What is the purpose of a squat? Is it to just squat, to lift maximal loads, to squat because it is a "great exercise", or do you want to challenge specific muscles? Another question worth asking is do you actually need to squat to achieve your exercise goal? If you're a competitive powerlifter then you probably do. If you're simply looking to improve your physique then maybe not.... maybe you can incorporate other exercises into your regime to achieve the same goals. If you have broken parts and are aren't able to elicit a contraction in one of the key muscles for executing a squat, then it might be worth addressing that before putting a bar on your back.
Something that is commonly missed with exercises is understanding how to bias them towards achieving a specific response or adaptation.
If you do decide to squat, then here's two (of many) ways you can possibly manipulate it to focus more on your exercise goal:
Knee Extensor Focus
If the goal is to develop strength in the knee extensor muscles (quadriceps group), then you might adapt your squat execution to increase the moment arm to the knee joint. This can be done by staying more upright and aiming to push the knees forward over the toes. By pushing the knees forward and staying more upright, we've increased the moment arm to the knee joint, with the aim of biasing more of the musculature of the knee extensors.
Hip Extensor Focus
If your goal is to challenge and create adaptation in your hip extensor musculature (glutes etc), then you might want to adapt your squat by increasing the moment arm to the hip joint. By pushing the hips back and increasing the distance between the line of force and the hip joint, we can create a greater challenge on the glutes and hamstrings relative to the quads. As you can see, simply squatting ass to grass might not end up achieving this, depending on the individuals body structure and capabilities.
So we have 2 squats with fairly different outcomes in terms of choreography and muscular challenge. Understanding how to manipulate exercise to challenge specific musculature can be extremely beneficial in both personal training and rehabilitation. This is something that is taught in more detail in the Exercise Mechanics Specialist Certification.
There is a lot of information online regarding 'core' exercises and trainers talking about 'core' as though it is the most important thing to be concerned about. Rarely does someone ask what the core is. I have attended group fitness classes, listened to personal trainers and participated in workshops where people are nodding along to someone discussing and demonstrating a variety of exercises reminding everyone to activate their core without one person seeking to clarify what 'core' even means and how it is relevant.
Saying core is about as vague as saying the leg. Can you do a leg exercise? Well yes, but it tells you nothing about which part of the leg you are training. A core exercise is similar, it tells you nothing about which part you are training. If you have been told you have a weak core the first question you need to ask is which part. Another problem is if you look online or ask several people to define the core you typically get a variety of answers as there is no defined answer. Does it include shoulders? Glutes and hamstrings? Pelvic floor muscles? Muscles between ribs? Back, abdominals, chest, hip flexors? We have found these answers and some other quite bizarre examples of what the core is given by different people.
All these are very different so can you see the confusion when someone says activate 'core' or we are doing a 'core' exercise it is such a broad and varied term that it seems questionable. You can't be training everything in the core at once. It is not possible to train the front, back, sides, above, below all in a single exercise. Now you have some people coming away from a trainer, physio, chiro or massage with a diagnosed weak core you need to train. If they can't be specific then you might want to thank them for their time and try seeing someone else.
As an alternative it might be worth thinking about ways to break down "core" training into more focused challenges, such that your client knows exactly what they need to be training. As a trainer you can give examples and cues to teach clients how to appropriately brace themselves during exercises. You can also break down different motions through the trunk and be precise about which muscles we are seeking to strengthen.
Core and many other misused words are discussed in great detail within our Exercise Lab courses. The purpose is to become more professional in our skills and communication. Instead of copying the latest cool fad terms in the fitness industry, you will stand out as being the professional who can help educate others in a logical and more meaningful way. Come along to one of our free workshops or contact us for more information.
The ankle is of the most common sites for injury yet we often neglect to provide specific strength training to prevent injuries occurring here. As trainers, strength coaches, or gym users, we typically focus on the more aesthetic side of training (abs, chest, arms, butt), on the powerlifting/high-intensity side (maximal lifts, big muscle groups, glutes, quads, back, shoulders) or a non-specific movement base (yoga, animal flow, functional).
With the foot and ankle being the base of support for most exercises, sports, and activities, perhaps we should invest some time to strengthen this area as well. An injured or weaker ankle means less stability, poorer balance, and less strength to perform other exercises or sports.
Before considering orthotics, braces, or strapping, perhaps you should consider exercising and building strength so you don't need external support. A wheelchair is not the first option to consider if you have weaker glutes right? So why do we jump straight to orthotics or strapping for ankles and not try to strengthen them first?
At The Exercise Lab, we educate our clients and students on how to effectively strengthen every part of their body in a variety of ways. With the ankle, there are a lot of directions of movement to control. This provides many opportunities to exercise in each of those directions and positions which will benefit you in a variety of ways such as:
Our Exercise Lab courses provide you with the ability to look at each joint and consider all the possibilities to strengthen those areas. We demonstrate how the addition of training commonly ignored areas can significantly help improve other exercises, movements and performance relating to a specific sport or activity.
Here in this picture is an example of how we can start to look at strengthening the ankle. If you try performing this exercise, also feel the amount of control that is required to stabilise the hip and muscles needed to control knee rotation. Could strengthening the ankle also help strengthen the muscles required to prevent injuring your ACL? Do your hamstrings have a role in controlling this movement too? It requires a lot of control, strength and stability in numerous joints to keep everything else still while moving a single joint under load.
The Exercise Lab is about constantly questioning and challenging what we do to discover more effective ways to improve the results for our clients. If you are interested in learning, questioning, and exploring how to train every body part, not just the easiest or most popular areas, please get in touch to find out about our courses or book in for a session to experience the difference first hand.