The squat is the ultimate leg-building exercise unlike any other. Correctly performed, squats dramatically increase leg strength and power – enhancing athletic performance1 while also stimulating massive muscle growth of the lower body. Because of the incredible muscle-building reputation associated with the squat, it has become widely regarded as a supreme test of lower-body strength.2 So considering the obvious importance of the squat, a more detailed understanding of certain critical, and often overlooked, elements of this movement will provide essential information that optimizes gains in strength and size while simultaneously reducing the likelihood of injury.
Correct Technique to Reduce Injury
When performed properly, squat-related injuries are pretty rare. Nevertheless, poor technique due to many different variables can produce injuries that typically involve the spine, hips and knees. For instance, flexible ankle joints are essential for proper balance when performing the squat. If ankle flexibility is too low, the heels have a tendency to rise off the floor during the downward movement of the squat. It has been shown that this can result in compensatory joint movement especially within the knee, potentially causing injury. A study by Bell et al.3 showed that during the squat, inflexible ankles with a 20 percent reduction in dorsiflexion (the ankle joint movement that brings the toes upward toward the shin) produced poor knee position, increasing the likelihood for knee injury. Of course, an improvement in ankle flexibility would be the most ideal solution. However, the use of a barbell plate placed under the heels should provide the necessary stability to mitigate injury to the knee until the desired ankle flexibility is achieved.
In addition to the negative influence that an inflexible ankle may have on the knee, forces that directly impact the knee while squatting have also been heavily investigated. These studies have shown that while most of the compressive forces imposed on the knee during the squat are tolerable to the knee joint4,5, one potentially negative shearing force increases considerably as the knees move past the toes during the downward phase of the squat – potentially causing knee damage.
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