Squats for Performance part II
PART II – Health, Injury Prevention, Longevity
Physicians and athletic trainers often discuss whether or not full range of motion (ROM) squats create too much shear force on the knee ligaments. Parallel squats are often recommended over full ROM squats because of this supposed knee pressure. Some argue that sports rarely require movements deeper than parallel, so full ROM is unnecessary. So two questions are often debated: do full squats do more harm than good? Are parallel squats better than full squats in terms of knee health?
The biomechanics of a squat… how do they effect the muscles, tendons and ligaments?
Full squats result in significant posterior chain development, soft tissue elasticity, the synchronization of multiple joints and strength within the tendons and ligaments. Short ROM squats, not squatting at all, sedentary lifestyle, chairs and benches, and many other limited movement lifestyles lead to overall less flexibility (i.e. fascia tissue issues). Adhesions and tightness in the fascia tissue are one of the most common reasons for muscle strains and tears, as well as tendon and ligament tears. Therefore, it is imperative that the soft tissue layer remains elastic. In order for this to happen active and static stretching along with full ROM squats should be considered mandatory.
Note: another negative side effect of limited flexibility is altered joint kinematics.
Squat for injury prevention, elasticity, longevity, and health….
Full squats lead to healthier knees, strong lower backs and one heck of a solid core. One German study took 10 healthy participants and had one group perform parallel squats while the other did full squats (5). Each of the participants who performed full squats reported no knee pain or injury over a prolonged period. On the other hand, each participant who performed parallel squats suffered knee pain and/or injury. This study highlights the importance of squat range and mobility.
Those who suffer from existing knee issues…Partial ROM squats neglect maximal knee flexion, extension and range of motion. This leads to less elastic soft tissue; decreased tendon and ligament strength; and an underdeveloped posterior chain. The posterior chain, specifically the glutes, plays a fundamental role in leg stabilization and the prevention of knee injuries. Overall, the lack of flexibility and development leads to decreased performance and a heightened risk of injury.
The only individuals who should take caution before engaging in an exercise program that performs full squats are those with major knee issues such as surgery, pain and/or trauma. The ACSM claims that the knee joint undergoes 7.6 times sheer force once the knee joint is past 90˚ parallel; this is a result of individuals who excessively shoot their knees forward. However, full ROM squats will increase tissue elasticity, strengthen the ligaments, break up any scar tissue and flood the knee joint with vital nutrients. This is the most optimal way to increase knee health. Therefore, it is imperative to slowly progress through ranges of motion until eventually being able to full squat. Certain flexibility and strength requirements must be met and progressed through before attempting.
According to the NSCA and NASM the knee joint is a part of the endocrine response system to exercise. The endocrine response system contains glands within our body that produce optimal hormonal production. Due to this response system the knee joint is trainable and capable of being strengthened. Resistance training will build and/or rebuild cartilage and synovial joints thus making full squats an integral part in any rehabilitative program.
Full squat benefits…
-Greater performance through enhanced gluteus and hamstring muscular activation
-Superior health through tissue elasticity
-Greater levels of flexibility
-Decrease the likelihood of injury through tendon and ligament strength
-Increased blood flow and scar tissue removal means superior rehabilitation
Full squat cons…
-Increased sheer force placed upon the knee joint, particularly to those who shoot their knees forward
-Requires high levels of flexibility
-Harder to coach
-Higher mastery level making it difficult to keep form during the movement.
Suggested progressions to be able to perform full squats…
Proper progression is central to maintain health, performance and longevity. First assess any lifter to see if they have the mobility to squat. If the lifters lower back rounds near the bottom they may be suffering from tight hamstrings. If the lifters feet flatten (i.e. collapse or rotate inward) then they may suffer from ankle and/or calve tightness. If the lifters upper body collapses early then they may suffer from tight hips. With the assessment out of the way you are free to implement a progressive squatting program.
The simplest squat is a stability ball wall squat followed by squatting to a bench. Both of these squatting methods can be bodyweight or with dumbbells to the sides or racked in front. Split squats or lunges are safe for any lifter who suffers from tightness because of they are unilateral. A front squat, followed by a back squat, should be left for individuals with little to zero mobility issues.
Two other techniques that help with squatting include elevating the heels slightly and having the lifter squat down to a med ball or grounded vertical dumbbell. Focus on these progressions and techniques and you will be performing full squats in no time.
Although full squats have numerous benefits you do not have to neglect parallel squats altogether. Parallel squats allow lifters to feel more weight, which can help increase overall strength. However, make full squats your number one and use parallel squats with limitation.
Copyright Functional Muscle Fitness © 2012
1. Athletic Body in Balance
By, Gary Cook
2. American College of Sports Medicine
3. NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training (3rd edition)
By, National Academy of Sports Medicine
Editors: Michael A. Clark, Scott C. Lucett and Rodney J. Corn
4. The Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (3rd edition).
By, National Strength and Conditioning Association
Editors: Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle
©2008, 2000, 1994
5. Ten Things We’ve Learned About Squats
By, Charles Poliquin