In this article I will focus on different types of squats. First off, how should we perform them – a full squat or just a little bit? There are a lot of opinions. For some very deep squats work better and others struggle to perform them. Why do we have so many different approaches? The answer lies in the morphology (shape and structure) of our bodies.
People with short legs can normally do deeper squats and lift heavier loads than those with long legs. People with short thigh bones (femur) are able to keep their torso straight when performing a squat, forcing their quadriceps to do all of the work. On the other hand those with long thigh bones tend to lean forwards more when performing a squat which transfers the work from the thighs to the lumbar area and buttocks, which can lead to a herniated disc.
There are two schools of thought on how to perform a squat with weights. The first recommends full motion, whilst the second a reduced range of motion.
Full range – by going as low as possible we force our muscles to work over a wider range, which exercises all of the muscles in the legs. We also have a greater stretch of the muscles. This method of performing a squat comes with the risk of tearing the muscles via overstretching and mechanical problems can affect the knee joints. When doing a full range squat it is not possible to lift as much as when doing a shorter range squat.
Shorter range – this type of squat allows us to lift greater weight but is not stretching the muscles. This exercise is friendlier for the knees, but it does not work the whole of the thigh as the hamstrings are neglected. As the weight is increased the risk of lumbar injury rises.
The type of squat best suited to an individual that lifts weights will depend on his/her morphology and technique.
For years in Europe we have been told not to perform squats lower than 90° as it is not good for the knees. Nowadays this advice is changing due to the fact that the more that we avoid doing full range squats (as we grow up) the less able we are to them. If we do not perform the full range of movement the neglected parts of our leg muscles get weaker and over time deteriorate.
New studies show that full squats are in fact better for our joints as this natural range of movement “greases” the joints better. As a part of the full squat the wider muscle group works causing increased muscle tension, which leads to more stable joints. Low squats also help with stretching the ankle and hip joints and is a great resting position that can be observed around the world, for example in a lot of Asian countries. Another benefit from performing a full squat is that it improves core stability more as additional balancing is required.
I would not recommend that anyone with knee problems attempt to do full squats. From my own perspective I have been doing full squats with dynamic stretching (see previous article) for some years now and have managed to get rid of the pain I had in my knees
I hope you find this article helpful