Why Should I Squat?
Brittany Bruinooge, B.Kin-AT, CAT(C), CSCS
Coach & Athlete Development Coordinator - West
As I train with athletes and coaches, the questions I get asked the most in the gym typically revolve around the squat.
Why should I squat? How do I squat? How deep or how low should I squat? Is it safe? Should my toes be pointed forward or out, and what is the difference anyways? The list goes on and on.
Why Do We Squat?
Simply put, the primary reason squats are included in an exercise regime is to increase muscular strength of the lower limbs. But more so than that, the squat is a movement we perform continuously throughout our daily routines without even being aware of it. Every time we sit or get up and out of a chair we squat, we squat when we use the toilet, and we squat to pick up our kids or our pets. For the general public the squat is a functional movement, meaning we need it to carry out everyday tasks.
For an athlete, the squat is a fundamental movement, meaning athletes need to have sound squatting mechanics and a solid foundation so we can build on the skill to carry out a variety of other movements. Squats help improve balance, proprioception, strength, hypertrophy, range of motion, and flexibility, among many other physical benefits.
There is a lot of debate on whether a deep squat is injury-provoking for the knees. Two common arguments as to why we should not squat deep are:
- it can lead to joint laxity and ligament rupture, and
- it can increase tibiofemoral compressive forces within the knee joint on the articulating surfaces (Schoenfeld & Williams, 2012)
Of course without proper form or progressions, there’s a risk of injury with any type of squat. Research tells us this risk is associated with novice lifters who have don’t have the proper training. However, experienced lifters who know proper squat techniques, have appropriate training, and progressions can benefit from deeper squats.
Science tells us increased squat depth has actually been shown to protect against injuries and strengthen the entire lower limb (Hartmann et al., 2013).
There is increased muscle activation when we squat deeper (Sahasrabudhe et al. 2017) therefore making this a positive exercise as we are recruiting and working more muscles with just one movement.
Deep Squat Gains
Studies show athletes who squat deep with heavy weight have increased knee stability and cartilage thickness within the knee joint (Hartman et al., 2013), not less as previously thought, because the body adapts to stimuli placed upon it.
To prevent plateauing, we slowly but constantly increase the stimulus the body is comfortable with to continue to get gains, like: strength, range of motion or flexibility.
To consistently see improvement we need to consistently up the ante. By slowly increasing the depth of squat and the weight, you can promote positive change within the body, including the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and joints.
There is a lot to weigh out when preforming squats (no pun intended). Squatting too heavy or too deep too quickly can lead to injury, but following a tailored program, with proper progression, can decrease that risk. This is why it is so important to work with one of Sport Manitoba’s Strength and Conditioning Specialists to determine your goals are and have your program fit you.