Often times, intelligent trainers and coaches get into the habit of not giving every exercise the benefit of the doubt.
Good knowledge of the body and muscular system, combined with an understanding of what’s “functional” in the weight room can influence an exclusionary approach to exercise variations or ideas.
You’ve heard me talk about blanket cues. Knowing that there’s a time and place to let your knees pass your toes during a leg dominant exercise, for example, is an important thing to realize when advancing your practical training knowledge. When it comes to specific exercises in question, coaches will often scoff at certain choices, like the use of the leg press, smith machine, or stability ball. For the application of things like these, my answer is quite the same:
If you’re strictly after foundational strength training, then there are some methods and implements that will work better than others, and it’s safe to say that there are far fewer people after that goal than there really should be. Making muscles stronger in no way negatively affects the performance or efficiency of any activity in the world – be it something mundane or a serious sport.
One exercise I notice is put under particular scrutiny is that of the heels elevated squat. This is an exercise I use personally and with my clients, and I enjoy doing so. Many trainers call it “cheating”, or a “hack” version of the real thing, as elevated heels often can help immobile or inflexible lifters achieve a much greater range of motion that more closely simulates what most would consider full depth. There are a few things to consider before writing this move off as a no-go. In my opinion, it’s a very useful tool for certain reasons.
Elevating the heels in a squat encourages deeper depth, a forward knee tracking, and resultantly, much more quadriceps stimulation. People looking for more development of the front of their thigh can benefit from making this modification. Cyclist Squats are a movement that use very elevated heels and a relatively narrow stance; that zeroes in on the quads that much more and can do plenty to strengthen the VMOs more effectively, and help stabilize the entire knee capsule.
I’ll digress for a second to bring up a term that I always used as much as the next guy: “Squat like a baby”. There are countless pictures on the internet like the one you see here, with babies demonstrating squat mechanics and geometry that many Olympic lifters would covet. Granted, the flexibility of a baby is perfect – they haven’t gotten the chance to develop tight muscles or bilateral imbalances, so that flexibility and mobility should indeed be something we as lifters strive to regain. However, as my man Nick Tumminello pointed out in a very informative blog article (check it out in the link at the bottom of this page) of his, babies may be more flexible – there’s nothing to discount that – however, their skeletal frame is much more conducive to a deep, full range squat due to their phase of development. Their extremities in comparison to those of a grown adult are much shorter when compared to their head and torso size. We’ve all met people with long torsos who can squat ATG like it’s going out of style. This is very important and needs to be taken into consideration. Plus, babies are even more flexible because their bones haven’t fully developed, leaving certain articulations without full fusion until the child grows older. The bones themselves also have a measure of flexibility to them.
Now, going back to the heels elevated squat for a healthy adult, think about the difficulty a long legged lifter with a short torso would have performing a back squat for full ROM, without having to lean way over to involve his lower back, to keep the bar in proper line. For a guy like this, it takes that much more flexibility and mobility at the ankle, knee, and hip to make this work, and correct this propensity. Not only have I personally dealt with dozens of clients to whom this applies, but I’m a walking example of that very nightmare that plagued my squatting progress for years when I started out.
See, not having the flexibility is one thing. I’ll state this again: A lifter should always strive to achieve a full range of motion, and acquire the flexibility or mobility needed in order to make it happen if there’s a deficiency. But sometimes your body’s frame is just plain unforgiving, and regardless of how much mobility you’ve got, back squats will be an issue. Elevating the heels can reset the pelvic position and rebalance the entire body, so that you can squat deeper with a loaded barbell.
OLYMPIC LIFTERS DO IT!
You may have read that subheading and frenetically (and without success) tried to find a video that shows an Olympic weightlifter unracking a heavy bar, and slowly backing his way up onto a pair of 5 or 10 pound plates to mount his heels.
The truth is, he wouldn’t need to.
Have you ever looked at weightlifting shoes?
They provide much more than the ankle stability that they boast. They also have a significant elevation in the heel, and it’s for the very same reasons that I’ve listed above. In Olympic lifting, a vertical torso is everything, and for most people, elevating the heels is the only way to ensure that factor remains as close to constant as possible. Catching a clean or snatch would be much more difficult if the torso was angled too far forward.
Wrap – Up
The moral of the story here is to not jump on the bandwagon. I know, it’s becoming a central theme of this blog, but it’s worth bringing up. Just because a certain exercise or technique is censured by the masses, it doesn’t mean it’s not prudent to give that same exercise or technique your own review, analysis, application, and possibly even testing before rendering your final judgement. It’s one of the few ways out there to stop the countless fitness myths.
Here’s a link to Nick Tumminello’s article, mentioned in the body of this post.http://nicktumminello.com/2012/12/squat-like-a-baby-7-reasons-this-a-ridiculous-myth/