As the amazing Christmas season is upon us and 2013 is coming to a close, I have found myself constantly looking back on my past year (9 months actually) of competitive exercise. Naturally, as with anything that you practice diligently over an extended period of time, I have made some advances in the sport both from a performance standpoint as well as a standpoint of understanding what is important to this sport. I often get asked what I feel helped me become a better overall exerciser in these past 9 months. My answer is ALWAYS “My squats got better”.
As a basketball player with “bad knees” – i.e. a reconstructed ACL and a non-existing meniscus, (that was removed when I was 18 after I tore it to pieces), I had been told over and over again “Don’t Squat! Especially not below parallel!”. How many of us have heard that before? Outside of the CrossFit world we have been made to believe that squats are evil and harmful. In fact, because of my less than perfect knee, I was not allowed to squat with my team in college – I was put on the leg press most days. Apparently, that was “better”. Looking back, I now understand that this was just an evil cycle. I wasn’t squatting, so my musculature supporting my knee and hip joints weren’t getting stronger, so my knees would become aggravated easily whenever I played, so my knees constantly hurt, so I wasn’t allowed to squat, and so on and so on… you get the idea. I actually decided to hang up my basketball sneakers after college because I did not want to be in pain any longer. Funny, I WAS NOT SQUATTING.
Then I was introduced to CrossFit and competitive exercise. For months, everyone who knew me would always ask “But I don’t understand, your knees don’t hurt?! There is so much squatting!”. Truth was 1) from day 1 CrossFit never bothered my knees and 2) I was an awful squatter and had no idea how much I needed to improve there. In all honesty, I didn’t know or understand how weak of a squatter I was nor did I appreciate how important it was to the sport - and to life in general for that matter. It took a great coach, some self-education by reading nerdy exercise literature, and a willingness to try anything to help me improve, to really get it. I checked my ego, learned to squat the proper way, came back on all my weights (which were not very high to begin with), and worked on improving my squat form and frequency for the sake of my competitive exercise career.
Building strength in the squat is the one of the most beneficial things that a person can do for themselves physically. These squats need to be of the correct kind. The kind we see weightlifters and babies (yes, drop something and ask a baby to pick it up) perform daily. This can not be confused with the movement we see running rampant in globo gyms everywhere where the individual is fully on their toes, glutes totally deactivated, taking 30 seconds to descend and only making it to 3 inches above parallel before returning up. Whenever I see that I cannot help but think of how high the toilet in their house must be for them to be able to perform their daily business.
Being able to squat with an upright torso, core and lumbar engaged, weight on the heels, ballistically moving out of the bottom, over and over and over again under load, is an invaluable skill to have in this sport (and in life). Not only will this help with the obvious such as workouts with front squats and back squats – but how about thrusters, wall balls, cleans, snatches, not to mention the hip power that is developed through squatting to aid in movements like box jumps, kipping pull-ups, ring dips, muscle ups and kipping HSPU. I explain this numerous times to my athletes looking to compete in the sport. I encourage them to get on a consistent squatting program and really dedicate some time to that aspect of their exercise regiment. However, I also explain this to my every day gym members who are just trying to live better and get through life more comfortably. To me, there is nothing more sad than seeing a person (who is not 90+) need assistance to sit down in a chair, or struggle to pick something up off the ground. Being a professional in this field, I understand that is able to be avoided with the use of a proper exercise program i.e. one that incorporates squats, often. Yes, squats are the answer to everything. Yes, squats should always be below parallel. Yes, squats make you a better person in general. And yes, squats will produce that mighty fine booty you are on a lifetime hunt for. Take away point of the post… SQUAT – low – fast – heavy – and often.
The new year is approaching quickly meaning the 2014 pre season is going to be upon us soon – like next week. The transition from “off season” to “pre season” was always an exciting one for me because it is the sign of new beginnings and an opportunity to begin to display all the hard work I put in during the off season. It often comes with expectations, and I’m the kind of athlete to get a chip on my shoulder from those expectations. Needless to say, I’m “chompin’ at the bit” (yes, another KK reference) to get moving. I will go into greater detail in my next post about what this all means exactly. Until then, happy squatting!