More Reasons Why the Squat is Called the King of Exercises
Part 1 of this article focused on getting the most from the squat and covered common problems, pain-free squatting and cues to correct improper technique.
In this follow-up article, we’ll look at:
- Anatomical variables that affect the squat,
- Using the pattern in the FMS (and how the screen differs from the lift), and
- The big question of “back squat or front squat?”
Should everyone squat the same?
In the video below—taken from the Assessing Movement DVD—low back expert Dr. Stuart McGill discusses how anatomical differences affect the way each person squats.
The squat as a movement screen
Adapted from Gray Cook’s Movement book
While the squat can be used as an exercise, it is first and foremost a movement pattern.
In the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), the unloaded deep squat is used to screen movement. It is performed holding a dowel overhead.
The deep squat pattern is part of many functional movements. It demonstrates fully coordinated extremity mobility and core stability with the hips and shoulders functioning in symmetrical positions.
The deep squat is a move that challenges total body mechanics and neuromuscular control when performed properly. We use it to test bilateral, symmetrical, functional mobility and stability of the hips, knees and ankles.
The dowel held overhead calls on bilateral, symmetrical mobility and stability of the shoulders, scapular region and the thoracic spine. The pelvis and core must establish stability and control throughout the entire movement to achieve the full pattern.
While full deep squatting is not often required in modern daily life, general exercise or sport, active people still require the basic components of the deep squat.
The squat movement used in the FMS differs from how the squat is normally performed with weight. In the FMS, the feet are positioned parallel to each other with toes pointing forward, whereas an out-turn is usually the most efficient foot position when squatting with weight.
By pointing the feet in the same direction on parallel lines slightly wider than shoulder width, the deep squat becomes a more difficult move—challenging pelvic control and hip medial range of motion. This allows more information to be gleaned from the movement, as out-turns can allow people with moderate limitations to compensate enough to conduct the squat movement properly.
A person will only be able to do the squat with toes pointing forward if there’s little or no mobility or stability problems in the squat pattern. Note that this doesn’t mean there are no mobility and stability problems. They just do not appear in the squatting pattern.
What information can be learned from the FMS deep squat screen? If a person cannot perform the deep squat pattern (does not score a two or three), it can signify:
- Limited mobility in the upper torso, due to poor glenohumeral or thoracic spine mobility—or both.
- Limited mobility in the lower extremities, including poor closed kinetic chain dorsiflexion of the ankles or poor flexion of the knees and hips.
- Poor stabilization and control.
Should all athletes back squat?
Adapted from Michael Boyle’s Advances in Functional Training
[Michael Boyle] Nearly a decade ago, I came to a conclusion: Athletes I trained would no longer perform the back squat. As a former powerlifter, this was heresy, but I was tired of constantly asking our athletes to keep their heads up and to use their legs, not their backs.
The emphasis of the back squat is always on increasing weight. Unfortunately this is often done by altering technique to improve leverage, not by actually increasing the strength of the muscles so necessary to run or jump.
The decision to discontinue back squats was based on logic that was unfortunately a long time overdue: Front squats are safer than back squats.
Dave Draper front squatting, 1960s
Whenever one of our athletes sustained a back injury, he was reintroduced to squatting via the front squat prior to the back squat for a number of reasons.
- The front squat keeps the torso upright and decreases the torque that causes problems with the SI joint.
- The nature of the front squat forces the athlete to use a lighter weight than the back squat. This is particularly true with beginners, although our athletes can now front squat nearly a hundred percent of their previous best back squats.
- The front squat places greater stress on the knee extensors and less on the hip extensors. This might seem like a negative, but it actually allows us to perform hip-dominant movements the day after squatting with less overlap.
The reintroduction to squatting via the front squat was always a huge success physically. Mentally, athletes would begin front squatting, but would always be itching to back squat with everyone else. At this point we would cave in to the pressure and allow the athlete to perform the back squat again. This process began the vicious cycle of back pain . . . front squat . . . back squat . . . back pain.
Often we hear coaches disparage a form of training or a particular lift as injury-producing. My experience has shown the solution may not be to eliminate lifts entirely, but to change to variations that avoid positions of higher stress. This is why the front squat makes sense.
The front squat produces a better body position by the nature of the exercise. An athlete has a difficult time front squatting poorly. The athlete either front squats well or drops the bar. There is very little middle ground.
Conversely, in the back squat athletes can squat poorly for weeks, months or years, eventually sustaining an injury.
If you found this article useful, here are some additional resources you may be interested in:
This lecture answers the seven main questions people have about squatting: why squat; low back pain from squatting; shoulder pain when squatting; deadlift strong, but squat weak; weak out of the hole; squat cuing; supplementary drills.
Though the FMS and SFMA have been both been the subject of academic research for years, there still remains a lot of debate and controversy behind the validity and value of a quick and general tool like the FMS, especially for injury prediction.
In particular, many people have highlighted a supposed difference in approach to screening, assessment and spine stabilization between Gray Cook and Stuart McGill, one of the world’s leading low back experts.
Craig Liebenson realized this, and proposed for these two giants in the field to present their approaches, clarify their positions and critically analyze the FMS.
The result is what you’ll find inside Assessing Movement: A Contrast in Approaches & Future Directions.
In the Assessing Movement DVD—
- Gray explains the principles, intent and incorrect assumptions people make about the FMS
- Stuart reviews the literature surrounding the FMS, and highlights areas of agreement and disagreement
- Stuart outlines his approach to assessments in Developing the Ideal Screen or Assessment
- Gray demonstrates the FMS tests, and Stuart demonstrates some of the assessment tools he uses
- Craig discusses the history of human movement in medicine and patient care
- Gray and Stuart take questions about both their methods
- …and much more
There is no question that tapping into the right movement can radically change an athlete.
In Essentials of Coaching and Training Functional Continuums, Dan John and Gray Cook will show you the approach you need to identify and work on hidden weaknesses in your training programs that are holding back the athletes you coach.
They’ll show you how to take information from assessments, and categorize your training priorities to ensure that you have no holes in your athletic base, and are working on the activities that will give you a bigger return on athletic performance.
- Exercise choices for power, work capacity and metabolic load
- How to evaluate movement health, competency, capacity and complexity
- The difference between an exercise continuum and a training progression
- Minimum standards to progress, hold or regress
- When to correct and when to coach
- The metrics of the 4 Bs—Breathe, Bend, Balance, Bounce
- What it means to play, practice or train, and who needs which
- Postures and patterns, and drills to develop both
In Intervention, Dan John explains the system he developed over the course of 35 years of training and coaching athletes. The Intervention system consists of 10 questions and 5 principles that can completely change the way you work with clients.
In this book, you’ll learn about—
- The Four Quadrants for assessing and training athletes
- How to get to Point B: 10 essential questions to help every athlete or trainee get to where they want to be
- Step-by-step progressions for the five fundamental human movements that make up a person’s athletic base
- The five principles of effective program design
- Applying the Intervention system to real athletes and trainees
- Training year-round: Smart programming to minimize burnout and maximize long-term results
- Applying the Intervention approach to diet and nutrition
- …and much more.
You’ll walk away armed with a toolkit that will help you train any client, from sedentary elderly people, to 40-year-old moms, and high school or professional athletes.
Over the past 30 years, Michael Boyle has coached athletes in every major collegiate and professional sport. His clients have come from the MLS, MLB, NHL, NFL, PGA, Olympic teams and many others.
In Advances in Functional Training, Mike unveils the insights he’s learned about training athletes in all major sports, from the junior level, all the way up to the professional level.
Advances in Functional Training is a comprehensive guide that brings together a volume of information on current athletic training trends and concepts. Inside you’ll get the latest insight from a top coach who’s spent decades carefully thinking about and testing better ways to train his clients and athletes.
You’ll learn how to—
- Reduce and prevent common problems like low back pain, knee pain, neck and shoulder pain by identifying compensations, improving mobility and flexibility and focusing on movement patterns
- Minimize the risk of common injuries like lifting-related back injuries, tendinitis, upper-body injuries, ACL injuries and sports hernias
- Unlock greater power and performance by learning how to properly train the hips and core
- Help your athletes stay in top shape all season long with the right conditioning methods in the preseason, offseason and inseason
- Develop explosiveness to improve forty-yard dash times and overall game speed
- Select the right equipment for your gym room—Mike gives his recommendations of the equipment you do and don’t need to improve strength, conditioning and overall athleticism
- Select the right exercises for your athletes—Learn to pick the exercises that have the biggest payoff and minimum risk
- Build safer, more effective programs for your athletes—Mike provides insight into how to program for speed, power, strength, hypertrophy, and more. He even gives sample programs and templates so you can see how he puts programs together, so you can go from there to build your own.
… and much more.
Whether you train elite athletes looking for an extra edge in performance without compromising safety, or everyday men and women looking to maximize their time in the gym so they can enjoy their life outside of it…
…If you’re a serious coach or trainer always looking for a better and safer way to train the people you work with, Advances in Functional Training is a “must have” resource to add to your library.
If you’re looking for the missing puzzle piece to help protect your clients from future injury and to eliminate the roadblocks that hold them back from greater performance, you’ll find Gray Cook’s Functional Movement System as detailed inside the Movement book invaluable.
Inside you’ll discover a system that not only helps you screen and assess a person’s movement quality, but it’s also a system that helps you identify the corrective strategies needed to help protect your clients from injury and help them move better.
If you’ve ever wanted to—
- understand why people get injured, and why their pain keeps returning
- improve your patient’s recovery process
- give people a strong foundation before loading them with weights
- eliminate training mistakes that delay results
- improve your client’s chances of making it through the athletic season without suffering a non-contact injury
- restore the quality life in people who have suffered in pain due to movement problems
- build more functional, longer lasting athletes
- avoid frustrations and improve patient outcomes when working with other healthcare and fitness professionals by learning a standardized language to communicate
… then Gray’s Functional Movement System outlined in Movement may be just what you need.
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