SQUATS AND MYTHS (1995) \r\n\r\nDr Mel C Siff \r\nSchool of Mechanical Engineering \r\nUniversity of the Witwatersrand, South Africa \r\n\r\nMy comments on squatting technique have drawn a mixed bag of agreement and \r\nupset, which is always the case with fundamental exercises which tend to be \r\nsurrounded by years of superstitious application. \r\n\r\nGENERAL COMMENTS \r\n\r\nRest assured that this type of analysis is not meant to belittle. Heaven \r\nknows how many times we are all challenged at lectures, conferences and \r\nlifting platform about the appropriateness of our technique. I thank those \r\nwho have chosen not to be politically correct and kind to me over the years, \r\notherwise I would have been happily contented with the same old myths \r\nforever. \r\n\r\nArgumentation, analysis, refutation, rebuttal and counterproposal are all \r\ntime-tested ways of research and teaching. Regrettably we often feel that if \r\nsomeone attacks ideas we believe in, then we are being personally attacked. \r\nMost of the time we did not even create the offending idea, yet we have used \r\nit so often that we become emotionally attached to it. In the case of \r\nreligion, politics and coïtus, criticism invariably leads to such passionate \r\nencounters that even families become split up and nations go to war. Even \r\nscience is not immune to this belief fervor - just try to argue about \r\nevolution and you will see what I mean. \r\n\r\nIn the world of fitness, a similar scene rules and it is inordinately easy to \r\ntread on toes. The one merit of the Internet is that everyone can attend \r\n(unlike some costly conferences and some forbidding lecturers) and become \r\ninvolved and for that we thank fellow list member, Pansy. She prodded all of \r\nus into a series of encounters from which we will all emerge enriched, if \r\npersonality clashes do not cloud the content. So, those of us such as myself \r\nwho have analyzed your comments in some depth still appreciate your \r\nwillingness to become involved. \r\n\r\nSOME SPECIFICS \r\n\r\nThat having been said, it is still essential to comment on one of the worst \r\nbeliefs that one encounters at virtually every fitness convention and in \r\nevery popular publication, namely: \r\n\r\n&quot;This exercise is for the average person or beginner and is not meant for \r\nathletes or experts&quot; \r\n\r\nWhile the sentiments are well founded, they often tend to insult the \r\n'average' person - who on earth always wants to be just 'average'? None of my \r\nclients wants to stay 'average' or 'novice' - that's why they are visiting a \r\nprofessional - they want to move out of averages and progress to something \r\nfar greater. \r\n\r\nOf course, we start with carefully graded sequences of exercises, beginning \r\nwith no added loading, and then progress cyclically to greater heights to \r\nachieve mutually agreed-upon goals, but we must never lose sight of the fact \r\nthat any beginner HAS to be moving progressively onto significant resistance \r\n(or duration, degree of difficulty, range of movement etc.) - and this is \r\nwhere the problems begin. \r\n\r\nResearch has shown that skills developed with minimal loading do not \r\nnecessarily transfer effectively and safely to situations with greater \r\nloading. Moreover, learning a skill using movements which are similar to, but \r\nnot the same as the actual exercise being taught, causes the same sort of \r\nmotor problem, because the controlling program being instilled into the \r\ncentral nervous system is different for every different variant or pattern of \r\nmovement. \r\n\r\nThus learning of the half squat, power clean or machine bench press does not \r\nproperly prepare the beginner for safety and efficiency with heavier loads. \r\nIn fact, the well-meaning, but misguided advice to do certain 'safe' \r\nmovements can actually lead to the dangerous situation in which the client \r\nmay be MORE vulnerable to injury if he/she by chance is called upon to \r\nexecute the banned form of that exercise. \r\n\r\nADAPTATION AND OVERDESIGN \r\n\r\nJust as one overdesigns roads and buildings with a greater &quot;Safety Factor&quot; \r\nthan 1 to withstand greater loads in earthquake zones such as San Francisco, \r\nso we should overdesign the body just in case it is sometimes called upon to \r\ndo that dread activity that all the fitness authorities cautioned us against. \r\n\r\nSo we have to teach, modify or relearn the skill each time we are exposed to \r\nsome noticeable change in its characteristics, such as degree of resistance, \r\nrange, speed, duration and pattern. If one is likely to be exposed to fatigue \r\nwith an exercise, then we have to ensure that the client knows the different \r\nskills of learning and coping under conditions of fatigue. It is highly \r\nmisleading to believe that there is only one specific skill for a given \r\nexercise at a given time for every single person. \r\n\r\nIt is also misleading to lump all squats together. Even though they all \r\ninvolve knee, hip and spinal actions, the powerlifting and weightlifting or \r\ndeep-knee bend squats differ very significantly in execution and distribution \r\nof forces through range of movement. \r\n\r\nThere tends to be an irrational fear associated with deeper-than-parallel \r\nsquats, even though most of this is based on theoretical analysis and is \r\nusually contradicted by clinical studies which show that even more knee \r\ninjuries occur in activities which do not flex the knee anywhere near \r\nparallel (such as running and jumping). Others show that partial squats can \r\ntraumatize the knees even more than full squats! \r\n\r\nDo the critics not appreciate that full squats executed under appropriate \r\ncontrol throughout the movement actually produce adaptation (that is what all \r\ntraining is about, anyway!), enhanced strength, better stability and greater \r\nresistance to unexpected loading? That is what the principle of Gradual \r\nProgressive Overload is about, isn't it? \r\n\r\nTHE REAL DANGERS \r\n\r\nThe sooner folk realize that safety of execution does not depend primarily on \r\nthe exercise alone, but the technique with which it is executed. Thus, a full \r\nsquat executed slowly over full range may produce smaller patellar tendon \r\nforces than a part-range squat done a bit more rapidly. As a matter of fact, \r\nthe patellar tendon force is frequently much greater during step aerobics, \r\nrunning, jumping, kicking and swimming than during controlled full squats \r\nwith a load even exceeding twice bodymass. \r\n\r\nThe dangers of a squat (even a part-range one) lie more in inward rotation of \r\nthe knees, unequal thrusting with one leg, loss of stability with fatigue or \r\npoor concentration, unskilled use of ballistic action or the use of some \r\nobject to raise the heels and increase the stress on the patella and its \r\ntendon. \r\n\r\nDoes this mean that we should then advise against all these activities? Of \r\ncourse not! If we presented a table of the stresses and strains acting on all \r\nthe tissues of the body during apparently innocuous daily activities \r\n(including the pressure in smaller blood vessels subjected to the pumping \r\npressure of the heart), we would never get out of bed. \r\n\r\nSorry, these arguments of great forces and stresses and so forth have to be \r\nlooked at in context - the body grows, adapts and flourishes in response to \r\nan optimal level of regularly imposed stress. It is also misleading to talk \r\nabout forces and tensions being large, because we should only do so in the \r\ncontext of knowing something about how big, strong and dense the tissues are \r\nupon which they are acting. \r\n\r\nIf the tendon has a large cross-sectional area and the connective tissue \r\ncomprising it is strong and extensible, then we have far less to worry about \r\nthan if the tendons were not like that. Remember that a knowledge of the \r\nSTRESS (force averaged over the cross-sectional area of the tissue) and \r\nSTRAIN (how much the tissues lengthen relative to their original length) is \r\nfar more relevant than the force itself. Forget about forces being quoted out \r\nof context - we have to be far more specific than that before we can condemn \r\nsome poor exercise to death.