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The Squat – Why is it so important?

“The squat is essential to your well-being. The squat can both greatly improve your athleticism and keep your hips, back and knees sound and functioning in your senior years” – Greg Glassman, Founder of CrossFit.

So why is doing the squat properly fundamental to us?

Contrary to popular opinion, it is a remarkably a good exercise of rehabilitation for cranky, damaged and/or delicate knees. In fact, if you are do not squat, your knees are considered not healthy regardless of ‘pain free knees’ or the amount of discomfort you are not in. This is equally true of the hips and back as well.

“The squat is no more an invention of a coach or trainer than is a hiccup or sneeze. It is a vital, natural and functional component of your being” Greg Glassman.

The bottom position of the squat is nature’s intended sitting position, as you stand from the bottom position, this is movement is a biomechanically sound method of which we stand. There is nothing artificial about this movement.

Why we use different versions of squats?

 

Back squat- trains the entire lower body musculature, the back squat places greater emphasis on the muscles of the posterior chain, such as the glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors, than other squat variations. It’s also an unparalleled lower-body mass-builder. In my opinion, the back squat is the king of the strength-training world, and we’re all just lucky to bask in its glory. Not only is it the most commonly utilized form of squatting—except for the half-squat, maybe—the full barbell back squat is one of the most effective exercises in the history of civilization for strengthening the lower body.

The front squat is quickly gaining popularity among a wide variety of athletes, partially because of its prominence in CrossFit protocols. It’s also a crucial component of Olympic lifts. Whatever the reason you do it, it’s an brilliant movement, not least of all because it’s harder to do really badly than a back squat. But you need good front rack mobility to be able to front squat without your elbows dropping which causes your chest to fall- causing a rounded back.

By locating the barbell across your shoulders in front of the body, the front squat puts much more emphasis on the quadriceps and upper back than the traditional back squat, but still trains the glutes and hamstrings well.

Overhead squats have their roots in Olympic weightlifting. The overhead squat strengthens the midpoint of the barbell snatch and is essential to mastering that particular lift. For non-competitive weightlifters, it can be an effective way to train the lower body while developing balance and mobility. Overhead squats demand a certain degree of shoulder mobility to be executed correctly, but taking wide grip on the barbell makes this much easier.

The box squat – a staple for newer members to learn proper mechanics.

Box squat is that an athlete will always have to break parallel in order to reach the box during the eccentric phase of the lift. When free squatting, there is a tendency for athletes to squat higher as the weights get heavier. Box squatting eliminates that entirely, and after consistent practice with the box, an athlete should always break parallel for all squats. Box squatting helps teach correct squatting technique by ensuring that an athlete sits back completely when descending, rather than just dropping down and bouncing up.This kind of squat is a form of ballistic stretching, and can be an excellent method to assist with poor flexibility and range of motion and provides an easy way to measure progress. It also forces an athlete to squat backwards rather than straight down. This allows the lifter to sit further back on the box and achieve a shin angle that is perpendicular to the floor.

In fact, “box squatting produces a rate of force development that is three to four times greater than other forms of squatting.” Quote from boxlife magazine.

How long does it take to master/ develop the squat?

“It’s fair to say what when the squat is mastered the technique and performance are superior. This suggests that none of the points of performance are deficient and fast multiple reps are possible. We can use Crossfit’s favourite standard for fast multiple reps, Tabata squat. Performing perfect squats for 20 seconds, rest for 10, for 7 more times. This will show if you can keep perform form in those 4 minutes of work aiming for 140-160 fast reps. By this you will know if you have mastered the perfect squat.” – CrossFit Level 1 training manual. 

How people with different leg length need different stances?

We are all built a little bit different.
Anatomical differences, height, body weight, mobility, experience levels, muscle strengths & weaknesses etc. all affect how a person is going to squat.
If you look at the best squatters in the world, they are built to squat. This usually means that they have shorter femurs and squat very upright.
The femur bone AKA the thigh bone often has the biggest influence on what your squat will look like. The Quadriceps/Thighs are the prime movers in any type of squat.

Longer femurs (legs)- will have an increased range of motion (ROM) in their squat. The knees and ankles will have to move an increased ROM to perform the same movement.
As the ROM is greater, the mobility requirements for the squat will also be greater. So by taking a wider stance this will help you perform the squat with good depth. To get deeper in your squat stance, make sure you keep your chest up. People with longer femurs tend to learn forward more- by keeping you chest up you’ll be able to get deeper in the squat.
When you squat wider, you’re artificially making yourself shorter. This can be seen when you film yourself from the side. You can clearly see that the apparent length of the femur is shorter with a wider stance. Because of this ‘shorter’ femur.
Lifting shoes with a help reduce the dorsiflexion demands (ankle going forwards). This allows your knees to travel forward without your heel coming off the floor. This will allow you to squat more upright and deeper.

How does stronger squatting improves anything?

Running- one of the best ways to ensure your legs and glutes stay strong is by squatting. And while it can sometimes be hard to give up a day of running for a day of strength training, benefits of squatting for us runners outweighs the pain of skipping a run day.

Jumping- The squat is a basic functional movement and is essential for any training program designed to help you jump higher. The movement patterns used in a jump and squat are similar resulting in the same muscles used for each exercise. As a result, improving squat technique, strength and endurance can directly influence your ability to jump higher.

Deadlift- you improve your squat, it will improve your deadlift. If you focus on building a massive squat, you’ll be more likely to move some impressive numbers in the other major lifts. The squat requires so much raw strength and stability through every major joint, that it impacts heavily on your performance of the other lifts. To have a big squat you need to be solid and stable through your entire body and his raw strength translates to the deadlift.

Bench press- Believe it or not, squats produce the most Human Growth Hormone out of any movement you might do. As a result, due to tension maintained throughout the body during the movement, it can improve seemingly unrelated lifts. Athletes who have completed long squat cycles will agree that, their bench press improves, even if they’ve not trained it during that period of time.

It’s safe to say that learning how to squat correctly, and progressively trained, produces phenomenal results in your overall fitness. We found at CrossFit Chichester, that it takes a while to develop, but the results are worth the effort.

For further reading – see:

Zack Long’s article on dissecting the squat. 

Or download the level 1 training manual for the most in-depth analysis of the squat, and makes for good bed time reading!

Coach Macca is one of our excellent coaches here at CrossFit Chichester. To book an assessment with him, to gain some of his knowledge book an assessment here!

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