The world of fitness and exercise has numerous myths and misconceptions which often leads us to think what is right and what is wrong. Squatting is just one movement that many people; whether new to or have been exercising for years have opinions on. Squatting is both an exercise and a basic human movement. Whether you like squats or not, you probably do them multiple times a day without evening noticing. Think every time you go to sit down, you are performing a squat. Have you also ever noticed how a toddler moves? If you are interested in observing a fundamentally perfect squat, place something on the floor and watch a two-year-old child go to pick it up and watch the magic! You will see a perfect squat. This however doesn’t make it the only squat, but it is fundamentally sound.
Many myths people have regarding squats are; squats are bad for your knees; your knees cannot go past your toes when you squat and that the only way to get stronger is to squat. Now let’s explore these myths in a bit more detail.
“Never let your knees go past your toes” is a common instruction cue we hear when squatting that is not entirely accurate. It is true however that the knees going to far forward is a sign of poor squat form. Some people don’t quite understand the language “don’t let your knees go past your toes.” The person doesn’t know exactly what to do to fix that. To work on this start with your heels against a box or bench. Squat down just until your glutes are hovering the bench and then stand back up. It is nearly impossible to do this squat variation in a manner that will let the knees slide too far forward.
If your knees go too far forward how do you know if it’s a problem? Perform another squat watching yourself in the mirror. How does your shin angle look relative to your back angle? If it’s about the same, chances are you’ve probably got a pretty good squat, regardless of the knee to toe relationship.
For some individuals achieving this position is challenging. If you cannot get there without pain in either the knees or back or it just is uncomfortable; increase the height of the box, that will decrease the range of motion required for the squat but still allow you to squat. Another way to help is by adding a heel lift, this allows us to shift our weight through our heels more and help increase dorsiflexion in the ankle.
Start thinking “push through your heels and toes during your squat” as oppose to not letting your knees go past your toes. Ultimately, we want to look at more than just your knees when squatting. Focusing on the knees alone will likely miss other key factors in your squat. It is important to think about this relationship when squatting but do not forget other important variables such as hip hinging patterns, an adequate warmup, sensible progressions, appropriate resistances and overall good exercise form.
In today’s culture and social media, it appears everyone loves squatting. Unfortunately, the squat doesn’t love everyone and there are numerous reasons why squatting may not be ideal for you. Sometimes injuries can get in the way of someone’s ability to squat well. Those with hip issues find it challenging to achieve the torso to leg angle required for a good squat. Those with knee and back issues may find there is too much force placed on them during the movement. The key word is “may”. If you are unable to adjust your form in a way that allows you to squat without pain, then you shouldn’t be squatting, at least for the time being. If you can’t squat maybe seek help from a professional to address the limitation as to what is causing you not to be able to squat pain free.
It is not a requirement to just perform squats to help gain strength in your lower body. There are a variety of exercises that can still be performed to gain lower body strength including but not limited to; deadlifts, split squats, hamstring curls and step ups. One study compared four different groups over a long-term training program, in which two groups only performed the squat, while two groups performed a range of exercises (squat, leg press, deadlift, and split squat). The two groups that performed the variety of exercises increased quadriceps size in all four muscles that make up our quadriceps but the two groups that only used the squat, only increased quadriceps size in three single-joint muscles (Fonseca, 2014).
In all good strength training programs, it is also key to include exercises that help increase strength in the posterior chain as well. Think of your hamstrings when you hear posterior chain. The squat is very effective in developing the quadricep muscle however it does not hit the hamstrings nearly as hard (Wright, 1999). Therefore, there tons of exercises we can draw upon to develop lower body strength. The squat is not the one and only exercise needed to be performed to get stronger!
Author: Megan Cook
Fonseca, R. M. (2014). Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 28(11), 3085-3092.
Wright, G. A. (1999). Electromyographic Activity of the Hamstrings During Performance of the Leg Curl, Stiff-Leg Deadlift, and Back Squat Movements. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 13 (2), 168-174.