Let's Talk About Squats
Updated: Mar 21, 2022
Okay so we know that strength training can be super beneficial to the artistic athlete for a variety of reasons, including:
Increased strength and power, leading to improved performance
Cross training can decrease the monotony of training, decreasing risk for burnout
We’ve started going through different elements of a strength program, like periodization and deadlifts, and their specific benefits for the artistic athlete. So let’s keep it going and talk about another one of our basic lifts and movement patterns: the squat!
What’s A Squat?
Squatting combines flexion of the hips and knees to lower the body, then extending at those same joint to come back to a straight position. This is how we get in and out of a chair or on and off the toilet, it is how we bend to the floor to pick something up, and it is the basis of all our jumps, and landings.
Why A Squat?
Okay, so squats are important in many of the things we do, both in and out if sport, therefore it makes sense to be strong in them.
Let’s get into this a little more: What exactly does increased squat strength do for us?
First off, squats work our glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. Even the core is working in a squat to help maintain stability of the spine and pelvis. These are the muscles we use in any jumping and/or landing skill, and any other skill that requires force to either be created by or attenuated by the lower body.
Strength allows us to create and absorb the forces needed in jumps, and landings, but also to do it in a mechanically favourable and efficient way. We can use squats to ingrain the technique of, and gain strength in, proper lower limb alignment.
A properly aligned lower limb means that the muscles are in the best position to create and absorb force. This decreases the amount of force placed through the joints, especially the ligaments (what attaches bone to bone) and other non-contractile tissues. As well, it makes it easier for the muscles to work together to generate force.
When we are out of alignment, some muscles will be sitting in a more lengthened or shortened position than their normal, and the joints will be sitting in an uneven position. This will make it harder for them to create force, and other muscles will have to work harder to try to compensate to create the same amount of force that a properly aligned limb would. This can lead to overuse injuries in the compensating muscle, and acute injuries in the weaker muscle. Being able to find and maintain a position of proper alignment will protect us in take offs and landings and allow us to be better able to generate force.
Landing forces can be up to 40x our body weight! That makes squatting just 1-2x our body weight not seem like too crazy an ask anymore. Adding loaded squats (performed with proper technique and coaching!) into our strength training routine prepares the body to be able to handle these forces during training, teaches the body how to attenuate these forces, and how to do so with the safest and most efficient mechanics.
Lastly, a base of strength allows us to develop power. Power is the force developed over an amount of time, and it is what gives us height, length, and torque needed for our leaps and tumbling. Squatting to increase strength will allow for better ability to develop power. We can also vary the tempo of squats to help increase our ability for power development, but we’ll get into that a little later.
Follow this link to download your free Periodization Template for the Artistic Athlete, a printable resource to help you plan your training to prioritize recovery and optimize performance!
So How Do We Squat?
Take a look at this video here. Now, there are MANY squatting variations and we can use them to match our training goals. What were going to focus on in this how to is the basic does and don'ts of the motion.
With feet apart (at least shoulder width), I’m going to drive my hips back, and bend my knees to lower my body towards the floor, keeping my back straight as I lower down and push back up.
We can manipulate the bias towards using more glutes or more quads in our squat by making it more knee or more hip dominant. The more knee dominant my squat (chest higher, bar on the front) the more bias there will be to the quads; the more hip dominant (chest more forward, bar on the back), the more bias there will be to the glutes, but regardless, both are working hard through either motion.
For The Artistic Athlete?
Like any athlete, artistic athletes can benefit from increased strength in properly aligned positions of the leg. We need to be strong in the legs to jump and land safely. This is all of our tumbling, jumping, (whether it’s a leap or it’s into a partner acro movement) and it’s even our kick ups into handstands! We also need leg strength for stability and balance for our scales, tilts, and penches.
Like we said before, though most of what we do is done just with body weight, we can experience forces up to 40x body weight during landings. Loaded squatting (and other loaded exercises, but those are for another blog post) prepares the body for these forces, increasing resiliency and decreasing risk for injury.
Let’s go over some variations from the basic squat that can specifically benefit the artistic athlete:
Single Leg Squats
So many skills performed by artistic athletes are done on a single leg, therefore we need to strengthen on a single leg. Single leg squats can make this happen for us. At once working balance and coordination and strength, add a bench or a support to help as you get started with this variation. Training on a single leg, never mind it being directly related to our skills, will also help keep us even side to side, mitigating imbalances that can occur when we are training routines or skills that are one side dominant. Try adding in 3 sets of 10 reps to your next conditioning set
Cossack squat, side squat, side lunge, I don’t care what you want to call it, it is an amazing exercise for the artistic athlete. Even though we have two feet on the ground, like a single legged squat, we are biasing to one side and training that single leg strength. A cossack squat pushes us into our controlled end range of hip motion, and challenges our strength stability with movement in the transverse plane, i.e. side to side. We do not always move in linear forwards and back, up and down motions, and therefore we cannot always strengthen there too. Add 2 sets of 15 reps per side to you next flexibility training session!
Box jumps and Drop Squats
These are those variations we talked about that will help us develop our power development.
Start from standing, and jump up to a height. Focus on using the whole body as unit, pushing off the ground and up, then landing softly and with proper alignment of the lower limb. Add in 3 sets of 5 jumps, with at least one minute rest in between, to your next strength day or conditioning set, and let me know how it goes!
We can also try drop squats with a jump after landing. Drop off the box, landing in a squat and focusing on proper landing technique. After a short pause, jump up as high as possible from your landing position.
Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. (2016). United Kingdom: Human Kinetics.
Strength and Conditioning: Biological Principles and Practical Applications. (2011). Germany: Wiley.
The Handbook of Sports Medicine: Gymnastics. (2013). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell
Dave Tilley. Changing Gymnastics Culture: Lessons, Reflections, and Visions for the Future. 2018. https://shiftmovementscience.com/cgcebookchapters/