Looking At The Squat Through The Eyes Of A Sports Therapist
The squat is one of the most commonly used exercises for strengthening the lower body. It is excellent for training the muscles of the buttocks and thighs. It is the quintessential hip extension exercise and hip extension is the foundation of all good human movement. Powerful, controlled hip extension is necessary and nearly sufficient for elite athleticism. Necessary, in that without powerful, controlled hip extension you are not functioning anywhere near your full potential. Sufficient, in the sense that the majority with the capacity to explosively open the hip, could run, jump, throw and punch with impressive force.
Why do we need to be able to squat?
The squat is essential to one’s wellbeing. The squat can both improve your athleticism and maintain correct function at the knees, hips and back, which will benefit you now and later in life. It will play a major roll in whether you can climb the stairs with or without ease when the tender ages of 70 and above arrive. Additionally, the squat is used fundamentally in tasks throughout your day. The bottom position is nature’s intended sitting position, and the rise from the bottom to the stand is the biomechanically sound method by which we stand up.
How hard would every day life be if we were unable to stand properly from the toilet, or had difficulty in getting up off of the floor? The squat technique is used in both of these motions.
What damage can a bad squat do?
It is entirely possible to injure yourself squatting with bad form, just as easily as injuring your back when twisting and bending while picking up your shopping. The key with staying injury free is lifting with CORRECT FORM! The majority of injuries that arise from squatting come from a combination of factors:
- Poor warm up (muscle strain)
- Squatting with the knees over your toes (anterior knee pain)
- Bending your back (lower back problems)
- Lifting too heavy compromising stability
- Allowing your knees to adduct inwards
- Allowing the chest to collapse and the neck to bend forwards
- Poor hip and ankle mobility (hip issues)
Is squatting bad for my knees?
It is common knowledge amongst the uneducated mind that if you have bad knees, avoid squatting. In most cases this is totally WRONG!
Not only is the squat not detrimental to the knees, it is the ideal exercise to rehabilitate and fix so many acute & chronic problems that arise here. For instance, many people suffer from patello-femoral pain (pain around the knee cap). The patella (knee cap) is dynamically controlled and stabilised mostly by the quadriceps (thigh) muscle and if the quadriceps are weak and imbalanced, then there is a high probability that dysfunction at the patello-femoral joint will occur. Squatting meanwhile can help strengthen the quadriceps and stabilise the knee because it is the best exercise to activate this group of muscles.
If you do not squat, your knees may not be healthy, regardless of how free of pain or discomfort you are. With that being said, it is extremely easy to bring the squat to a level of safety, matched by walking.
Maintaining a good squat
There are numerous amounts of cues identified for a perfect squat. It is essential that these top 5 cues are adhered to:
1. Never surrender your lumbar curve (keep a straight back)
2. Keep your midsection tight and activated (core)
3. Squat back onto your heels (this will help prevent your knees going over your toes)
4. Keep your head looking slightly above parallel
3. Don’t let your knees roll inside the foot
The squat is one of the best exercises you can perform. Squatting will make you stronger, more explosive, more stable and much less likely to injure specific joints such as the knee and hip. If you don’t squat, then start! If you are already squatting, then squat often and always make sure form is over numbers!!!
Written by Craig Hardingham
BSc Hons Sports Therapy