To get the most of your squat, you want to ensure you do the full range of motion (ROM) and not just half way through. Many people disagree and say that a parallel squat is safer on your knees compared to a full squat. This is not true as most of squat injuries occur during lift off (where you lift the bar off the rest and take a couple of steps back to get into position) and landing (where you step back to re-rack the weights). Almost all squat related injuries come from poor technique and not because you go all the way down. You can get just as injured doing a parallel squat if your technique is wrong. So it has nothing to do with how low you go.
This morning I was totally stunned to see a PT in the gym who was training his client to do squats. They were using a Smith Machine (Smith Machines are not very effective – I will cover why in another post) and he loaded up the weights for his client (a lot of weights). During the warm ups when the weights were lighter, the client kept going almost all the way down. As it got heavier, his descent was less and less. And finally when they reached the max amount of weight, the client barely even reached the parallel position – and best of all, the PT did not say anything! If I had to call it a name, I would call it a quarter squat, since he only did a quarter of his ROM. Then the PT caught me looking at his client and he casually just said “lower”, but it still wasn’t even near the parallel position.
It’s not about how much weight you can slap on to impress others in the gym. It’s about how much you can do while maintaining proper form through out. You don’t see people doing a half curl (actually I have seen this weird phenomenon) or quarter curl (so far I haven’t seen this…yet), so why is it that this only happens with squats. You should give it the full range of motion just like other exercises.
Here are some tips on how to execute a squat properly.
Chest Up - Keeping your chest up makes lower back rounding impossible & tightening of your upper-back easier. Your chest should be pointing forward.
Forward Look - Look down & your back will bend. Look at the ceiling & your neck will hurt. Look forward.
Bar Position - Put the bar low, on the muscles of your back shoulders. Below the bone at the top of your shoulder-blades. .
Elbows Back - Don’t let them come forward during the Squat. Pushing your elbows back prevents elbows injuries.
Foot Stance - I keep my foot stance at slightly wider shoulder width.
Toes Out - Point your toes out at about 30 degrees. Your toes must always follow your knees.
Knees in - While descending, don’t let your knees go forward past your toes. Try to keep it 90 degrees with the floor as far as possible.
Weight on your Heels - Never get on your toes. Push from the heels.
Use a power rack. Power rack is like a cage and the best place for you to execute your squats safely. Smith Machines may look like it simulates the same movement, but believe me, its far from the same.
If you have never done squats, you might want to practice the movement on a broom stick or mop stick until you get it right before attempting it in the gym with weights. Getting it right is important to ensure that you avoid injury. So practice it properly until you get it right. I would normally recommend you to get a PT in your gym to train you, but after what I saw this morning, recommending a PT in your gym will be unfair to you.
Anyway, if you are not already doing squats, I hope you start soon. Squats are a must in anyone’s workout or else your workouts will be incomplete. As usual, look forward to hearing your comments.