Squatting Techniques

One of the common myths in bodybuilding is that there is one single way to perform an exercise. The truth is that in order to force adaptation for maximum growth, you should vary the types of squats you perform. The two most commonly used squats are commonly referred to as the bodybuilding squat and the powerlifting squat. With the bodybuilding squat the back is kept as vertical as possible and there is considerable forward movement of the knees. In the powerlifting squat there is considerable forward bending from the waist so that there is minimal forward movement of the knees. Also, to use more weight, powerlifters often do not squat as deeply as bodybuilders.

Which style is best? Neither and both. The fields of biomechanics and neurophysiology tell us that even slight variations of movement (i.e., how deeply we squat, bend forward from the waist, and move the knees) stimulate different muscular recruitment patterns. Therefore, to stimulate the most motor units, and therefore simulate more growth, bodybuilders will benefit from occasionally squatting like powerlifters. Conversely, deep squats will help a powerlifter because they will increase development of the hamstrings and vastus medialis (the teardrop-shaped quadriceps muscle that crosses the knee), thereby increasing knee stability.

While the previous two types of squats are most common, there is a third squatting technique used by many bodybuilders, the "squat 'til you puke" method. There is no reason to believe that an intense squat workout will always result in vomiting, even though this is a bizarre belief that is often promoted in hardcore muscle magazines and is discussed in detail in Samuel Wilson Fussell's controversial book Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder. If vomiting is a problem, you can usually avoid it by not eating too close to a squat workout, and by not consuming slow-to-digest protein foods.

If squats are the mainstay of your leg training routine and you want to increase the recruitment of the vastus medialis muscle, you have the choice of:

a) Using a specific foot position b) Overloading the bottom position.

The foot position that will maximize the recruitment of the vastus medi-alis calls for placing the load over the arch of the foot. This is best accomplished by using a narrow stance and elevating and moving the center of gravity of the body forward by using something to elevate the heels.

Doing more work in the bottom position increases the recruitment of the vastus medialis muscle, since this muscle—along with the hamstrings—is responsible for getting you out of the bottom position.

Returning to the subject of developing the vastus medialis muscle, there are two techniques I use with Olympic athletes that you may want to use.

Cyclist squats: Olympic-level cyclists use these to attain world record performances in track events. In this variation of the back squat, you want to use a board to rest your heels on in a narrow stance (four to six inches between the heels). The best type of board for this is wedged, so that the pressure on your foot arch is minimal. The higher the wedge, the more recruitment of the vastus medialis you will get. You will also find that you will squat more upright when using the wedged board so less recruitment will occur in the gluteal muscles.

One-and-a-quarter squats: This exercise is one I've used in training Olympic skiers to offset their enormous development of the vastus lateralis muscles and prepare their knees for the lateral stress of skiing. Squat down for a five-second count until you hit bottom position, come up a quarter of the way at a slow and deliberate pace, go back down, then come up until your knees are just short of lockout. That one-and-a-quarter movement consists of one rep. Performing four to five sets of four to eight of the one-and-a-quarter reps will set your vastus medialis muscles to record growth.

Give a fair try to each one of these variations for six different leg workouts. I am sure you will be pleased with the results.

A Most bodybuilders prefer to use a narrow foot stance when squatting. This position enhances quadriceps development. (Thierry Pastel)

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