It’s been a long time since I’ve posted lifting advice, so I’m coming back with the leg day goodness.
A lot of people are scared of squatting. They’ve convinced themselves they have bad backs or knees and will make them worse by squatting. Unless at some point in your life you actually had a traumatic injury to your back or knees, chances are your back and knee pain are the result of bad posture and improper muscle balances and core, back and leg exercises like squatting and deadlifts could help, more than hurt.
Mistake #1: You’re scared to go too deep.
Proper depth in a squat or the bottom of a deadlift isn’t just about showing off your flexibility. It’s about properly setting up your bio mechanics to lift a heavy weight out of a low position – and in the case of a squat it’s about properly decelerating that weight and loading it onto your joints and muscles in a healthy position. Form is key to safety!
For the squat you should not stop until your butt is under your knees. Failure to do so places sheering forces on your knees as your muscles pull against each other at odd angles to stabilize your hips and knees around a large mass bearing down on them at a strange angle. When you drop fully into the bottom position, the muscles load in a spring-like action that will help you pop back out of the squat. If you can’t do this properly, you’re putting too much weight on the bar!
For the deadlift, many don’t drop their butt low enough at the start of the lift. They break at the hips, lean forward and drag the weight up like a Romanian deadlift or Stiff-Leg deadlift, then wonder why they have no ass! (Guilty as charged, myself.)
Get that ass down low and lift through the legs before you even start pulling with your back to ensure your’re loading your legs right and protecting your back from doing all the work.
Mistake #2: You don’t engage your core properly, you’re leaning forward or you’re hyper-extending.
The first mistake is the gym rat that has never been given a form diagnostic in their life, they bend forward and arch their lower back out like they’re trying to make their pecs touch their crotch at the bottom of the squat or the start of the deadlift and lift by flexing their rhomboids and curling their back into hyper extension. This is a recipe for a back injury.
The second type is the gym rat that’s been told to arch their back the other direction when lifting heavy, so they hyper-extend like they’re trying to get into a bridge position without engaging their other core muscles. Their ass sticks way out, their belly sticks way out, their abs are complete jelly, their rhomboids are in full contraction and their back is killing them the next day. From this position your entire chain breaks. Your quads shorten, your hamstrings extend, your glutes deactivate, and your knees will hurt.
Unfortunately some people don’t fully comprehend the Rippetoe explanation of the arched low back and how to properly use intra-abdominal pressure. It’s not all about the back, it’s about a neutral balance of force between the back and abs braced around the pressure created by expanding your lungs with a deep breath. The lordotic curve you see in demonstrations is only half the battle, and if you go too far, it’s just as bad for your back as arching the other way. In simple terms, too much S curve is just as bad as a C curve.
The goal is to find the neutral sweet-spot, your back should be more or less straight which will produce a slightly pronounced S curve. Your hips should sit in a neutral position so your pelvis neither dips forward nor backward – the waistband of your pants should not dive significantly lower in front than in back.
Experiment with bracing your back first, then tightening the abs and leaning forward slightly into a neutral position. Then do the opposite, brace your abs first then slowly tighten up your back. Find out what works best for you, I’ve heard that only one way is correct, but I’m a believer that both achieve the same final resting position and neither is special.
What can I do to feel safer about my squatting before I get under the bar?
1. Planks – For both problems – PROPER planks. Learn to suck in your abs and keep your butt from sticking out during a plank. If your abs don’t start to burn you’re not doing it right!
2. Supermans – For those with C curve – This will help you to learn the feeling of the contracted rhomboids
3. Sit-ups – For those with S curve – Strengthen your core, curl into the situp rather than pivoting at the hip.
4. Ab wheel – For both problems – same deal as planks
5. Stretch your quads! – for those with S curve – Tight quads pull your pelvis down, extending your abs, deactivating them, shortening your back muscles and causing knee pain.
6. Strengthen your glutes! – Both – Glute-ham raises, leg lifts, kickbacks, glute-bridges with your feet as far away form your butt as you can get and your legs spread wide. If you suffer from extreme S-curve you’ll struggle to activate glutes without highly specific glute-targeting exercises. Leaning to bend into the C-curve can help you to activate them until you can adjust to proper, balanced posture.