even completely lose tension in their muscles once they reach a certain height causing them to “sit” into the squat without many of their leg muscles turned on. Again, this is also a major reason for joint pain at the deeper ranges of motion. As your muscles fail to engage the stress of the exercise must go someplace and if it’s not being held in your muscles then it’s most certainly flooding into your joints.
I’m not suggesting that you should immediately start squatting as low as possible. If you’ve been squatting in a shorter range of motion for even a few months your joints may not be able to handle it right away. So start slow and easy. I highly recommend using a TRX or just hold onto a counter top so you can place some of your weight into your arms as you squat low. This way, you can slowly ease up on how much assistance you get from your arms so your muscles can slowly assume more control through the full range of motion. As you become more accustomed to the deeper squats with activation of every muscle in your lower body you’ll have much stronger and healthier joints, not to mention much more strength and balance.
So there ya have it, 2 more squat myths that need to die. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns down below or if you have any other squat questions I can answer for you.