6 myths about Squats
As those of you who follow this site know, I’m a big fan of squats. I truly believe that they have a part to play in everyones routines, regardless of your goals.
I don’t mean everyone should be low-bar powerlifting as much as they can handle but the movement is such a fundamental ingredient of having a healthy and strong body it should never be left out.
Even if you’re a gymnast or a climber who wants to keep their lower body as light as possible the core strength, coordination and balance you can develop from performing good, deep, squats is worth the risk of putting on a little bit of leg muscle.
Which you won’t ‘accidentally’ do anyway, since muscle isn’t built overnight.
You might think that I love to squat. I don’t actually; I prefer the deadlift anyday. But the reason I wax lyrical about it so much is because despite it being so essential, you hardly see it being done at all in most gyms, let alone properly.
I would say that in my current gym I’m probably one of 2 or 3 people who regularly and properly squats. Which is great for us, because the squat rack is pretty much always available.
I don’t love them but I do them because I know they are crucial. Over the years however I seem to always get the same questions or comments whenever I’m squatting. With this in mind I thought I’d list out some of the common misconceptions of this exercise and hopefully persuade those sceptics out there to get under the bar, for their own sakes.
Myth #1- Squats are bad for your back
This is easily the number one thing people say to me, especially because I generally don’t squat with a belt.
The only reason why they could do more harm than good for you is if you have a pre-existing spine condition (like excessive curvature) or have seriously injured your spine. For a regular healthy person NOT squatting regularly is arguably going to cause more damage long-term to your back health.
It’s because the ability to do a strong, fluid and deep squat is an indicator of healthy joints, flexibility and coordination.
It’s a fundamental human movement that has been essential to our survival and evolution, which is pretty sadly being rapidly lost to most people over the age of 18 once they start sitting around in chairs all day.
The key is to learn and practice good form. Keep your core and lower back braced, chest up, shoulders back. Get someone who knows what they’re doing to look at your form.
Then practice, practice practice until you can do it without thinking. Then start adding resistance. If you have a weakness it’ll never become a strength unless you focus on it. Squatting regularly will help your back, not damage it.
Myth #2- Everyone should squat the same
That being said, not everyone is naturally built for squatting.
The best build is to be not too tall, have short upper legs (femurs) and a long torso, relative to your overall height.
These are the best ‘levers’ to squat with. It’s because with short upper legs and a long upper body you can maintain an upright torso in the deep position much more easily. If your short, you also have much less distance to move your bodyweight/the bar.
If you’re tall, with long relative femurs and a short torso you’re going to be at a mechanical disadvantage, and you’ll find that you’ll be leaning over a lot more as you go down, and struggle with the depth.
This doesn’t mean you get a free pass however; just work on adapting the movement so it’s best suited for you.
For example, really work on hamstring, calf and ankle mobility and flexibility to give yourself the best chance of going deep. Invest in some Olympic weightlifting shoes with a high heel that will allow you to keep your torso more upright.
Related article: 8 gym equipment items you (might) need
You’ll never be as good at squatting as the short, short limbed guys. But hey, tall people get enough breaks in life already, I’m sure you can deal with that.
The way you squat safely is going to come down to your own leverages and body type. You may have to try out different stance widths, bar positioning or work harder on flexibility.
The important thing is to make sure you keep a neutral (flat) spine, and braced core throughout the movement, and go to depth (at least so your thighs are parallel). But everyone gets there a little differently.
Myth #3- Your knees shouldn’t go past your toes
Ok, so this one isn’t entirely not true. But again, it depends on your particular build and leverages.
If you are tall and have long femurs keeping your knees from not going past your toes while getting your thighs parallel withe ground is going to be basically impossible without leaning forward a lot and putting a lot of pressure on your lower back.
Obviously you don’t want your knees wandering way past your toes because then you are putting a lot of stress on the joint. But there is a position in between where if your leverages dictate it you can allow your knees to go past your toes IF you don’t have an ideal squatting build.
Again, enlist the help of someone who knows what they are looking at to critique you from the side to find the best position for your particular eccentricities.
Myth #4- Partial squats have a place in your program
Whenever I advocate the need to do full, deep squats (so thighs are at least parallel with the ground) I sometimes get the response that partial squats are in fact a valid and useful training method, in particular to target the quad (front of the thigh).
This is simply not the case, for two reasons.
a) The quad muscle is not generally a weak point. If you ask the average office worker to squat down, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that they won’t be able to get much lower than halfway down. That’s because they have poor flexibility and under-development in the hips and the hamstrings (back of the legs).
But standing up from a chair, or straightening their legs, no problem. That’s the function of the quad, which is not understrength in most people.
‘Partial’ squats are common in the gym because most people are ego lifting and using too much weight. Put these two things together and you can see that far from ever needing to be targeted, the strength of the quad is likely to be creating an imbalance in most peoples legs.
Further if you actually want the quad to work harder, you should squat deep. If you don’t believe me, try bodysquatting a quarter of the way down and then all the way down. Which one feels harder?
b) You put your knees more at risk with partial squats. Without getting too technical, the support of your fragile knee-joint when squatting basically comes from the quad pulling on the top side and the hamstring on the bottom.
As you squat closer to parallel, you’ll feel your hamstring stretch this is why a typical sedentary person can’t get into a deep position as their hamstrings are too tight from sitting all the time.
You can only benefit from this stretch-and-support of the knee-joint as you get towards parallel with your thigh. If you don’t get low enough then it is just your quad pulling on the top and the force of the weight going through your knee. Do this for long enough, with enough weight and your knees can start to complain.
Therefore for knee health it is in fact much better to squat deep, contrary to the myth that partial squats are better for them.
As with all exercise, full range of motion is not only what will keep you healthy, but will yield the best results because you’re working the muscles to their full extent.
Myth #5- Doing squats releases more natural growth hormone, which helps you build your upper body
This is something I used to believe and repeat, when I still thought fitness companies had my best interests at heart.
If you’re into lifting you have probably heard this from somewhere- deadlifts and squats are great because performing them induces the release of growth hormone in your body, which in turn can help your upper body grow.
People say stuff like this because it helps them justify their natural claims, and in turn get you to believe in their ‘natural’ results and buy their routines and products.
A bodybuilder who to the trained eye is clearly on boatloads of drugs can point to his “heavy squat and deadlift routine coupled with supplementation” that got his results through the release of more growth hormone or whatever.
Bullshit. They’re the best exercises for sure, but they’re not going to replace injecting synthetic hormones. Squats can help somewhat in your back development, but generally if you want to build your upper body, focus on training your upper body.
Myth #6- I’ll get a big ass from squatting heavy
I can’t emphasis it enough: if you want to get results from lifting weights, you have to keep challenging your body, in the 8-15 rep range.
There is no such thing as toning a muscle. You have to build it and develop it, and cut bodyfat to achieve ‘tone’.
So if you want the toned legs and tight butt you need to be squatting heavy, not air squatting 100 times a day.
Don’t worry about anything growing ‘too’ big: despite the impression that Fitness Misdirection Weekly tells you muscle growth is not fast, and it is very limited.
It is also very much dictated by genetics. Unless you have a very large posterior naturally you won’t be morphing into someone with one by doing some heavy squats. Instead you just develop the muscle to its potential, meaning that if you have low enough bodyfat, it will look toned (weight lifting will also help you lose the fat).
So I hope I have cleared up a few things with this article regarding the ‘King of Exercises’.
They really are one of the most important parts to your training regime and will help you get to what ever goal you have in mind- they can help you run faster, jump higher, have better posture, improve flexibility, look toned, look better in shorts, whatever.
Don’t be afraid of them and you will be rewarded.
There’s a correlation between the fact that most gym goers don’t make any progress and the fact that the squat rack is either non-existent or dusty in most gyms. Go figure.