Friday, April 27, 2012

Two Inch Difference

It's common knowledge that the squat is one of the best, if not the best, exercise for your lower body. Executed properly a squat works your legs, hips, and core muscles. Helps to strengthen your back, and generally will make everything below your belly button bigger, firmer, and sexy as hell.

The Squat, done properly, is also a great exercise to rehab your knees. Have knee pain? Stiffness? Then squat. Build up the weight slowly, and you'll see a sharp reduction, to complete elimination of knee pain. For the past six and a half weeks I've been squatting regularly. For the first six weeks I had no knee pain, and at worse a twinge in my lower back. However after my workout last Saturday my knees were on fire. Absolutely screaming. I stretched, and babied them over the weekend and tried to figure out what I had done wrong. My previous workout, at 180lbs itself shouldn't have caused the amount of pain I was experiencing, so what had gone wrong?

As I was stretching, and doing a few Hindu Squats, I realized I was compensating for the pain in my knees by rolling forward as I came up out of a squat. Imagine this, when you're doing a full squat your knees shouldn't come forward of your toes. You should drop your butt backwards, drop into a squat, then drive your hips forward to stand. This motion engages the muscles in the legs and keeps your knees from having to support the weight. This is the major reason why squats, done properly, are good for your knees. You don't lift with your knees, but with your legs, and hips strengthening the muscles that support your knees. By rolling forward I was, in effect, lifting with my calves, and knees. A recipe for disaster.

With the source of the pain located, my bad form, I set about rectifying the problem. For years I've squatted high bar. Where the bar rests across the top of my traps, at the base of my neck. This is how I learned to squat back in High School and I've never taken the time to re-learn. High bar squats are easy to do, it's a fairly natural position for the bar, and it's easy to control the bar. However I was finding that at higher weight two thing were happening. First, the bar was rolling forward as I squatted putting pressure on my neck. While not painful this certainly wasn't comfortable. As I looked into the cause of my bad form I found that high bar squat, as it placed the bar higher on your body, and forward of your center of gravity caused two issues. One, you were more prone to arch your back, which would explain the back pain I was feeling, and two you took more of the weight on your knees. I figured something had to change.

So, I went back to and looked at how they suggested you squat. I figure the program I was following might have some suggestions. Their suggestion, was to squat low bar. In a low bar squat you don't place the bar on top of your trapezius where I had been squatting, but instead on top of your deltoids. In layman's terms, if you run a finger down the back of your neck you will find a bony bump, right at the base of your neck. Just past that is where you squat high bar, and it's the bar pressing on that nub of bone that causes pain. For low bar, imagine you're squeezing a pencil between your shoulders, Your arms back, elbows pointed behind you at a roughly 30-45 degree angle. If you're holding this posture, and roll your head back you'll feel a shelf of muscle. Those are your deltoids. Large slabs of muscle that cross your shoulders onto your back.

When squatting low bar you place the bar on this shelf of muscle. The difference is a matter of inches. The difference in the lift is incredible. Having the bar further back forces you to squat with a straighter back, and more upright posture. This eliminates back pain. Having the weight behind you forces you to drop back under the bar, in a good squat form, and makes it difficult, to nearly impossible, to come forward onto your toes to engage your calves. This further protects your knees.

In short, I did five sets, or five reps, at 185lbs and have no knee pain, and no back pain. Though I will admit my butt is a little stiff.

No comments: