Qualitative Analysis Of Squat Technique

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One of the most common and important exercises in athletic conditioning is the parallel squat. The squat is a functional exercise used for a wide variety of sports and other fitness objectives. The squat is usually performed as a free-weight exercise, making movement technique critical to overloading the target muscle groups and minimizing the risk of injury. Exacting technique in free-weight exercises is necessary because small variations allow other muscles to contribute to the lift, diminishing overload of the muscles or movements of interest. What are the main technique points of the squat often emphasized by strength and conditioning experts? Which biomechanical principles are most strongly related to those technique points?

Table 11.1 presents some of the typical technique points and cues for the parallel or front squat. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses in the biomechanical principles related to the eccentric phase of the squat illustrated in Figure 11.1. Again, assume the lifter has performed a couple of repetitions this way and you are confident you can identify stable strengths and weaknesses in application of the principles.

The lifter depicted in Figure 11.1 has very good squat technique, so there are virtually no weaknesses in application of bio-mechanical principles. His stance width

Table 11.1

Technique Pointsand Cues for the Squat

Technique points

Possible intervention cues


Extended/neural spine

Slow, smooth movement

Keep thighs above horizontal

Athletic position

Slight arch

Slow and smooth

Thighs parallel to the ground is appropriate, and there is no indication of difficulties in terms of control of the body or the bar (Balance). The images suggest that the motion was smooth, with simultaneous coordination. The timing information in the caption indicates the squat was slow, maximizing the time the muscles were stressed (Force-Time Principle). This lifter also keeps his spine straight with normal lordosis, so the spinal loads are primarily compression and are evenly applied across the disks. This more axial loading be tween the spinal segments is safest for the spine. Recent research has shown that spinal flexion reduces the extensor muscle component of force resisting anterior shear in the spine (McGill, Hughson, & Parks, 2000), making it more difficult for the muscles to stabilize the spine. Strength and conditioning coaches would also need to be familiar with research on the effect of weight belts in squats and other heavy lifting exercises.

Our lifter completed this exercise with the appropriate full Range of Motion, while not hyperflexing the knee. There is good trunk lean, which distributes the load on both the hip and knee extensors. The amount of trunk lean (hip flexion) in a squat is the primary factor in determining the distribution of joint moments that contribute to the exercise (Escamilla, 2001; Hay, Andrews, Vaughan, & Ueya, 1983; McLaughlin, Lardner, & Dillman, 1978). The more upright posture in the front squat decreases the hip and lumbar extensor torques, while increasing the knee extensor torques required in the exercise.

A large part of the strength and conditioning professional's job is motivating and monitoring athletes. The coach needs to look for clues to the athlete's effort or a change in their ability to continue training. Some of these judgments involve application of biomechanical principles. How an athlete's Balance changes over a practice or several sets of an exercise could give a strength coach clues about fatigue. Since the figure and introduction give no clues to this aspect of performance, the best intervention in this situation is to praise the good technique of the athlete and possibly provide encouragement to motivate them.

Strength and conditioning professionals also must integrate sport-specific training with other practice and competition. The next example will focus on the sport-specificity of a plyometric training exercise.

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