Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Loving, hating and embracing the squat

Fitness trends swing like a pendulum. For years, health professionals spoke of the perils of deep squats because any movement in which the knees travel over the toes can lead to injury. Accordingly, trainers and coaches and athletes moved away from the traditional squat in favor of the box squat.
However, in the past couple years squats have returned to prominence. Many doctors, therapists, trainers and coaches are promoting it to everyone again. For example, New York Times columnist Gretchen Reynolds believes squats are great, even for older lifters.

                  Sturdy leg muscles, particularly those at the front and back of the thighs, 
                  stabilize the knee, says Joseph Hart, an assistant professor of kinesiology 
                 and certified athletic trainer at the University of Virginia, who often works 
                 with patients with knee pain.

                An easy exercise to target those muscles is the squat. Although many of us 
                have heard that squats harm knees, the exercise is actually “quite good for 
                the knees, if you do the squats correctly,” Dr. Hart says. Simply stand with 
                your legs shoulder-width apart and bend your legs until your thighs are 
               almost, but not completely, parallel to the ground. Keep your upper body 
               straight. Don’t bend forward, he says, since that movement can strain the 
              knees. Try to complete 20 squats, using no weight at first.

All of my athletes squat, but it takes some of them several weeks before they perform the exercise correctly. For those who lack the strength or mobility to squat correctly, I follow a progression that systematically increases the range of motion and reinforces good technique.

If you struggle to reach full range of motion, try performing this series as a warm-up before beginning your lower body workout:

1. 5 bodyweight squats, holding onto a door knob, pole or power rack. Lean back!

2. 5 bodyweight squats, holding onto a door know/pole/rack. Pause at the bottom of each rep, then release your hands and stand up. Be sure your weight remains on the heels and do not allow your chest to rock forward when you release your hands.

3. 5 bodyweight box squats, beginning in a seated position on a bench or box

4. 5 bodyweight box squats

5. 5 bodyweight squats, hands outstretched in front of you.

By the twentieth rep, you're ready for a safe and effective full squat.

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