If I Hear One More Personal Trainer Say That Squatting Below Parallel Is Dangerous, I May Just Blog About It.
I took today off from work. All told, I was going to run a few errands, go get a quick training session in, catch up on some reading, write some programs, and then, if the mood struck me, write a short blog to finish off the afternoon. Heck, I was even thinking about hitting up Home Depot, cause you know, that’s what dudes do on their day off. For all intents and purposes, I had a nice little day planned. That is, of course, till I received the email (below) from one of my female clients:
NOTE: she has the mouth of a sailor. Just a fair warning:
A girl at work got a trainer a few weeks ago. She loooves to talk to me about it, every day. EVERY. DAY. Driving me f****** nuts because she keeps asking my opinion on things and then correcting me with some bull**** her trainer told her. For instance, this morning she told me it is dangerous to squat “too low” and get parallel to the ground because it’s bad for your knees.
When I try to kindly insert my opinion on stuff (by emailing her your blog. Hint hint), she just shoots me down with the almighty opinion of this deuchebag who, by the by, clearly doesn’t know his ass from his asshole. It’s not her fault that she’s paying someone to give her crappy advice, and it’s nothing you don’t already know exists, but it’s really annoying nonetheless.
No need to respond, just wanted to commiserate. 🙂
Now I’m pissed. Not at my client, of course. Rather, I’m pissed at this nonsense that seemingly, will NEVER go away. Really? Squatting below parallel is bad for the knees? Why is it, then, that we don’t cringe every time a toddler goes to pick something up off the ground?
Likewise, how come the form police never rear their ugly heads whenever an Olympic lifter does what Olympic lifters do?
Extreme examples, for sure – but I feel gets the point across. Listen, I’m not saying that everyone needs (or has) to squat ass-to-grass (otherwise known as ATG squats on the interwebz). Although on an aside, I find it strikingly odd that, no matter what fitness forum you peruse, everyone and their mother claim to squat ATG. Yet, whenever I go to a commercial gym to train, I rarely (if ever) see anyone squatting remotely close to depth. But I digress.
The fact of the matter is, not everyone can (or should) squat below parallel. I’m not that naive. Without taking into consideration one’s training history, injury history, postural deficiencies, and/or mobility deficits, I’d be remiss to state otherwise. That said, it’s blanket statements like the one above, that give the industry such a bad name; not to mention make many (not all) personal trainers look like asshats.
This reminds me of when I first moved to the Boston area and started working at a rather high-end commercial gym located in the city. As a new hire, I was required to spend the first week going through “employee initiation,” which entailed, of all things, going through the entire facility and naming all the equipment and it’s purpose (they weren’t happy when I wrote Smith Machine = coat rack), as well as attending several “mentorships” on topics such as testing, assessment, and program design, to name a few.
I remember, vividly, the day when we went through the assessment portion. The woman – a “master trainer” no less – who was in charge of taking us through that particular portion, asked me to demonstrate an overhead squat for another incoming trainer. Long story short, you would have thought I dropped kicked a puppy when she saw me, GASP, squat below parallel.
Master Trainer: Um, excuse me, what are you doing?
Me: doing an overhead squat.
Master Trainer: are you going to tell your clients to squat that low?
Me: (perplexed look) Well, yeah. If they’re able to, why not?
It wasn’t till a few weeks later that I heard through the grapevine that she went to the fitness director afterwards and told him to keep his eye on me, and that I might “be trouble.” No, I’m not kidding.
More often than not, though – and I’m only using anecdotal evidence here – whenever someone comes to me and says, “squats hurt my knees,” you can almost guarantee that when I ask them to demonstrate what it is they feel represents a squat, what I usually end up seeing is anything but. Not even close.
Instead, once I pick my jaw up from the floor, what I usually end up witnessing is something more like a quick, herky-jerky knee bend. Something tantamount to this:
I’ll stop here and give you a few moments to go stab yourself in the eyes with a stapler. Repeatedly.
Incidentally, what I find ironic is that most people (personal trainers included) think the above video is actually a SAFER way to squat. Sad, I know. As such, the best explanation I’ve ever come across explaining why this is absolutely absurd, comes from an article Marc McDougal wrote a few years ago debunking many common exercise myths. In this case, why 1/4-1/2 squats are worse for your knees:
The knee has four main protective ligaments that keep the femur from displacing on the tibia (ACL, PCL, MCL, LCL). These four ligaments are most effective at their protection during full extension and full flexion.
Full extension would be when you are standing; full flexion would be when there is no daylight between your hamstring and your calf. When the knee is at 90 degrees of flexion (the halfway point), these four ligaments are almost completely lax and cannot exert much if any of a protective force at the knee (Zatsiorsky V. Kinematics of human motion. 1998 – published by Human Kinetics – p.301).
Unfortunately, the position where the protective ligaments of the knee are not doing any protecting is the common recommended stopping point of a squat. Therefore, as it as it turns out, this is the exact worst place you could reverse the motion under load.
Furthermore – and this should should put the nail in the coffin – in a study titled Patellofemoral joint kinetics during squat in collegiate women athletes (Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon), June 1, 2001; 16(5): 424-30), by Salem and Powers, it was shown that there was no discernible difference between three different squat depths (70, 90, and 110 degrees of knee flexion) with regards to patellofemoral joint reaction force and patellofemoral joint stress.
In other words, and I’m just paraphrasing here, you’re a walking bag of douche if you go around telling people that squatting below parallel is bad for their knees. Game. Set. Match. God, I love pwning people.
UPDATE: Again, to re-iterate, you have to take into consideration one’s training history, movement quality, mobility deficits, postural restrictions, blah blah blah, before deciding whether not (s)he is ready to squat, let alone squat below parallel. I’m definitely not opposed to using other modalities, and using what ROM they do have in order to groove technique. All told, I’ve had plenty of clients who may go months before they’re squatting to an appreciable depth. All I’m trying to say is that:
1. I think it’s asinine that a vast majority of personal trainers still think squatting below parallel is dangerous.
2. Most (not all) are about as intelligent as a ham sandwich.