“The full squat is a perfectly natural position for the leg to occupy. That’s why there’s a joint in the middle of it, and why humans have been occupying this position, both unloaded and loaded, for millions of years. Much longer, in fact, than quasi-intellectual morons have been telling us that it’s “bad” for the knees.”  

 – Mark Rippetoe

We squat a LOT.  You’re probably sitting right now, and you squatted to get there; you’ll squat again to get up.  Sitting is just squattus interruptus.

The notion that squats are ‘bad for the knees’ is ridiculous.  There’s no more basic human movement than sitting down and standing back up again; it’s one of the first movements you learned as a child, and one of the last you’ll ever be able to do without help.  Should you find yourself suddenly unable to stand under your own power, you’ll despair.  And yet, there are those in the fitness community who think that ‘squatting is bad for you.’  

This misconception comes from the bodybuilding idea that squatting is a quadriceps exercise.  In reality, real squatting should begin and end with the hip joint.  Quadriceps fire to assist in the movement, but don’t do most of the work, according to electromyleogram data.  

See, back when, the thought process went like this: my thighs burn.  They must be weak.  If I raise my heels, they burn even more.  If I stay on my toes by putting a 2×4 under my heels, I must be using my quads more, and I’ll get better results, because more is better.

Of course, there was no study of kinesiology back then beyond “this is what I feel.”  Since the hip is such a strong joint, it’s rarely the limiting factor, and thus the quadriceps ‘burn’ early and often.

Proponents of high-volume quadriceps training for sport or life believe that quadriceps are the key to standing and acceleration under load.  This is akin to putting new brake pads on a car to make it go faster.  Hip extension is key to running, sport, lifting stuff off the ground, and jumping.  Quadriceps play an important role, but as a knee extensor, they’re largely overemphasized in most programs.  

SVHS 375 
We frequently see a lack of posterior-chain flexibility in new clients.  In our culture, we simply sit way too often, and don’t crouch – or squat – enough.  Look at this picture of kids in a marching band, instructed to squat: they’re over their toes, pressure at the knee, heels off the ground.  No wonder patellar tendonitis (inflammation of the tendon under the kneecap) is huge in young athletes!  

Squats should be done sitting back over the heels, shoulders pulled back, heels on the ground.  Not all coaches appreciate this fact, since the majority of information available in the mainstream media is geared to bodybuilding and, thus, irrelevant to athletes.  Above: the 1920s Brooklyn Dodgers developing some chronic knee issues.

Jeff squat
Surprisingly, powerlifting has a lower incidence of knee injury than most sports, and it has nothing to do with the fancy knee wraps.  Most knee injury occurs from either contact or rotation of the upper leg with the lower leg planted, NOT from linear movement.  Chronic issues can occur, however, when the posterior chain is undeveloped, or knee angle is exacerbated by squats performed incorrectly over a long period.

Like anything else, coaching is important.  Learn to squat properly (hip-driven, over the heels, and low) and then add weight.  You can even learn perfect technique – FREE – at our boot camps or ‘Sunday Morning Salvation’ groups.