Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chip Conrad, Gubernatrix, and the Squat

I was all ready to throw up another blog entry that I have drafted up here at the Bodyweight Files. I was just waiting to get some pictures taken. Then Gubernatrix threw up her latest blog entry and it just grabbed my attention. I was going to post a rely but realizing I had so much to say on the subject, I realized that I had a timely blog entry instead. Plus, this interesting article in T-Nation kind of dovetails nicely into the topic at hand. More on that later...

Now, my favorite feminine-fitness blogger is usually pretty lenient in her assessment in how far down someone should squat. I'm far more opinionated. I think that, regardless of the demands or rules of your sport, you should always squat all the way to the ground. Ass to grass. If you can, you should. If you can't, then you should be working to get yourself there.

If you can't do that, then there's a problem. I never thought about this until I read yet another, really good article about it in T-Nation a while back. We were all born capable of achieving ATG squatting. If you watch young children, most of them can do this without a problem. However, us Westerners and office dwellers i do so much sitting that we lose the ability to ATG squat. We're only capable of ass-parallel squats because that's pretty much the extent of what we need our hamstrings to do for us. Since when did muscle weakness, shortness and stiffness become acceptable? Maybe it was the iron gamers who realized that you can lift more weight in partial, parallel squat than an ATG squat. Oh, ego has always been a good reason to pass along bogus training information! To top it all off, nobody's ever picked up a date from having well-developed hamstrings. Wow, NICE HAMSTRINGS!!!

Why the focus on the hamstrings? Follow the muscle and remember, a muscle pulls its ends together or releases them in a controlled manner. So, if you're going to get your tush to the turf, your hamstrings are going to have to bring you down there. If you've got short and/or stiff hamstrings that never do anything but get you to the seat of the chair, then this is the reason why you can't ATG squat. Keep something else in mind too: your hamstrings are in the same line of fascia that your lower back muscles are in (FYI, superficial Back Line). They're tied together. If your hamstrings aren't right, then your lower back could suffer as a result. So, this goes beyond simple Squat PR lifts.

There's a lot of good advice out there on how to re-develop this all-important capability within your hamstrings, including in the articles that I hyper-linked to. The one that I liked best was to kick aside your chair now and then and drop down into this squat whenever possible. Or, get yourself as low as possible. Practice it more often. If you need to look at something at knee level, then this is the perfect opportunity. I did this at work when doing some of my rounds and it's really served me well. I could get down there but I couldn't stay there comfortably. Now, I can stay down there for prolonged periods of time, if needs be.

I'm sure that this will continue to spark hot debates by armchair quarterbacks and PR-obsessed squat freaks but as far as I'm concerned, there's not a whole lot or room for conversation. ATG isn't a gift that some are born with, it's something that we lose from inaction. That never flies with any other physical endeavor in the fitness world and squatting should be no exception. That's wrong and runs contrary to what fitness is all about.

6 comments: said...

Hey Justin,
Interesting thoughts on deep squatting. I used to go ATG all the time, but when I got into some decent weight, it was tough on the knees. Old schoolers swore by rock bottom squats, yet most "trainers" advise against it strongly. I think free weight or light ones are great, and if you can do big weight that way, even better.Do you do weighted squats at all that way?

Matt said...

thanks for the links to the article. folks like me who are slowly figuring their way around the fitness world might have (as I did) the wrong idea what "ass to the grass means". For me, the grass needs to be abour 5" long for my ass to touch. But I can easily achieve the posture shown of the third world squat. The real key is when your calf and hamstring are touching, you can't really go any lower, this it he max stretch possible in this position.

n8tive said...

I find myself every chance that i can doing atg squats. More for work and day to day things than anything else. While I am working on my equipment I will just work on it while I was in the ATG position.

Good article.

Wild Geese said...

Very good article.

And true, deep squats are something we we're born with. To eschew them is to go against nature.
However I would advise most to approach with caution, don't even think about squatting deep with any appreciable weight untill you can comfortably sit.
Mobility work is essential here, unloading the legs and taking them through deep squat moves such as the amasov squat where you hold onto something and lean back so the arms take the strain are a mainstay of several of my clients, all of whome are/were endurence types.

Pretty soon they all report fewer incidences of knee and back pain.

As for Christianiron's comment, it just shows what most trainers actually know......

Good blog, I'll be checking in again.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article! I regularly visit your blog for updates and I also routinely browse your old articles.

How do you get to the point where third-world body weight squats become comfortable? I need to exert a lot of effort just to maintain the position, and sometimes I need to grab on something to keep from falling. I'm also holding my breath when I do them and I have to remind myself to breathe.

That's probably why I have knee problems. How do you train your leg muscles to "support" your knee? If the joint stings, should I stop? or is there a way of "training" the joints themselves?


Justin_PS said...

Okay, I'm way too late in responding to all of the stuff that people have written here, which is all awesome, BTW.

One thing that I wish I had covered in the article is that I'm fully aware of the fact that most of us aren't going to be able to squat the same kind of weight ATG that we could Ass-parallel. I'm sure that we all can do far more partial-rep push-ups than we can full-range.

So, do we do the squat that gives us the most bragging rights or do we do the one that works our body properly and the way that it was meant to be moved?

Jack, it's hard for me to read your description and find out what your problem is but it seems like you're trying to hard to get too low, too fast. I had those kinds of trouble at first. I got more patient with the process. This isn't rocket science but it does take some time.