They Dont Know Squat!
There seems to be much confusion amongst trainers and trainees as to
whether squats should be performed all the way down or just half way.
In most gyms today, a common instruction during squats, deadlifts, and
lunges (as taught by many personal training organizations) is not to
allow the knees to travel beyond the toes. Doing so will ultimately cause
the destruction of your knees! I do not agree. There are certain instances
where partial range of motion (ROM) is indicated, but for the most part, I
teach people the full squat for the following reasons:
* It is the most primitive movement pattern known to man; our ancestors
used to perform many daily functions (i.e. harvesting, gathering, hunting,
cooking, eating, etc.) in a full squat position.
* Also, in case anyone hasn't noticed, we spend 40 weeks in the fetal
position (which is basically a full squat) prior to entering this world - do
we come out with bad knees?
* We should strive to train in full ROM for each and every exercise. The
squat is no exception.
* Every exercise produces stress around a joint - the body then adapts
to this stress.
* Cocontraction of the quadriceps, hamstrings and gastrocnemius
maintains integrity around the knee joint.
* Sheering and compressive forces do occur around the knee joint (as
opposed to only sheering forces that occur in some open kinetic chain
lower body exercises, such as the leg extension); however, the large
contact area of the patella with the femoral groove (as knee flexion
increases during the full squat) helps to dissipate compressive forces.
* Therefore, not only is the squat - as a closed chain exercise -
considered a natural movement pattern with high functional carryover,
but it is also a safe exercise if performed correctly (and that includes full
* Drawer tests are performed at a knee angle of 90 degrees because
there is a greater amount of laxity in the knee joint at that specific angle.
So, does it make sense to only go down half way where you are most
vulnerable especially when greater loads can be used (because you
are much stronger in this partial ROM?)
* According to Ironman contributor, George Turner, the fulcrum moves to
the knee joint in a parallel squat as opposed to the muscle belly of the
quadriceps in a full squat.
* Think about it, if you constantly trained in a limited ROM, the likelihood
of injury increases if one day you happen to squat beyond your trained
* Partial squats performed on a regular basis will decrease flexibility.
* There is a low incidence of lower back pain and knee injury in
Aboriginal and Oriental societies which perform full squats on a regular
* Even Olympic weight lifters who practice full squats have quite healthy
knees compared to other athletes.
* Although you may find some research that indicates full squats as
potentially harmful to the knees, only one study has ever proved this to
be true. However, it was performed on a skeleton - the same results do
not hold true with surrounding connective tissue. On the other hand,
numerous studies show the benefits of full squats.
Unfortunately, many personal training certification courses are teaching
half squats as a safe version suitable for all individuals and this has now
become written in stone. God forbid that you deviate from this golden
rule to do something that our bodies are meant to do! Read this
carefully: squatting should be performed in a full ROM where the
hamstrings make contact with the calves (so that no light can be seen
passing through your legs at the bottom position.) It is okay for your
knees to travel beyond the toes (just do not relax the knees in the bottom
position.) In other words, keep the legs tight and try to stay as upright as
possible throughout the exercise. So, next time some fitness instructor
approaches you in the gym and advises not to go deep while squatting
tell him/her that they don't know squat!
John Paul Catanzaro is a certified kinesiologist and professional fitness
and lifestyle consultant with a specialized honours Bachelor of Science
degree in Kinesiology and Health Science. He owns and operates a
private gym in Toronto, Ontario providing training and nutritional
consulting services. For additional information, visit his website at
www.BodyEssence.ca ">www.BodyEssence.ca or call 416-292-4356.