Monday, September 15, 2014

I'm all about that bass!



Yeah, it's pretty clear, I ain't no size two
But I can shake it, shake it
Like I'm supposed to do
'Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chaise
And all the right junk in all the right places




Clearly Meghan Trainor knows where it's at!  In the world of backsides, squats are king.  There are a million and ten reasons to squat and that many more variations on the squat.

The Squat

Squatting is a natural human movement but in our Western society, sitting in chairs, it has been eliminated our lifestyle.  Look at babies, they do full squats all the time.  Other cultures squat when eating, giving birth, using the toilet or as an alternative to sitting.  It’s a great fundamental strength training exercise and good for mobility.


Why Squat

Squatting is a lot of bang for your buck:

  •  It’s a multi-joint movement, meaning you’re hitting more muscle groups
  • Requires a lot of stabilization – your abs, obliques, and other core muscles play a role
  •    It exercises a large range of motion and improves/maintains hip and knee mobility
  • It builds muscle, burns fat, boots endurance, and contributes to bone health

Myths

Myth: Squats are bad for your knees/hips/lower back!

False.  Done incorrectly they can be "bad for you", but so can any exercise that’s improperly executed.  If you have injuries that would prevent you from being able to do a proper squat – you should get your non-squatting self to physiotherapy to try to fix the problem.

Myth: I’m going to get giant legs/butt!

False. Women do not have the testosterone to get man-like muscles.  Even for men to pack on muscles, other factors such as diet are extremely important to make that happen.  Your genetics play a role too.  You’re not gonna end up with a J-Lo booty if you’re not genetically set up for it, and if you are, your butt was probably big to begin with. 

Ready to give it a try?

Technique

Foot position:  Generally, feet should be slightly wider than hip distance.  If your feet are too narrow, you won’t be able to hit full depth, if your feet are too wide, you’re going to risk groin and knee injury as you struggle to push yourself back to standing.  Each person will have a stance that feels more comfortable than others.  Sometimes the stance can be altered (ie. More narrow or wider than “normal”) for particular training purposes.  Toes will point outwards, about 10-30o.  This will vary by personal comfort and your unique body.


Knee position: Your knees are going to point out SLIGHTLY following that 10-30o guide of your toes.  Where ever your toes are pointing, that’s where you want your knees to be pointing.  The knees are going to stay in line with the toes, and not collapse outward (rolling past your toes) or collapsing inward (towards each other).  Often you’ll hear the cue “Keep your knees behind your toes”.  This isn’t always true, but it’s not inaccurate either.  The objective of this cue is to get you to sit your hips back towards your heels.  If you have the majority of your weight forward in your squat, your hips will be forward, and your knees will slide in front of your toes, and your heels are going to come off the floor.  However, some people have long thigh bones, or small feet (or both?!) and their personal anatomy may result in their knees over their toes, which might be fine for that individual’s proportions. 

Head position: We’re aiming for a neutral line in the spine.  Your head shouldn’t be craned upward, or down at your feet.  Looking up puts too much stress on your cervical spine, while looking down means you’re likely to start rounding forward in your shoulders, losing proper upper body positioning.

Motion:  As you squat down, lower your hips back, bending at the knees.  Hip flexion (folding forward at the hips) should happen naturally as a result of the knee bend and hips descending.  Do not let the chest drop towards the thighs, keep the shoulder blades pulled towards each other and chest lifted (if you have writing on your shirt, it should still be readable). Don’t let the knees fall in.
In the bottom part of your squat you want your hips to be just at/almost at your knees.  Some people have the flexibility to lower their glutes all the way down to their ankles, however hips below knees is ideal.  In this position you achieve the most glute activation and it’s the safest for your knees.
Come up smoothly, the same way you came down.  As you get to the top, be careful not to jam your knees by straightening them with a lot of force. 


Not hitting depth – if your body hasn’t done a squat since you were a baby, balance, stability and mobility might make this movement very difficult at the beginning.  BUT if you don’t get your hips to you knee joint level, this movement will be quadriceps dominant, which can cause a muscle imbalance between the quads and the hamstrings.  Muscle imbalances are one of the leading causes of pain and injury.


Photo from http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2014/03/03/strength-training-101-how-to-squat-properly/

Weight on your toes/lifting your heels – your heels need to stay on the ground the entire time to drive through them and come back up.  When your weight slips too far forward onto your toes, your knees will start taking the brunt of the weight instead of your super strong hip joints. 

Knees falling in/out – you’re the strongest when your joints are properly aligned.  This was discussed in knee positioning earlier, but don’t let the knees fall in or outward.

Variations

Only after you’ve MASTERED the body weight squat should you attempt to move on to these variations, with maybe the exception of the TRX squat.

TRX assisted squat – Using the TRX suspension straps, you can achieve the same squat, and get nice and deep without having to worry about balance.  Holding onto the handles also helps keep the chest lifted.  The suspension straps can also be used to help with balance when working on a pistol squat.


Goblet Squat – A goblet squat uses a single weight in front of the body.  This variation is a great place to start adding weights.  Kettlebells work fantastically for this.  Holding the weight with both hands, lower down into a squat and try to keep the elbows inside the knees.



Front Squat – The front squat is one option when adding a barbell to your squat.  The benefit in adding weight to your upper half is that it increases core engagement and utilization.  This position however requires a fair bit of wrist flexibility.

Back Squat – the back squat is one of the most common variations you’ll see. It’s similar to the front squat, but here, it is extra important that the spine have its natural lumbar curve (not rounded) because the extra weight will cause extra stress on the back when it’s in this weak (improper) alignment.  It’s very important not to let the chest dip down and fold towards the floor because that puts a lot of stress on the lower back.

So there you have it!  If you're strapped for time, or just need something big to add to your workout, try some squats!  

Why do you love doing squats, and what's your favorite (or least favorite!) variation?  Let me know in the comments! 
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