Recent years have seen many changes that have helped to make the squat safe. Beepers that go off when your thigh is level so you don’t go beyond and run the risk of injuring your knees. Devices that allow you to hang weights from your hips and hold on with your hands to balance yourself when doing the squat. Squat bars with handles that let the bar rest on your shoulders without maximum tension on your arms to hold it in place.
Nonetheless, a lot remains to be done to make the squat safe. My concern is what causes injury to the knee or back when doing this basic exercise. I have seen many athletes and bodybuilders do squats according to the recommendations and still come up with an injury. The problem is not with the directions, which are usually accurate, but with the ability of the squatter to adhere to the safety recommendations.
For example, the direction to keep your back straight. Although not 100% accurate, this direction does tell you not to bend your back during the squat. It would, however, be more effective to say that you should keep a slightly arched back during the exercise. Keep in mind that your back is slightly curved in the lumbar area and when this curve is maintained, it is most capable of withstanding compression forces and resisting spinal injury
Also, to many people, keeping a straight back when doing the squat means keeping it vertical. This, however, is impossible with heavy weights and if you try to do it, you run the risk of losing your balance and injuring yourself.
You also see people who, when doing the squat, keep their eyes on the ceiling in an attempt to keep the back in the correct position. However, this is an extreme position and can cause an injury since the squatter is concentrating on his head rather than his legs and back.
Some people even tell you to suck your stomach in and tilt the pelvis back so your spine is truly straight. However, in this position your spine is actually flexed because, as mentioned earlier, the normal position is slightly arched. When you remove the arch by tilting the pelvis backward, you put yourself in a position where injury is imminent.
Many bodybuilders and powerlifters hold the spine In a good, strong position with the arch when doing the squat but still end up with back problems. In most cases this is due to insufficient flexibility in the hip joints. If you look carefully at these athletes, you will see that they are unable to go deep enough, i.e., to the level-thigh position, while maintaining an arched back because their hamstrings are tight.
If you look closely from the side you will see that as they approach the bottom position, their backs are held at about 45 degrees to the horizontal and the lumbar spine is arched. Then 10-20 degrees from the bottom (thigh level position) the pelvis rotates under. When this occurs the back becomes rounded and the force of the weights creates tremendous stress on the spine
In some cases, not only does the pelvis rotate under, but also the entire trunk leans forward more because the hips cannot go down as needed. Because of this your spine must hold the weights up rather than your legs. This creates excessive tension, which can lead to severe strains.
To develop flexibility in the hamstrings, I strongly recommend doing straight-leg good mornings. Do not use any weight in the initial stages. Merely contract your erector spinae to hold your spine arched and then bend over from the hips until you feel a pull on the hamstrings. Hold the position for 10-20 seconds, rise up and repeat.
You may find it difficult to keep the back under isometric contraction, but remember that this is also what occurs during the squat exercise. But, of course, you don’t hold it as long. Thus in this exercise you can not only get a stronger back, but also increased flexibility in the hip joint. This will then enable you to go to the thigh level position or lower while still keeping your spine in the safe arched position.
Lack of hamstring or hip flexibility is usually the cause of your back rounding, but limited ankle joint flexibility may also be responsible. Keep in mind that you must keep the heels on the ground for better stability and safer execution of the exercise. But if the Achilles’ tendons are too tight, you must rise up on the balls of the feet in order to lower the thighs. Thus it is necessary to look carefully at both the ankle and hip joints for problems about improper position, especially in the bottom position.
If the problem is in the ankles, you should do ankle joint flexibility exercises such as leaning into a wall with your feet away and the heels kept on the ground. If you want to both maximally stretch and strengthen the tendon and muscles, you should use a Strength Shoe. Because of the built-up platform under the ball of the foot and nothing under the heels, you get maximum stretching in the ankle joint. In addition, you develop strength and even additional mass in the calves, depending on the exercise regimen.
Very often because of poor ankle joint flexibility, squatters put a board under the heels. In this way they keep the weight distributed more equally over the whole foot. But doing this creates another serious problem, especially for beginners. When you have the heels raised and go down into a thigh-parallel squat, your knees will come forward excessively. When this happens there is a great deal of pressure thrown on the knees and it can cause injury This is one of the main reasons the squat has been criticized by the medical profession. But the problem is not so much in the knees as it is in the technique!
However, if you use a board under your heels to place greater stress on the lower portion of the quadriceps, it is imperative that you prepare the ligaments and tendons for this stress. Do squats or knee extensions with light weights for high reps, 50-60. Only in this way will there be sufficient blood supply to enable the ligaments and tendons to grow and strengthen.
The squat is a very effective exercise for bodybuilders and other athletes. However, it must be done properly and the training must be progressive. Do knee extensions to strengthen the ligaments and tendons, back raises to strengthen the back, and flexibility work for the hamstrings and Achilles’ tendon.
Don’t do squats to strengthen the back. The back merely acts as a conduit along which the force from the legs is transmitted to the bar. The spine muscles act merely as stabilizers, not as muscles to make the movement possible. But to make sure the exercise is safe you must first determine if the muscles are strong enough, especially before handling heavy weights.
In some cases it is also a good idea to do the squat without weights until you develop proper form, and only then begin with a light barbell and gradually build up the weight, continuing to ma in-tam correct technique. Correct technique can be taught only with light to moderate, especially moderate, weights.
By attending to these prerequisites you will be able to do squats for many years with no problems.