2. ARE ALL SQUATS THE SAME?
SQUAT VARIATIONS AND BIOMECHANICS
In Part 1, I’ve discussed a lot about why you should start squatting and the benefits of squatting deep than shallow. You can forget about the whole article but don’t ever forget this: Squatting is not bad for you, how you squat is. This serves as a hint for Part 2 wherein we tackle about the different ways to squat and how efficient or unsafe are they.
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Getting down to business…
What do you think is the answer to the topic question: Are all squats the same? We can look at the question in two different perspectives:
1) Are all squat variations equal in terms of improving overall strength and power? Do they work the same with other forms of squat?
2) Are all squats the same all throughout the population? Should you squat exactly the same as the best athlete in your gym? Or exactly like your coach? Or the one with the “best squat form”?
In order to answer all these questions, we need to know the different squat forms. There are too many types of squat but for this discussion, I’m going to cut it down to the most common ones. Let’s start off with the simplest squat of them all which is the BODYWEIGHT SQUAT. This serves as the basic blueprint to all other squat forms. It simply starts by standing with feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward (specifically your 2nd toe) and looking straight ahead. Then, squatting down while keeping the spine in neutral at all times. At the same time, keeping the weight on the heels and balls of your feet. Going down as far as possible in such a way where the hip is lower than your knees. Keeping everything tight and standing back up. Arms can be placed either on the back of your head, on the waist or in front of the body. The arm placement depends on your balance. The closer your arm to your body, the more unstable it is for you to squat. This type of squat is usually recommended for beginners. All the benefits of squatting I’ve said in Part 1 can be translated with bodyweight squat. Common sense will tell you that if you add load/resistance with BW squat, it would yield better results in general.
The real argument really sets off with BARBELL SQUAT VARIATIONS. I’ll be honest this is going to sound a bit nerdy from here on, so please bear with me. But I promise, you’re never going to squat the same way again! 😉
Understanding squat forms is simple, all you need to know is this: TORQUE = (FORCE) (MOMENT ARM). Basically, it means the longer the moment arm is, the lesser force is needed to create movement (torque). Just to make it easier for you to analyze, I summarized of the biomechanics in one table.
|FORCE VECTORS||Hip moment arm is greater than the knee moment arm||Hip and knee moment arms are almost equal||Hip moment arm is 2x greater than the knee moment arm|
|MUSCLES AT WORK||Hip extensors (gluteals) works more than the knee extensors (quadriceps)||Hip and knee extensors share almost the same amount of work||Hip extensors work way more than the knee extensors|
|Trunk, knee and hip stabilizers||Shoulders, trunk, knee and hip stabilizers||Trunk and hip stabilizers|
So what does all of this tell us?
*All squats improves hip extensor and knee extensor strength. However, the degree of improvement varies as to what type of squat it is.
*The line of force, represented by the vertical broken lines, lies at the midfoot in all squat variations. Thus, your weight should be distributed on both the balls and heels of your feet.
*If your goal is to enhance your posterior chain muscles for your lifts (pulls, cleans and snatch), back squats are the best to add to your training program.
*For beginners, start with squatting with a low bar. Because the hips are able to produce more force, it makes it easier to carry heavier loads. This is why this squat variation is commonly seen used by powerlifters.
*Never mimic a low back squat posture when picking up a heavy load unless during a competition, when training in the gym or participating in sports events. This is an advanced lifter’s posture. Heavy loads are placed on the low back and hips. Thus, it needs to be progressively conditioned with proper supervision.
*The front squat is the only one who needs more shoulder motor control and more quad dominant than any other form of squat. If you want bigger quads, do more front squats. But who really wants bigger quads rather than greater strength???
Now, let’s talk about the squat variations done in some fitness gyms or what I call TOTAL B*S* SQUATS. Yes, I said it. B*S*. The Good-for-nothing Squats.
|SMITH MACHINE SQUAT||SWISS BALL SQUAT AGAINST A WALL|
|FORCE VECTORS||Knee moment arm is greater than the hip moment arm||Knee moment arm is TOO FREAKIN’ LONG!|
|MUSCLES AT WORK||Knee extensors only
No hip extensors or core muscles working
|Knee extensors are the only ones working and they are way too hard|
|Not much stabilizers are needed.||Not much stabilizers are needed. The sagittal (front-back) stability is already produced by the friction with the ball.|
Smith machine squatting causes back problems. If you look at the line of force, it transmits mainly on the heels. Besides the gluts and core aren’t even activating in this type of squat because the bar stops the person from moving forward. Therefore, it promotes a flat back posture.
Both squat variations encourage too much quadriceps work that places the knee in a higher risk for injury. So instead of doing either, you might as well cut to the chase, go get a bat and hit your kneecaps with it.
Onto the next point of discussion, is (insert a squat variation) the same for everyone?
You’re mind says yes but you’re body says no. Funny as it may sound, it is somehow true.
In an ideal world, the answer is yes. A good back squat is a back front squat. Same physics still applies (to everyone). But technically speaking, our bodies are unique. Just take a look at the picture below, it only shows that one body is different from another in terms of anatomy.
Pelvic and Hip Socket Variation
No hip/knee/ankle is the same. It’s like how our DNA is unique. Each of us has a unique combination of bone shapes and structures.
- The wider and deeper your hips are, you are likely to be more flexible than the others but can generate limited power. On the contrary, a person with a narrower and shallow hip can stretch all they want until they become sore but they still wouldn’t be able to achieve a deeper squat than those with wide hips. Although, a good thing is they can squat heavier.
- Some people may not squat without some sort of discomfort especially when they are born with impingement type of hip joints. This is the reason why some people tend to have a wider squat stance or a greater degree of toe out when they squat.
In the end, the morale of the story is don’t judge a person by their squat. Kidding aside, all of us move in different ways whether it is squatting or any kind of movement. The ultimate goal is to move often and get better at it. Keep squatting and do it like you mean it.
By: Trixia Mae C. Bacani | RockTape Certified Professional. Mulligan Concept Practitioner. Certified Trigger Point Performance Practitioner. Certified Dorn Method Practitioner. Licensed Physiotherapist. Movement Specialist.