Sunday, May 3, 2015

Some Day You'll Know What I'm Talking About - Weight Room Edition

Here's the second half of the piece I wrote last week about well-intentioned criticism.  I don't want this whole post to sound like a bunch of bitching about what this or that guy said and why he's an idiot.  I take no personal issue with anyone who's offered to pass down hard-earned wisdom.  Just like I said before, I am always all ears and can never know too much.  However, if you don't ever question authority, and dig into the whys and hows of the things you're told, you are no better for hearing any of it.  My aim here is to provide a bit of reasoning as to why the items below stand to lead you down the wrong path. Often these ideas are just perpetuated falsehoods that are spoken so frequently, they actually gain some credibility.  I care about putting real logic out there to push back against some of this fear of depth mantra.  My hope is that the next time one of you receive similar critique, you will be better equipped to consider an alternative point of view.  Without further ado, here are some of the items I've heard most frequently, and am confident enough to dismiss.

1.  Squatting too low (below parallel) is bad for your knees, especially the patellar tendon and ligaments.  Trust me- when you're my age, you'll see.

He'll Never Learn.

I am not going to dissect the mechanics of the squat, and why the load on the knee is in fact not any more severe in the rock bottom position than it is if stopped above parallel.  That literature is readily available on a dozen different Google-able websites.  I would prefer to address the real issue with the comment - the individuals who say it and their own poor physical condition brought on by poor training principles.

The overwhelming majority of those who have ever told me that squatting too deep will come with consequence?  People who don't perform a full squat in training, of course.  They won't squat to full depth in the gym, with or without a box underneath them, with or without gear, with a cambered/buffalo bar, chains or bands.  High squat, every week, every month. "I can get there when I need to in a meet."  "You only get so many of those deep ones in your lifetime, better save them for when they count"

Let's take a minute to consider the connective tissue of the habitual high squatter for a minute.  For the most part, he will use a low bar position, feet wider than shoulder width, hips very opened up, vertical torso.  Hips, glutes, hamstrings and low/mid back will be the dominant muscle groups during the squat, while quads will take a bit of a back seat.  If this individual shows up to the gym and decides to try a full squat with a high bar, shoulder width foot stance, it will most likely feel like garbage.

Herein lies the problem.

"I don't ever squat below parallel...  
When I do, it fucking hurts... 
Low (full) squats are bad for your knees."

To wrap up this point, I'll submit that full range squats aren't the problem, YOUR KNEES are the problem.  They have been placed on the back burner for years while the rest of your lower body assumed the heaviest workloads.  Quads will not have the development to support the weight the hips, glutes and hams can handle.  If the lifter spends eight months of the year with a knee wrap, then the issue is further exaggerated.  Furthermore, drastically increasing the range of motion beyond what you've been doing will also be a painful progression.  Don't take aim at the wrong enemy here!  Address the real issue and you'll only grow stronger in the long run, I swear as much.

From the very first time I ever learned the barbell squat, it has been do a depth below parallel.  In fact, I started weight training at fifteen years old as a part of my post ACL reconstruction physical therapy routine.  And I did full squats then.  My left ACL was grafted from my patellar tendon of the same knee.  My patellar HAD A FUCKING STRIP CUT OUT OF IT, and I was able to squat without causing damage.  In 2008, I tore my right ACL and MCL playing rugby, and had both reconstructed as well.  Same story.  And just in case you think I'm too young or full of shit, you could just ask one of about 50,000 olympic weightlifters worldwide over the past sixty years who squatted six days a week to ROCK BOTTOM... and managed to retire from a career void of catastrophic injury.

Since I spent so much time running off about the first point, here are a few similar incorrect critiques I hear on a routine basis online and in the gym, and a brief mention of why I disagree

2.  You should use a buffalo bar or cambered bar because it's easier on your shoulders.

Same story here as with the deep squat.  If you've slacked off with a buffalo bar for the last eighteen months, reaching your arms up to that straight bar is probably going to feel like shit.  Just like if you only did slingshot pin presses for nine months, your first full range bench press will probably leave you feeling like your pecs are ripping off.  Sorry to say it, but the straight bar isn't the problem.  Your shoulders are the problem.  Fortunately for 90+% of the lifting population, the solution is a viable one.

3.  Deadlifting from blocks saves the hips over the long term.

Translation:  I can deadlift a shitload more weight off a six inch block, so I feel stronger than I actually am.

Intelligent deadlift programming, and managing hip mobility will save the hips over the long term - not the blocks.  Train your weaknesses instead of labeling them as 'bad for your ____.'

The common denominator among all of these comments, is that none of them address the real issue.  I suspect that is because the real issue is ugly, time consuming, and often painful to remedy.  If your training has allowed you to stray farther and farther away from the original form of a compound movement, then it will likely take a lot of time and hard work for your body to reclaim its original form.  Want your knees, hips, and back to stay strong and mobile?  Frequently use them through a full range.  Don't sell yourself short in the gym for a few vanity points.  Make down payments for big long term returns.  Train all the muscles in your legs.  Squat with different foot widths, and different bar positions.  Squat deep, regardless of the variation, and use intelligent bar weights that will make you stronger.  

Train them all, but remember WHY you are training them.

Train to the highest standard of competition, every single session in the weight room, and you will have no problems doing so when it matters most.

Thanks for reading.

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