Sep 25th, 2010
Daniel performing a squat to the proper depth
There is one exercise that, much like Tyrannosaurus Rex during the Late Cretaceous, occupies the niche of the apex predator. That exercise is the barbell squat. This movement is so fundamental and so much a part of almost any athletic endeavor that if you do not have it as part of your fitness program, it probably should not be called a fitness program. Over the next couple of weeks, we will investigate several aspects of the squat and the major squat types. Today, however, we are going to discuss the features that every properly done squat shares.
In order for a barbell squat to truly earn the title of "squat," two things need to happen. Firstly, the barbell needs to stay directly over the middle of the foot for the entire movement. If the barbell drifts forward or backward from that location, the squat will be lost. Secondly, as the trainee squats down, the crease of the hip (where the acetabulum is located) must descend below the top of the knee cap (called the patella). Once this has happened, the squat has fulfilled the requirement of descending "below parallel." The second point is very important. If a trainee does not go below parallel, a squat has not been performed. Instead, it can only be called a partial squat. Partial squats are not as effective at building strength and they pose an increased risk of injury.
The full squat, while often criticized for its danger to the knees, actually builds a very strong and stable knee when done correctly. By descending below parallel, the hamstrings are more fully engaged and can be used to help with the movement. When stopping above parallel, the quadriceps are both the primary movers and the primary braking mechanism to arrest the downward motion. This emphasis on the quads while leaving out the elements of the posterior chain (hamstrings, gluteals, and adductors) can often create irritation and inflammation at the insertions of the quads around the knee and the patellar tendon. When stopping above parallel, you create a situation in which the forces across the knee are unbalanced and this is potentially injurious.
There is much more to say about the squat, but this will get us started. Remember, partial squats have the potential to irritate your knees. Deep squats confer immortality. Break parallel. Live forever.