Other/Mixed Squat (atg vs. parallel), article, knee pain

Other strength modalities (e.g., Clubs), mixed strength modalities (e.g., combined kettlebell and barbell), other goals (flexibility)
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John Kowalski

Level 2 Valued Member
Hi, I'd like to know your opinions on this article: a#@-to-Grass v. Parallel Squats, I’ve been doing bw squats variations for a few years now and I’m experiencing a mild and chronic knee pain. I used to do them “atg”, my mobility and flexibilty were always great for squats, but the aches became irritating. I’m especially curious about your opinions on the altered gait thing, because I think I have it too. Does this guy have a clue? There are so many articles preaching about full range of motion squats... I always believed them. Thanks.
 

North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
I developed water on the knee (recurring scar tissue problems) in my left knee from to much high contact knee work on the heavy bag and wooden dummy.

If I squat to parallel my knee will swell up within a few days of training. Coming from a bodybuilding tradition I was always warned about squatting too low and all the problems I'd develop, but decide to try it anyway.

I have been squatting ATG for 9 years and no problems. IDK anything about an altered gait except between low squats and solid swing work my lower back feels great despite having fascia arthritis, and I walk with a lot more glute activation. It feels like I'm riding a horse sometimes compared to how I used to walk "falling forward" I expect this to keep my backside inflated well into my old age, certainly feels like I walk with more power. Again, IDK how much of this I can attribute to ATG squats, but all the parallel squats I used to do had no carry-over effect I ever noticed.

IMHO when the thighs are parallel to the floor there is max shear pressure on the joint, shear pressure decreases as you go lower or higher. Pausing at the point of max shear pressure makes no sense to me anymore and I can't train that way if I wanted to.

If going low causes problems I'd try parallel and vice versa. They both will build powerful leg muscles and tie in the posterior chain well enough either way. But...

If everything this article states is fact, pistols are a terrible exercise,and that's just the beginning.

There are several assertions that make no sense to me, more than I copied over below:

---Yes, it's true that the lifter won't be capable of handling as much weight during ATG squats. However, this is a byproduct of decreased motor unit recruitment and reduced muscle activation necessary for achieving such a collapsed position.---

------In reality, many Olympic weightlifters have flawed squat mechanics that often display a significant valgus knee collapse with an excessive eternally rotated foot/ankle complex, both of which are common by-products of reaching excessive squat depth.----

--------------However, the fact that deep squats have been shown to be safer and more effective than parallel squats can be attributed to one factor – faulty research and flawed application of practical training methods.--------------
 

John Kowalski

Level 2 Valued Member
Thanks for your feedback. Yeah, you are right about the pistols. Most coaches advise to go atg, or (in case of barbell squats) as low as your flexibility allows you to go without rounding the lower back. Maybe the author wanted to get attention by writing something controversial, but his article on push ups is good.
 

North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
Y'know one could argue this both ways I'm sure. T nation usually has pretty good articles.

I guess there might be some debate about what exactly is ATG as well. I go till I feel the back of my thighs in contact with my calves. There's plenty of daylight before I hit the turf.

However, I don't bounce or rebound as the author claims.

At the bottom the erectors and other core muscles have to kick in hard and admittedly the glutes don't power up till you get moving. I don't see where this hurts them or the knees. Imagine someone telling you not to let your arm go to a full extension on the pullup or bent row because the muscles were too elongated at the start.

End of day if you are experiencing pain and suspect it is from going too deep I'd experiment with not. The guidelines set by the author - crease of hips lower than top of knees is plenty deep to get a good response.

I've been coaching the wife and she has loss of cartilage in the knees. She doesn't want to go lower than parallel and I tell her that's plenty deep anyway (but should try to go deeper every so often).
 

rickyw

Level 7 Valued Member
There was quite a bit of faulty logic with that article, so much so I don't know that I have the time to break it all down.

"However, the fact that deep squats have been shown to be safer and more effective than parallel squats can be attributed to one factor – faulty research and flawed application of practical training methods"

The irony in the above quote is hilarious considering he doesn't even cite a single research paper to back up his claims. This is, in essence, his opinion. So, I'll share my opinion.

He makes the assumption that going ATG requires you to relax into it. I feel like that is easily fixed...don't relax into it.

Getting down ATG with a neutral spine really depends on the body type. Some of us can squat all the way down with a neutral spine. Others, due to our body proportions and the way our hips are formed, will not be able to go as deep with a neutral spine. So, if you can't go ATG w/ a neutral spine, only practice loaded squats to a depth you can maintain a neutral spine with. Heck my 3 year old has a great looking ATG squat, but his spine is definitely not in neutral at the bottom, it is slightly flexed. Poor kid, he must have my genes ;) So I partially agree with him in the sense that not everybody should be loading a squat ATG. But, I do think we should all "own a good deep knee bend", as Al Ciampa once said to me.

Let's take a look at another of his arguments: "The ideal squat ends around parallel. This puts sarcomeres in a position to produce the most tension and force." Okay, well, you could use his argument to justify not going through a complete range of motion with ANY exercise: bicep curls-nope I only do them halfway. Pullups? I only go partway down. A poor argument.

The assumption that we are doing more mobility work due to ATG squats is pretty weak. I think we are doing more mobility work because as a society we tend to sit around and stiffen up. Plus, there is a general growing interest in self care for aches and pains and a lot of physios talking about mobility work on the web.

I do agree with him that this whole "move like a baby" thing sometimes gets out of hand. A baby and an adult have different bodies. So, though we can learn and apply some valuable things from certain ways a baby moves, we shouldn't necessarily extrapolate that to mean adults should move the exact same way.

Another: "Performing mobility work to become more mobile seems logical. However, this can be the very factor that limits mobility. Overdoing it on mobility exercises, stretching, and soft tissue work can desensitize muscle spindles, allowing the lifter to perform movements such as squats with excessive ROM. This leads to localized chronic inflammation, which over time is the very thing that limits mobility and range of motion."

Some bold claims!! Now, to be fair, you can desensitize a muscle spindle by statically stretching it. But, this effect only lasts a few hours generally. This is why we no longer recommend static stretching before exercise or sport. It decreases power output. So static stretching is no good before activity but he doesn't say just static stretching he says mobility work, which is a much broader term. Would it lead to the effects he postulates of destabilizing joints enough to cause "chronic inflammation" and tighten people up? Far fetched. The only way I can see his argument really working is if you were to do enough mobility work (and it would have to be a lot) to make your ligaments and tissues truly lax (it's called plastic deformation), and then load your joints beyond your ability to stabilize, which yes, could cause some joint damage down the line. This is more of a concern in my mind with people who have various connective tissue diseases like Marfans or ehlers danlos syndrome, or females who have the dancer body type and are already super flexible but feel the need to do 2 hours of yoga a day but they cant do 5 one legged quarter squats with proper form.

To be fair: "The single biggest problem with a majority of squat patterns isn't mobility, but lack of stability, tightness, and motor control. As the lifter gains stability, his body naturally begins to perform the movement pattern with the ideal range of motion. In other words, gain stability first and optimal mobility naturally follows, not the other way around. The last thing you want to do is gain ROM that you can't stabilize."

That is a decent argument. I agree with a lot of it. It is also my opinion that mobility work is sometimes overrated (but define mobility work). People often lack motor control. A little straight mobility work (say stretching) can be good for people, but once they learn to move more and move better they just need to keep moving more and moving better, not doing 30 minutes of stretching. A hypomobility can lead to an instability elsewhere. And an instability can lead to a hypomobility elsewhere. It can happen both ways. And, not all mobility work is created equal. This is why moves like the prying goblet squat and arm bar are so great: it involves learning a motor pattern, stabilizing, and loosening up the hips or t spine dynamically all at the same time-multiple birds with one stone. This is also why hamstring stretching often doesn't work very well-tight hamstrings are often driven neurologically by a weak "core." So, you have to choose your "mobility" work wisely for it to be truly effective.

Well, I hope that made some sense. I did get a little carried away.
 
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Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
Well, this is as good a place as any to ask.... Can I get a form critique? Squat depth and any other aspects.

I don't have a lot of experience with barbell squats. Have done a few here and there over the past 3 years... my 1RM is 160 lb last July, but I don't think I could do that now. This is 115 lb yesterday and currently doing 3 sets of 5, hopefully increasing weight soon and increasing reps to 5 x 5 just to build leg strength and get some practice in, since I just signed up for the StrongFirst Barbell course April 30th.

As @Glen says, "tear my form to shreds" (with British accent ;))

Thank you for any inputs!

 

Steve W.

Level 7 Valued Member
@rickyw

+1 on your analysis of the article.

Squat depth is a topic to which a lot of people seem compelled to attach moral, political and quasi-religious dimensions that lead to distorted "logic," circular "reasoning," and tortured rationalization.
 
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North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
Well, this is as good a place as any to ask.... Can I get a form critique? Squat depth and any other aspects.

I don't have a lot of experience with barbell squats. Have done a few here and there over the past 3 years... my 1RM is 160 lb last July, but I don't think I could do that now. This is 115 lb yesterday and currently doing 3 sets of 5, hopefully increasing weight soon and increasing reps to 5 x 5 just to build leg strength and get some practice in, since I just signed up for the StrongFirst Barbell course April 30th.

As @Glen says, "tear my form to shreds" (with British accent ;))

Thank you for any inputs!


I could pick nits with a steel ruler and say your shoulders were lagging your hips by a slight bit on some of them, but then I'd have to whack myself with the same ruler as the difference is really too slight to mention.

They look good. I can't see from the clip, but the bar maybe could be a bit lower on the back/more compression of the shoulder blades to make the shelf. I also cannot tell from the clip but the bar should track through the arch of the foot, it might be a slight bit forward which would cause a lag in the link from hip to collarbone.

From what I can see looks solid and safe.
 

Steve W.

Level 7 Valued Member
@Anna C,
I'm definitely not a great barbell squat technician, but it looks solid to me. The biggest thing that stands out to me is you seem to be dropping a little too quickly/loosely/passively into the hole, so you're not as tight as you should be before you hit your sticking point on the way up.

I noticed the same things as @North Coast Miller. As you increase the weight be careful about shooting your hips up faster than your shoulders, and the bar might be a little far forward. A heeled WL-style shoe might help. Some people consider a heeled shoe a crutch, but IMO this is misguided.

Hope this helps.
 

Shahaf Levin

Level 5 Valued Member
Well, this is as good a place as any to ask.... Can I get a form critique? Squat depth and any other aspects.

I don't have a lot of experience with barbell squats. Have done a few here and there over the past 3 years... my 1RM is 160 lb last July, but I don't think I could do that now. This is 115 lb yesterday and currently doing 3 sets of 5, hopefully increasing weight soon and increasing reps to 5 x 5 just to build leg strength and get some practice in, since I just signed up for the StrongFirst Barbell course April 30th.

As @Glen says, "tear my form to shreds" (with British accent ;))

Thank you for any inputs!


It seems you leak a little bit of tension at the bottom, especially at the last rep (and not at all at rep 2). The reason I think so is that your hips start to raise before the bar does which indicate some tension leak in the hip (Becoming a Supple Leopard, Squat section, stripper squat fault) - this is usually solved by some more ER torque in the hips. As @North Coast Miller said, it is minor, and it is also could be bar placement as he suggested. Another thing I picked from Louie Simmons and can help here, is to initiate the way up by thinking of pushing the bar up with the back and letting the legs take care of themselves.

Important thing to note is that you keep great alignment throughout (super slight butt wink at the last rep if you insist), so this leak is just robbing you of power and confidence and does not put you even in the neighborhood of compromised position.
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
@North Coast Miller @Steve W. @Shahaf Levin , great analysis and feedback, thank you very much!
  • Shoulders lagging hips -- yes, something I have to watch with DKBFSQ as well.
  • Bar lower on the back -- hmm, hadn't thought too much about the bar placement. Compression of the shoulder blades to make the shelf... I like that. I will try a bit lower and see how that works. Bar tracking through the arch of the foot... a good thing to know.
  • Tension going down, and at the bottom, yes. Slight focus external rotation should help with the tension going down. So, like a goblet squat in that regard.
  • Pushing bar up with the back - I like that cue!
  • And weightlifting shoes... I will look into that as well.
And no one said it's "too deep", so I guess this confirms we don't concur with the "a#@-to-Grass v. Parallel Squats" article in the original post above. :)

Thanks again, I really appreciate your input.
 

North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
A couple of last thought as they come back to me.

I haven't done heavy back squats in years and when I did, they weren't even considered "heavy" in that gym (reps w/ 365lbs at 180lbs bw).

From the time you begin to set the bar till it drops back down on the rack your lats should be consciously activated, and fired maximally when you're going up. This keeps the shelf well formed (think of it as the palm of the hand that holds the bar, your hands are the fingers) and will all but prevent your hips from ascending faster than your shoulders.

Coming up, another focus tip is to imagine you are forcing yourself through the space in front of the bar. The bar is not on top of you, it is behind you and that's where it should stay. This will keep you driving with the collarbone.

All this back squat talk makes me want to pay for some gym time...
 

Matts

Level 3 Valued Member
@Anna C - Your squat form looks good. I think the basic things others have pointed out already are sometimes caused/exacerbated by a little too much weight a little too soon. You might try dropping the weight a good bit for a month or two and most of these issues will resolve by normal adaptation. The "shelf" that @North Coast Miller should also develop and become apparent with more time under bar. I was very frustrated when my first weightlifting coach made me stay with light weights for a long time (I was 14),but later found many benefits from it. Good luck with it!
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
Thank you @Matts that is probably an excellent idea, and that way I can get in more volume (and more practice), so maybe 5 x 5 at 95 lb or 105 lb for a couple of weeks. I can see what you mean, especially with the squat where it's important to build the strength IN the right movement pattern, not necessarily build the strength and try to correct the pattern while doing so.
 

Matts

Level 3 Valued Member
@Anna- go back to 95- squatters don't dink with little plates! haha
Your logic is correct- once you get the form nailed, you'll go up in weight quickly. I'm sure you have enough body awareness from your other work to feel when everything's firing in sync.
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
@Anna C, I would not keep as much lordosis as you are. Pressurize more at the top, flex your glutes, and aim for feeling really strong in your lumbar spine before you ever start to lower, then keep that spine all the way down and back up again.

There are many different ways to squat. Are you trying for a high bar squat or a powerlifter style? If you're trying for a high bar, I'd work on getting your hips more in between your feet and staying more upright at the bottom, and this will mean you'll be deeper as well. If you're trying for a powerlifter squat, you'll want the bar lower, and you'll probably find it works better with your feet wider and pointed more straight ahead, and your shins more vertical at the bottom, less depth, and you'll need a big focus on pushing your knees outward as you ascend. And you could also front squat, which I prefer to a high bar back squat.

-S-
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
Good observation, @Steve Freides, you're right I often have a bit too much lordosis on both squats and deadlifts. Better pressurization is the answer.

Hadn't really thought about which style to aim for, but right now I'm doing barbell squats once/week and KDBFSQ once/wk, so I'll go with your advice and do more of a powerlifter low-bar squat for these. Feet wider, less depth, push knees outward.... got it. I'll experiment carefully with foot position; my knees object to the feet being any different angle than they way my knees are moving.

Thank you for your inputs - much appreciated!
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
@Anna C, I don't recommend or not recommend any one style of squat. My personal preference is first for the front squat, second for the PL style back squat, and third for the high bar back squat, but that's just me. The PL style squat bears a lot resemblance to a deadlift - it's really a just-below-parallel hip hinge. The other kinds are more true to what I think of as a squatting movement pattern. The PL kind can have excellent carryover to your barbell deadlift, much more than the others, IMHO.

-S-
 

Matts

Level 3 Valued Member
In addition to what Steve said about tightening to protect the lumbar region, I'd recommend making this a habit as part of unracking the bar, and keep it up until it's racked again- not just during the squat itself. Some people get hurt while setting the bar, or on a light (for them) warmup set, when they're not focusing the the way they would for a work set. Focus and tension are good!
 
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