Squats – Six Reasons You’re Bad At Them
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Six Reasons You Can’t Squat
Are you one of the people that wonders why you can never get any progress on your squat? Or maybe you/re one that just has difficulty doing them altogether – when you try the exercise your legs feel rubbery and your core is rocking back and forth unable to . The Journal of Strength Conditioning and Research estimates that there are over 200 muscles that are recruited when you squat so more than likely there’s a good explanation for your lack of progression. Here are six reasons you suck at squats:
1. You have a desk job: Picture yourself hunched over at your cubicle typing away on the keyboard and clicking that mouse. After eight hours a day your hip flexors (for simplicity sake we’re just going to call them your quads) start to become shortened and tight from your sitting position. All muscles have a reference point of where they originate and insert to your bones. These tight hip flexors begin to pull on their on those points which is on your pelvis and leg bones. Over time the tight muscles pull your pelvis forward exaggerating the arch in your back. That’s not a good thing and can lead to lower back injury. The worst part about it is that your hip flexors can effect other muscles too. One such muscle is the hamstring. Your hamstring is similar to your bicep in that when your knees are bent, your hamstring is contracted (just like when you flex your arm by bending your elbow, your biceps contract). After time of sitting there for hours your hamstrings also become tight. The hamstrings however pull your pelvis back into a more neutral position – and while you might think this is good (given what your hip flexors are doing), it’s actually horrible. Your hamstrings and hip flexors begin competing for each other locking up your hips and ruining they’re mobility. Hip mobility is crucial for leg exercises.
We’re not done yet, as you’re sitting your shoulders can become hunched forward. One of the main muscles that attaches to your shoulders is your latissimus dorsi (a.k.a. your lats). As your shoulders sit there hunched, your lats tighten and your lower back becomes angry at you – this in turn reduces your hip mobility even more.
What about your glutes?
Your gluteal muscles are HUGE muscles in the sense that they are good at doing a BIG workload. The problem is sitting causes these muscles to become weak. This in turn causes the muscles to forget to fire and contract normally. Fast forward to you squatting, you have muscles meant for doing a big workload which now can’t and you have poor hip mobility for all that you have going on with your hamstrings and hip flexors. Luckily for you, your body has a backup plan. That backup is your tight hamstrings – the secondary muscles in the squat exercise. The problem however is that these muscles aren’t meant for carrying the bulk of the workload. So what happens is you are unable to push as much weight as you are capable of and due to the lack of mobility and tight hamstrings you put yourself at risk for lower back injury and hamstring injury.
How you can fix it:
Spend time stretching and foam rolling your hip flexors. Next up, foam roll the insertion point of your latissimus dorsi by placing the foam roller right beneath your armpit as you lay on your side. Then stretch the muscle out – the stretching will cause the overworked muscle to take a time out and relax. Also, focus on your glutes! Take time to reteach your gluteal muscles how to fire – if you take time doing this you’ll take unwanted stress off your hamstrings and lower back and you’ll make the gains you want.
Need a good foam roller? Visit the YLB Store:
2. You Don’t Have A Desk Job:
Okay, too much sitting is bad but too much standing is bad too? You just can’t win can you? If you’re on your feet too long you may have the opposite problem of the sitter. Your calves, hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps do most of the work when you’re on your feet all day long. When muscles work they contract and work for eight to twelve hours a day can cause muscle tightness. As we just talked about, tight muscles that attach to the hip cause a decrease in hip mobility. If you haven’t learned already, muscles have an optimum point for generating force. They’re at the strongest when the muscles aren’t too lose or aren’t too tight.
How you fix it: Take time to foam roll then stretch all of the above mentioned muscles.
3. You use shoes like the ones below to do your squats:
Using these shoes for squatting is probably the worst idea you can do. Think of it like this: tennis shoes are for tennis, running shoes are for running, basketball shoes are for basketball, and baseball shoes are for baseball. You get the point, right? Weightlifting shoes are for, well, weightlifting. You need a shoe with a flat surface – not shoes that give you an unstable surface.
How you fix it:
Get the right shoes! My favorites are the good old fashion Chuck Taylor’s or the Adidas Samba. Both provide a good, flat, stable surface for you to really activate your muscles to push off the ground with. Another good pair of shoes is the Crossfit Nano. You can view a good list of weightlifting shoes at our YLB Store
4. You neglect your core:
You think you can strengthen your core by just doing sit-ups? Not only are you doing one of the worst core exercises but you’re also not doing much for your core. Squats recruit many of your muscles in your body and one of the most important groups of muscles is your core. Your core helps to stabilize your hips so you’re not swaying back and forth like a coconut tree in the wind. If you have a weak core your body recruits other muscles (like your hamstrings) to do the job – and they do a terrible job at it. When other muscles are recruited to help stabilize your body you lose out on potential strength you could be using for gains in other areas.
How you fix it:
Stop neglecting your core! Your core includes muscles other than the six-pack you desperately want. You’ve got muscles around your entire body that help to stabilize your body. Strengthen them and you will see yourself progress. Remember, you are only as strong as your weakest link.
5. You never warm up: You may think you warm up, but you probably aren’t doing it very well (or not at all).
Does this warm-up routine sound like you:
1. Get to the gym, hopeon the bike/treadmill for five minutes
2. Do a couple of leg stretches
3. MAYBE do a couple of leg swings back and forth (but that’s about it because you don’t see anybody else warm up at the gym so why should you?)
4. All warmed up and ready to squat like a NFL running back
If that’s the way you warm up then you have A LOT of work to do. First of all, your muscles need warm blood to get…warm. What’s so hard for people to understand about this concept? It’s like people are always embarrassed to do a proper warm-up at the gym. Your joints also need to get prepared for the range of motion and activity you’re about to do. You need to activate muscles (like your glutes mentioned above) that aren’t used to firing and you need to actively stretch muscles that are too tight. Muscles fire the best when they’re not too tight or when they’re not too lose. The joints that you use in an exercise work best after they’re warmed up and ready to go (just like a car needs to be lubed).
How to fix it:
Don’t be a pansy when it comes to warming up. Make your warm-up good enough to make you sweat. Have you started sweating? Good, now your muscles are warm. Next up, do some joint mobility exercises that mimic the type of movement you’re going to be doing.
6. You only do squats:
I thought we were trying to focus on squats? Well, we are. But remember the whole you’re only as strong as your weakest link saying? By only doing squats you’re only training one range of motion. It’s called the sagittal plane a.k.a. frontal/backwards type of movements. Your body is also meant to go side to side (known as the frontal plane) and in a twisting motion (transverse plane).
How to fix it:
Don’t neglect these movements as muscles that do other type of movements are “helper” muscles for the squat when it comes to stabilizing your body. If your supporting muscles for the squat are in good shape then you have the foundation to give your body the support you need when loading heavier weights.
To sum it all up: There’s more to doing a squat then just doing the exercise. If you’re trying to push for bigger gains, think about the whole picture. Improve your body as a whole and you’ll push through plateaus to new peaks. The National Council on Strength and Fitness says it best, “The potential strength of the muscle segments are not optimally utilized when any part of the chain is weak and/or the action is performed with improper biomechanics.”
Do you have another tip for improving squats? Let’s hear about it. Post your comment below and let us know!
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