If there is a basic exercise in any leg training routine, that is the squat. In any of its variants and, regardless of whether our goals are aesthetic or athletic, it cannot be lacking in our training. But there are many details that you should know about this exercise. In the following article, we discuss some of them.
Deep squats or 90 degrees?
Let’s start from the basis that we are talking about two different exercises and that should be our goal, our level of training and our technique who decide which of the two exercises we are going to perform.
Both are good for the work of our lower train and neither is harmful on its own. The injurious in both exercises is its execution with a poor technique.
There is a great debate about the safety and effectiveness of the deep squat. Studies cannot prove that the deep squat is harmful to the knees of healthy subjects. The critical point for the knees is the beginning of the bending, the cartilage that surrounds the joint is compressed, being at 90º the point of maximum tension.
In 1961 a study on the squats with more amplitude showed that there was an increase in laxity in the anterior cruciate ligament in those athletes who frequently performed this type of squat. Which compromises the stability of the knees.
Recent studies have shown that the forces to which both the anterior cruciate ligament and the posterior cruciate ligament are subjected decrease as the knee flexes. The peak of maximum strength in the anterior cruciate ligament is between 15º and 30º of knee flexion, decreasing from 60º. In the posterior cruciate ligament, the point of maximum strength is 90º knee flexion, rapidly decreasing from it. These data clarify that the risk of injury to the ligaments decreases as the degree of knee flexion increases.
The deep squat produces a greater activation of the buttocks, since a greater depth in this exercise increases the activation of the gluteus maximus, not so in other muscles such as the quadriceps or hamstrings. In 2012 a study revealed that as the ROM of the squat was deeper, the load increased at the hip level with respect to the knees or ankles.
In the deep squat, the level of demand for lumbopelvic stabilization is also higher. Gorsuch and Col. demonstrated in 2012 that this activity generated more activity in the spinal erectors.
It is true that there are very few sports that require the use of deep flexion on knees (with the exception of weightlifting) as a sporting gesture, but this does have a great transference to all sports where we need a vertical jump as a sporting gesture.
There are also different studies that support the idea that, in greater depth, greater gains in strength and hypertrophy.
As in any exercise, a good technique is the basis for good progress and to get the most out of it. First, learn the execution well before you start loading your bar.
- The support of the bar. The bar should be placed on the upper part of the trapeze, performing a retrograde scapular, raising the chest and bringing the hands to the shoulders so that there is strong support where to place it.
- The separation of the feet. The feet should be separated shoulder-width apart and rotated externally by 20º.
- The position of your body You are going to handle a great load so you must prepare your whole body so that it helps you in the movement. Contract your buttocks and activate your abdomen (think you’re going to be hit in the abdomen) keep your chest high and try to keep your back as vertical as possible throughout the exercise. For this, you need your core, your glutes, and your extensors are well trained.
- The movement begins. The first thing will always be that your hip goes backward (use the image that you are going to sit down) and after it goes down. Feel throughout the movement that the weight of your body falls on your heels. As the flex increases in both your hips and knees make sure your knees do not lose the line of your feet. Try to open them a little more to allow the hip to descend. You must allow the knees to pass the tip of the feet, but not too much because, if you do not allow this movement, you can hardly deepen the execution of the exercise and increase the tension at the lumbar level. Make sure that this area continues to maintain its natural curve, a common failure is to lose the neutral position (butt wink) by increasing the tension in that area.
- The concentric phase. Refocus that your whole body should help you in this phase. Press your heels hard against the floor, use your abs to keep the weight from tilting. Squeeze your buttocks and start to raise your hips. Your chest should remain very high as your hips rise and go forward, extending along with your knees. The movement ends with the total extension of the hip and knee, without blocking any of these.
How to improve the technique
Improving the mobility of the joints involved in the exercise is a way to improve and deepen more in the work of squats.
The limitations in the dorsiflexion of the ankle can cause limitations in those exercises where the mobility of this one intervenes. If our mobility in this joint is restricted it is very likely that the weight we are moving will move forward, this will make it difficult for us to maintain a natural alignment in the lower back, losing its curvature (an effect is known as butt wink, butt winking) causing tension in that area. It is necessary to carry out a work of mobilization of this articulation, especially insisting on bringing the tibia towards the toes, in addition to stretches of the twins and the soleus. Improving your dorsiflexion will not only improve your squat but also common actions such as walking, running, jumping, etc. Your knees, hips, and back will appreciate this work.
The lack of flexibility in the hip also limits us in this exercise. A shortening in the flexors and a limited internal rotation will interfere negatively in our technique. To alleviate this we can use many yoga positions of hip openings. These asanas undo tensions of the adductor, rotator, gluteal and lower back muscles.
We must also improve the thoracic mobility to properly maintain the bar on the trapezoids, shoulders wide and arms aligned. Working the external rotators of the shoulder will help us a lot.
Last but not least, improving the strength and stability of our core is of great importance in order to maintain the vertical trunk during hip flexion.
Whether you want to improve the strength of your lower body, gain power for a specific jumping sport or simply gain muscle mass, the deep squat is a key exercise that can not be missed in your training program. Start practicing without weight. Pay close attention to the technique, perform exercises to make your hip more flexible and improve the dorsiflexion of your ankles and strengthen the muscles of your core, including the extensors. All this can help your squat and you will see how the squat helps you improve the shape and function of your lower body.