To Squat or Not to Squat… That is Half the Question

Many people are afraid of performing a squat; saying it is bad on the knees, back and hips. Everyone has heard a horror story about someone hurting themselves doing a barbell squat. Well accidents do happen (usually from incorrect form), but with correct coaching the back squat rivals the deadlift as one of the best exercises for your body.

There are many benefits from doing squats, from correcting hips issues, back problems, strengthening joints and connective tissue, burning a ton of calories and many more. You can perform squats by using many pieces of equipment, like a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, your own body weight, cables, and resistance bands. Even within a squat there are two types, a front squat and back squat.

So let’s discuss the front squat, this is where the load (weight) is positioned toward the front of your center of gravity, usually on the front of your shoulders. By placing the weight more forward your body works more of the knee complex and quads during the movement, and creates move of an emphasis on your core (mid to lower back). This exercise is great for those people who need to try and strengthen their core (forcing an upright posture) more as well as strengthening ones knees (less forces on the knees for people with osteoarthritis, ligament or meniscus damage) and wrists (from holding the weight at the shoulders).

When we transfer the weight to the back of our center of gravity, the load (weight) usually rests on our back or is held by our hips (as with dumbbells). By placing the weight more backward your body works more of the hip complex and glutes during the movement, and creates move of an emphasis on how to engage your butt (one reason our backs have issues is that most of us doing know how to fire our glutes during a movement). This is a great exercise for people who need to learn how to strengthen their legs and use their hips for athletic endeavors, as well as open up their chest and create better posture (with holding the bar on your back).

As far squats being bad on the knees, a study by Escamilla (2001) looked at the biomechanics of squatting exercises on the legs and found that back squats activated more hamstrings and had higher compressive forces on the knees while front squats had more quadriceps muscle activation and lower compressive forces on the knees. They found that either squat would be good for people with ACL issues as for the low posterior shear forces. While another study from Andrews et al (1984) found that machine squats had a 30-40% higher shear force on the knees that barbell squats.

After all that what is the take home message? With correct coaching and form, you can gain a lot from squats including:

  • increased bone density
  • increased knee mobility and stability
  • stronger legs, hips and core
  • burn a lot of calories
  • it releases that muscle building hormone testosterone
  • one of the most functional exercises for every person
  • increase sports performance and overall fully body strength & coordination

If these benefits seam like something that interest you and you would like to be taught by one of the Seattle Athletic Club’s highly educated fitness staff please contact Fitness Director Jacob Galloway.



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