When it comes to teaching and learning the squat, I’ve found that using the TRX is an indispensable tool for giving some of the older members we have confidence when they’re practicing the squat. For example, I’ve been using it with a new 71-year-old client so he can sit back with a little more confidence as he learns to squat.
This past Thursday, my boss was talking with an old friend who had returned to the gym after realizing that a sedentary lifestyle was contributing to her aches and pains. They were chatting about her “stiff” lower back, and my boss provided a concise explanation about how addressing hip mobility could help her feel better. The woman seemed keen on sticking with machines, so my boss asked me to demonstrate and teach the TRX Squat.
Within moments, the woman had a smile on her face; it was fun, and she felt like she could move. I was proud to help her, and we continued learn the movement. Once we were done, my boss made a wonderful pitch to a local physical therapist regarding the use of the TRX for exercise progression and regression, specifically with squatting. It was at this time that I heard those traumatic words:
“Well you don’t want them squatting below parallel, because it’s bad for their knees.”
I tried to bite my lip and go to my happy place, but that lasted for about 7.3 seconds. After that, I said, “Well, not really…” and proceeded to discuss some of the specific factors we should consider. The reaction:
Talking about squat depth isn’t new for me; I’ve discussed it on several occasions before, including HERE and HERE. It’s a fundamental human movement, and I’m an advocate of deep squat competency for most individuals. As a movement, squatting is something that you can practice every day, instead of only considering it an exercise that requires external load. Hell, you did it when you were younger, and you should be able to do it now:
What I find interesting about the squatting and knee health debate is that it seems that not squatting, or squatting poorly has a greater impact on knee health than squatting properly, and that impact is for the worse.
Squatting is bad for your knees? No, not squatting is bad for your knees.
The following are from the NSCA Hot Topic paper, The Biomechanics of Squat Depth:
“Chandler, et al. found that male powerlifters, many of them elite class, demonstrated significantly tighter joint capsules on anterior drawer tests compared to controls”, and “It should also be noted that regimented resistance training confers an adaptive response in connective tissue, increasing its strength capacity”
“…There is scant evidence to show that deep squats are contraindicated in those with healthy knee function. The decision as to how low to squat should therefore be based on an individual’s performance-oriented goals and considered in conjunction with any pathological issues that may be apparent.”
In a recent Strength and Conditioning Journal article, Are Deep Squats a Safe and Viable Exericse?, Brad Schoenfeld concisely explains that “Given that deep squatting confers a number of great benefits…There is little reason to avoid this exercise provided no medical contraindications exist.”
Boom. On to the prying.
Prying can be loosely defined as ‘exploring’ the bottom or end range position of a squat. It can be a rather effective way to learn what the bottom of a squat feels like. It can help develop mobility in the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine, and can provide those who are deep-squat challenged the opportunity to feel what they’re missing.
Prying can be done in a variety of ways, both with and without support. My preferred method though happens to be with the TRX, which seems to offer several advantages. With older trainees, such as the ones mentioned above, the ‘assist’ of the TRX can build confidence when squatting. Additionally, use of the handles allows the squatter to focus on sitting back and pulling their chest up; the suspension trainer provides a lever system that can be used to reinforce a tall chest and neutral spine position.
You can see these benefits, which can be applicable to other suspension trainers, in a video from the TRX folks. The same ‘stomping’ drill can be used with other suspension trainers, or with support from bands, a power rack, a doorway; just make sure it won’t flip over on you.
Barring pre-existing conditions, squatting deep should be a part of your physical activity. Retain and re-train your deep squat competency, and respect that range of motion. Prying is certainly a viable option to help follow the sage of advice of Lil’ Jon; “Get Low!”