In bodybuilding, the squat is known as the "king" of all exercises. The squat is a complex action that will develop strength and power through your body's core. The barbell squat targets the quadriceps muscles, located on top of the thigh; the gluteal muscles, located in the buttocks and hip area; the lower back and the hamstring muscles. The squat movement, without weight or resistance, is a primal movement pattern still used by indigenous peoples while cooking, eating, etc. The controversy over squats arises from their possible link to knee damage, and whether those with knee damage should attempt or continue the exercise.
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Squats and Injury
According to Dr. Fred Hatfield, also known as "Dr. Squat," the squat exercise can cause knee damage. Hatfield contends that the benefits of doing squats properly outweigh the potential for injury. While knee problems are common in sports, squatting isn't necessarily the reason. Among bodybuilders, however, squatting is the overwhelming factor. Dr. Hatfield contends that utilizing proper squat techniques and form will reduce or prevent many common knee problems associated with the exercise. The strengthening of the muscles associated with the movement may even provide a benefit to those who currently have knee problems or injuries.
Anatomy of the Knee
Understanding the function and action of the knee joint will help you avoid improper and unnatural movements. The knee is a hinge joint, similar to a common door hinge, but with the ability to be locked at full extension. Unlike the door hinge, which has a fixed axis, the knee glides and rotates to create a constantly changing axis. The knee is composed of bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, adipose tissue, articular cartilage and the bursa.
It is essential that you use the proper gear when including the squat in your exercise routine. Specialized shoes, with deep solid heel cups and ample arch support, are available for weightlifters. Tennis shoes or cross trainers may not offer the necessary transverse stability, allowing your feet to pronate -- forcing your knees inward and putting strain on ligaments and cartilage.
You should also utilize knee wraps when squatting heavy weights, generally 80 to 85 percent of your maximum. The best knee wraps are of heavier material and at least 19 to 20 feet in length in order to provide proper stability. The wraps should be tight around the shin, looser over the knee joint itself, and then tighter around the thigh.
You should begin with your feet approximately shoulder width apart, toes turned slightly outward. As you descend in the squat, resist the tendency to allow your knees to extend beyond your feet -- putting excess stress on the patellar tendon. Keep your knees pointed in the same direction as your feet during the full range of the exercise, resisting the tendency to turn your knees during the ascent.