April 9th, 2009

Robertson Training Systems Newsletter 5.08

In This Issue:

– Mike hatez teh squatz!!!!

Mike hatez teh squatz!!!

Yes, the title is somewhat in jest, but I hope you will enjoy the quick turn-around on the newsletters!

Yesterday, an article ran on T-Nation titled Mythbusters.  Essentially, this was a 15 minute conversation I had with Nate Green, that got whittled down to a very short blurb in the article.

For the sake of brevity (and clarity), here’s my portion of the article:

Myth: You should go ass to grass on squats.
Mythbuster: Mike Robertson

If you have the mobility and stability of an Olympic weightlifter, and can go to full depth on the squat without rounding your lower back and tucking your pelvis, by all means go as deep as want. A tucked pelvis stretches the hell out of the ligaments in your lower back, and puts your spinal discs under more pressure.

If you’re part of the 99 percent of lifters who can’t squat that deep without distorting your spinal alignment, you have no business doing so.

Not at first, anyway.

Your body should have 3-D stability: in the back from spinal erectors, in the front from the rectus abdominis and external obliques, and on the sides from the obliques and quadratus lumborum. This will create a nice “weight belt” of support. Your anterior core has to be just as strong as your posterior core, or you’ll always put your lower back in jeopardy.

The only way you’re going to know how your squat stacks up is to film yourself. Head to the gym with a friend, set up a camera, and watch where your pelvis tucks under. For many, it’ll be right around the point at which your thighs are parallel to the floor.

Now that you’ve identified the problem, you need to tear down your foundation and re-groove your squat pattern. You need to learn how to move through your hips, load your hips, and limit motion in your lower back. I’ve found the best way to do this is to limit your squat depth and get into your “functional range.”

Look again at your video, and see exactly where your pelvis tucks. Set up a box that’s slightly above that level. At first you may not feel like you’re getting low enough, but this is an important time to keep your ego in check and focus on having perfect squat form within that range.

You should also start aggressively foam rolling, focusing on your glutes, tensor fasciae latae (a strip of muscle on the front of your hip, in between your hip flexors and your gluteus medius), IT band (the sheath of connective tissue on the outside of your thigh), and quads. You also want to do some serious core work, including dead bugs and the other exercises I described here , along with ab-wheel rollouts and variations described by Mike Boyle here.

Once you’re taking care of all of the above, start lowering the box over the next few weeks or months. But don’t rush it. Go for the smallest increments your gym equipment will allow, even if it’s just an inch or two at a time. Keep going until you can get as deep as you want without tucking your pelvis. It takes a while to get used to, but when you finish the process, your squat will be a lot stronger.

And if you still want to continue to load your legs while you’re re-grooving your squat pattern, make sure to do some single leg work like lunges and split squats, along with a few exercises that allow you to go heavy and require less hip mobility, like trap-bar deadlifts and rack pulls.

Now I feel like I was pretty straight-forward here; if you can’t squat deep with proper techinque don’t do it!  That is simple, right?

Regardless, some of the ensuing responses in the discussion got a little snarky.  So rather than adding fuel to the fire in the discussion thread, I figured I’d post some of the responses here, and use it as a teaching tool for all my subscribers.

Here goes:

Response #1 –

My point here is do we really need more lifters coming up with excuses to not do squats to full depth? Or to be scared of doing so? I didn’t require all of this foam-rolling and pain-in-the-ass preparatory work and I’m skeptical that most other people do.

My response:

No, I’m not telling people that they should squat shallow – I’m still a powerlifter at heart, damnit!

What I am saying is that if you can’t do it with proper technique, then you need to back off and work on technique until you can squat to a depth you’re comfortable with.  That’s exactly why I outlined ways to get you squatting deeper, safely and effectively.

As well, I’m not trying to scare anyone – I’m only giving my opinion on the topic.  I’ve seen enough injured, beat-up people to last a lifetime, so feel free to take my advice or leave it.  Just understand that I do have a little bit of experience in this regard.  I’m also going to blog about this a little later today, too. Stay tuned!

Response #2 –

Why do I get the feeling almost every article on here posted recently puts down full squats and olympic lifting?

While I can’t comment on the Olympic lifting discussion, I can comment on the squats.

Where did I put down squats?  I’ve never said that squatting is a bad exercise, or that proper squatting alone will get you injured.  What I did say, however, is that if you can’t do the exercise properly, it can get you injured!

Think about it like this – if someone can’t perform a deadlift without rounding their back, would you still have them deadlift?

Now I understand the differenences between having the bar on your back versus in your hands, but think about what’s going on at the lumbar spine each and every time you load it with flexion.  In case you were wondering, loaded spinal flexion is probably the #1 reason people herniate discs in their lower back.

So if you want my position statement on squats, here it is:

1 – I love squats.  Virtually everyone who comes into my gym wlll do some sort of squatting variation (plate, front, back, overhead, safety bar, etc.).

2 – Range of motion is client specific.  Saying the all of your clients go ass to grass shows me that either:

* You have the most mobile, healthy clients on the face of the planet (please note my heavy use of sarcasm here)

* You have no clue what ass-to-grass is, or

* You don’t understand biomechanics and the long-term ramifications of poor movement quality

3a – I want every client to go as deep as they can without losing optimal alignment.

3b – I want every client to go as deep as they can without having any pain.  Someone may have the mobility/stability to squat deep, but if they have no knee cartilage, why would I risk further damage?

As you can see, it’s NEVER black and white.  My goal as a coach/trainer is to maximize benefits while minimizing costs for all of my clients.

In case you missed it, I’ve probably written half a dozen articles on squats.  Be sure to visit my Articles page to check them out!

Until next time, good luck and good squatting!

Stay strong



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