Thursday 22 March 2018

Shape Up: Time to hail the humble squat...

Library Image
Library Image

Damien Maher

Tony Robbins' mentor was a philosopher named Jim Rohn. Jim had a powerful saying that you were the average of the five people who you spent the most time with. The areas of life were irrelevant -- whether they were exercise, finance, education or body composition, you would feel comfortable in an environment where you were surrounded by like-minded people. The saying birds of a feather stick together springs to mind.

So this is why when you stretch your mind by learning new things or changing your body, the rest of the people in your circle feel threatened and aim to keep you remaining within the status quo. They say you are getting too skinny, too muscular or you should never squat deep below parallel!

Never let your knees go past your toes as it's bad for your knees was the common mantra I had previously learned from previous training instructors, physical therapists and coaches in the gym.

As a young, impressionable gym instructor I used to teach a popular exercise class called BodyPump to males and females looking to change their body shape. BodyPump is a weights class choreographed to music, designed by Les Mills Fitness classes in New Zealand. BodyPump teaches weights classes wherein participants do partial squats, by bending the knees a slight bit with a bar on their back to work the muscles of the bum, quads and lower back. The myth that I was taught from the beginning was that bending any deeper on the knees would cause knee pain. Partial squats cause an imbalance between the strength of the muscles on the back of your leg versus the muscles on the front of your thigh. The more imbalanced the ham-to-quad ratio, the higher the risk of injury.

As a former soccer player I was familiar with knee injury, as I had undergone arthroscopic knee surgery for "wear and tear". The cause of my knee injury was not caused by deep squats, but because I wasn't weight training my legs. My leg development at that time would not look out of place on a bird with its legs hanging out of a nest.

Improper training methods were the problem, resulting in imbalance and weakness of the teardrop-shaped muscle inside my knee, called the Vastus Medialis Obliquus (VMO), that led to my injury.

If it was dangerous to let the knee go beyond the toes, I would be injured walking up the stairs or would have had an injury at childbirth as I was in a full squat during the gestation period. I just didn't have the answers.

The desire to learn more efficient training methods encouraged me to expand on the five people I spent time with, and to learn from successful coaches. One such coach I learned from was Olympic strength coach Charles Poliquin.

Charles shared his data and training methods from training athletes to Olympic medals in 18 different sports with me. The common factor in each of these training programs was that all athletes performed different variations of squats -- back squats, front squats, step ups, split squats, lunges that involved a full bend of the knee, and knee extension.

This challenged many clients' and coaches' belief systems, as it was beyond their current understanding of what they (and I) had been taught in the BodyPump system. My previous coaches and instructors had not lied to me; they just could not tell me what they didn't know.

Charles challenged my beliefs, showed me his methods and asked me to judge this concept by his results. The myth about full squats had evolved from the publication of the controversial 1969 book, 'The Knee in Sports' by authors Karl K Klein and Dr Fred Allman, Jr. The data they shared indicating that full squats can lead to injury has since been debunked, and an inability to perform a full overhead squat test is used as a screening process for many good strength coaches.

Full squats not only will shape your legs faster (as the bigger the range of motion involved, the more muscle created, and hence more energy consumed) but they will also lead to a reduction of groin pulls and tears, lower back injuries, and increase knee stability. This in turn will lead to a reduction in knee surgeries. Females suffer from more cruciate ligament injuries than men as the Q-angle from hips to knee is greater, and because females will shy away from the weight room more.

According to Andrew Fry, a lecturer and researcher in exercise science at the University of Memphis, quarter squats may lead to long-term decreases in flexibility, as the muscles will strengthen over only a short range of motion. Laurence Weiss et al showed that full squats in training would improve strength in both a short and full range of motion.

Full squats help strengthen the VMO . This stabilises the knee and reduces what is known as the stance phase, time on the ground, so you can run quicker. When you spend less time on the ground you can run faster and turn quicker, which is essential in any sport.

My goal as a coach is to help a client reach their goal as quickly and as safely as possible. There are a lot of great exercises but not everyone is capable of performing them.

You must be flexible to perform full squats, and if you are lacking in flexibility, you may need to perform a derivative and work on your flexibility in between. If a client possesses the flexibility it is normal to do a general preparation phase where your body is prepared to hold a bar on its shoulders.

Barbara Streisand said, "Myths are a waste of time. They prevent progression." There are many myths in training but it is by expanding your mindset and the people you surround yourself with that you will continue to make progress and achieve results faster than your peers.

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