Over a Week? I’ve Been Slacking

It’s been over a week since my last entry, and it’s not due to lack of ideas; it’s due to lack of time!  My semester is turning out to be crazy, but everything has been a blast so far.  Despite my lack of content, I’m still pressed for time, so here are some thoughts from the past week and weekend that I’d like to share:

This past Thursday I spent 6 hours at my old elementary  as part of my Physical Education in the Elementary School class, observing students.  It felt great to see my old teachers, and to be on the other side of education; I worked with small groups of kids and went over some sports skills, social issues, and problem solving skills.  The students were amazing and I was thrilled to work with them; I’ve definitely picked the right profession, and I’m excited to be in a career where I can work with enthusiastic, physically active kids on a regular basis.

In addition to my teaching enthusiasm, I had the present surprise of stumbling upon a cupboard of old wooden Indian Clubs while at my placement.  My facilitating teacher says that he never uses them, so I’m currently borrowing two of these nifty little tools.  I’ve learned about their use (and new found popularity) through numerous Gray Cook interviews on blogs and podcasts, and look forward to learning how to use them.  After a few days of fooling around with them, I already know it’s something I’m going to recommend to others and learn how to use more effectively in my own training.  Here is a trailer from a recent DVD that Gray put out with Brett Jones and Dr. Ed Thomas:

I spoke with a friend of mine on Thursday night about the concept of ‘spot reduction’, and it’s effectiveness and/or possibility.  On an effiiciency scale it’s practically impossible, but for all of the science that says this, there are always contrary results.  If you’re interested in the mythical ‘spot reduction’, check out this recent T-Nation article by Dr. Lonnie Lowery about it:

Spot Reduction is Real:  Here’s How To Do It.

While I don’t question the science that Lowery uses to explain the possibility of this fitness phenomenon, I question how practical it is for you. If you’re looking to drop from 8% body fat to 6% body fat, sure it might work.  If on the other hand, you’re trying to lose 20lbs and get ready for spring break, you might want to start cleaning up your diet and lifting some weights.

Since this motivating photo mentions squats, let me point out, you should be squatting with good form and DEEP.  People use all sorts of excuses for not squatting deep, ranging from “Oh, I don’t squat that way.” to “My dad told me it was bad for me knees.”  Well unless your dad has done research that refutes the published research that’s publicly available, you’re going to have to accept that he’s wrong.  I’ve listened to multiple podcasts where I’ve heard the same anecdotal story from strength wizard coach Dan John.  In it, he discusses an athlete that noted that squatting makes his knees hurt.  After witnessing said athletes attempts, he replied, “Squatting isn’t bad for your knees —the way YOU squat is bad for your knees!”  If you’re a good daughter (or son, for that matter) and you can’t seem to shake your parents well intended but incorrect warnings, below is an excerpt from an NSCA Hot Topic Paper titled, “The Biomechanics of Squat Depth“:

“Squatting safety continues to be a concern amongst some practitioners, particularly as it relates to performance at high
knee flexion angles. The theory that deep squats heighten injury risk can be traced to studies conducted by Karl Klein at
the University of Texas. Using a self-developed measuring device, Klein noted that weightlifters who frequently performed deep squats displayed an increased incidence of laxity in the collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments compared to a control group that did not (8). Klein concluded that squatting below parallel had a detrimental effect on ligamentous stability and should therefore be discouraged. Soon thereafter, the AMA came out with a position statement cautioning against the performance of deep knee exercises because of their potential for severe injury to the internal and supporting structures of the knee joint.
Subsequent research, however, has refuted Klein’s findings, showing no correlation between deep squatting and injury risk (13,15,18). In fact, there is some evidence that those who perform deep squats have increased stability of the knee joint. In a study using a knee ligament arthrometer to test nine measures knee stability, Chandler, et al. found that male powerlifters, many of them elite class, demonstrated significantly tighter joint capsules on anterior drawer tests compared to controls (3) Moreover, both the powerlifters as well as a group of competitive weight lifters were significantly tighter on the quadriceps active drawer tests at 90 degrees of knee flexion than control subjects.

Contrary to Klein’s hypothesis, ACL and PCL forces have been shown to diminish at higher degrees of knee flexion. Peak
ACL forces occur between 15 – 30 degrees of flexion, decreasing significantly at 60 degrees and leveling off thereafter at
higher flexion angles (7, 11, 16). PCL forces rise consistently with every flexion angle beyond 30 degrees of knee flexion,
peaking at approximately 90 degrees, and declining significantly thereafter (10). Beyond 120 degrees, PCL forces are minimal (12).”

Still think you need to justify your high squats?  Unless you have some bone-on-bone action in your knees, I don’t really think you have an argument.  Contrary to Klein’s findings, deep squatting may actually increase stability of the knee joint, and if we consider the Joint-by-Joint Approach to Training laid out by Mike Boyle and Gray Cook, this is certainly a good thing.  Deep knee flexion is safe (when performed without valgus/varus collapse), and if you can get some extended range of motion, it’s a good idea to do so.  One of the simplest ways to do this is by elevating your front foot on split stance exercises.  I find that it works a little bit better then just performing hip mobility drills to help achieve a deeper squat; you can mobilize your hips while you increase knee flexion, so you get knee stability and hip mobility all in one movement.  That’s more bang for your training buck!

I like to practice what I preach, and I’ve been elevating my front foot on unilateral exercises for a while know, and love it.  The extra range of motion is a hellish surprise for your quads when you begin, but the exercise begins to feel much better.  As an example, I performed 3 sets of nearly vomit-inducing dumbbell lunges on my Sunday birthday workout.  (I’ve been having some issues with my YouTube account, so I’ll need to create a new one and re-load some old videos.  However, I found the following video demonstrating this added range of motion variation on the reverse lunge:

If you read (m)any of the blogs in the blogroll on the right, unilateral work and added range of motion is nothing new to you; mobility is the first priority to look at when you’re training.  The benefit of hip mobility in this case is that we can use it to increase knee stability.  If you take this new found ‘depth’ from your reverse lunge to your squat, you should see a marked increase in squat depth, which will be better for you in the long run.  If you’d more video content on executing picture perfect squats, then check out this gem of a video from the aforementioned Dan John; it’s one of the best resources on the internet about squat technique, and it provides great learning cues to help you move and perform better.  Plus, it’s absolutely FREE!!!

With a few videos and links for you, I think you’re well informed on why you should squat deep and how to help yourself squat deeper.  Using the information that I know about the human body, it’s one of the best exercises you can use for health, performance, and aesthetic gains, and should be part of every single training program.  These three reasons encompass practically every goal you can have, so I’m at a loss for why you wouldn’t squat with good form through a full range of motion.  If you’re a guy, you probably need to take some weight off the bar, and if you’re a girl you probably need to add some weight to the bar.

I’m going to try a little bit harder to create more content for the rest of the month; a week long hiatus is unnecessary.  While I have responsibilities for school and work, I thoroughly enjoy sharing what I’m learning with readers, and helping people learn how to best take care of their bodies.

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