To Squat or Not to Squat BY: ROBERTA AND RILEY Roberta and I were taught that the barbell squat was the granddaddy of all lifts. A barbell (like a dumbbell) is a versatile tool. The barbell was created and sold commer- cially in the United States in 1902. Hmmmm. We believe our mode of transportation during this era was a horse and buggy. Times have changed and so has the recognition of equipment companies to produce lower body equipment that is safer and more pro- ductive than performing the barbell squat. The squatting motion is a productive movement. It is a multi-joint movement. It incorporates all of the muscles that cross the hip, knee, and ankle joints. What takes place from the hips down is productive exercise. Unfortunately when performing a barbell squat the weight must be placed on the back of the neck and shoulders. What takes place from the shoulders down to the hips has nothing to do with developing the muscles of the hips and legs. For many years the barbell squat (front and back) and the Jefferson Lift were the only exercise alternatives for developing the powerful muscles of the hips and legs. It was during the 1970’s that equipment companies started designing equipment to ac- commodate the anatomical and biomechanical needs for all muscles to include the muscles of the hips and legs. If you enjoy performing the barbell squat and you have not been hurt, we encour- age you to continue whether you are competing as an athlete or are a fitness enthusi- ast. However, the success of an athlete, a team, or a fitness enthusiast does not hinge on performing the barbell squat. There are many other safer and more productive alter- natives. Visit most fitness centers and few if any adult fitness enthusiasts have an in- terest in squatting with a barbell (and there is no need to). When performing the squat the barbell is placed upon the back of the neck and shoulders. The lower back is the weak link. Eventually the lower back limits how much weight you can use to strengthen the muscles of the hips and legs. . The muscles of the hips and legs are much stronger than the low back muscles. Observe a taller ath- lete performing the squat and you normally see the lifter performing a half squat and bending at the waist (exposing the lower back to potential injury). Eliminate the weak link (lower back muscles) and you are able to generate maximum strength of the muscles of the hips and legs without risking injury to the lower back. A properly designed leg press will allow you to accomplish maximum gains in a safe manner. Observe the lifter below performing a conventional leg press (fig. 1). We have rotated the photo 90 degrees (Fig. 2). When rotated the picture illustrates the perfect squatting position without vertically loading the spine or compromising the athletes well-being. (fig. 1) Leg Press Leg Press rotated 90 degress (fig. 2) There is no vertical compression of the spine. Ask any or- thopedic surgeon if vertically loading the spine with a barbell is good for the spine over time. Observe how the knees are kept over the ankles minimizing shearing forces to the knees. In competition a competitive power lifter must lower the weight so that the mid thigh is parallel to the floor. Draw a line through the lifter’s kneecap to the middle of his thigh and you will observe his range of motion is well beyond mid thigh parallel to the floor. This allows him to safely activate more of the hips. He can train to the point of fatigue without risk of the low back muscles fatiguing, col- lapsing, or being injured. (Fig. 3) Non-fused Movement Arm (Fig. 4) Rotated 90 degrees Figure (#3) is a non-fused movement arm. Each leg is forced to work independent of the other. This is very important in rehabilitation, developing balance between the two limbs, and creating variety in the training program. Observe the depth of the range of motion in Figure (#4) and the position of the knee over the ankle. This is accomplished without compression of the spine or risk of injury to the lower back. Find a tool that provides progressive resistance and you can improve strength. A barbell is a versatile tool. You can perform many different exercises with it. However it isn’t designed for any one exercise. It is amazing how many times I have heard athletes I have trained describe the number of times they have been hurt squatting. Who knows what the long-term consequences are later on in life. Back surgery, knee replacement, hip replacement? Is it necessary in 2010 (over one hundred years after the barbell was invented) to place a bar- bell on your neck and shoulders to develop maximum strength of the muscles of the hips and legs? The answer is no. It has been our experience with football players that when given an op- tion they would prefer a leg press over a squat, especially during the season. Riley has used a leg press instead of the barbell squat for thirty-four of his thirty-six years as a strength coach. If you are not a competitive lifter our advice is to find a leg press machine you are comfort- able with and observe the Roberta and Riley Rep Rules to generate maximum gains, in the least amount of time, in the safest manner possible. Thanks to Fred Weary, former Houston Texan for the photo’s.