DID YOU KNOW ?
The high-bar back-squat is the purest version of the squat and rightfully deserves the title “King of Exercises”; by targeting the quadriceps, including hamstrings and glutes, this type of barbell squat works the largest muscle groups of the body, additionally involving plenty of other muscle-groups as stabilizers, including the core-, back-, deltoid- and arm-muscles. Weight-loaded squats are without doubt one of the most functional resistance exercises with all-round benefits second to none, not only for the entire muscular system, but also for the hormonal system, the cardiovascular system and even the central nervous system.
Not to forget, barbell squats also promote systemic metabolic stimulation; this means that performing them regularly will not only stimulate growth in the lower body muscle groups, but will even lead to hypertrophy in the entire upper body musculature. Unfortunately, many gym enthusiasts and more advanced athletes nowadays have problems with the movement pattern of this highly functional squat movement and thus don’t get to fully enjoy its numerous benefits, but even risk injury to their cervical spine and their lower back.
This brings us to the question: does YOUR high-bar squat still truly live up to the title “King of Exercises” ?
The best exercise is only as good as the technique with which it is performed, and it is quite unfortunate that so many gym enthusiasts don’t seem to get their squat performance right.
The major reason for the high-bar squat’s botched performance is the misconception that the knees should not be allowed to travel beyond the toes. This misconceived idea, still often perpetuated by poorly informed fitness trainers, causes people to execute their high-bar back-squat by decreasing the angle at the hips long before decreasing the angles at their knees and ankles, sticking their rear-end out and leaning far forward while going down; then, they stop their descent in mid-position with their knees only bent to about 90 degrees or even less, before going back up again. Such a poor performance causes severe stress to the spine in the lower back and neck areas, not to mention that the quadriceps is not properly worked any longer.
Don’t be fooled, a proper effective high-bar squat can not be executed without allowing the knees to travel beyond your toes, something which has been proven entirely natural and harmless, provided you have no preexisting knee problems. The deep squat position is in fact a natural resting position of many populations in Asia, Africa and South America; people there often spend major portions of their day in a deep squat position, for example when eating their meals, waiting for the bus, etc. The Olympic weight-lifting disciplines snatch and clean & jerk would not be possible without a deep squat position and the athletes’ knees standing out far over their toes, while even subjected to a tremendous weight load. Yet, Olympic weight-lifters tend to suffer far less knee injuries than athletes performing other sports. And if Olympic weightlifters would not perform countless deep high-bar back squats through full range of motion with heavy weight-loads in their regular training, they would never be able to get up when performing a snatch or cleaning a loaded barbell in competition.
Fact is that practicing the high-bar back squat throughout its full range of motion will actually strengthen the knees, their connective tissue, tendons and ligaments, and also increase mobility in the ankle joints and hips. Stopping the squat half way down at a 90 degree knee angle will cause far more stress and harmful shearing forces to act on the knee than going all the way down, and will also result in a loss of mobility in hips, knees and ankles.
The proper performance of a safe, effective high-bar squat requires for the barbell to travel in a vertical straight line right over midfoot without any forward deviation; this is achieved by simultaneously decreasing the angles at the hips, knees and ankles, while keeping the torso upright and the spine well supported by isometrically contracted back extensors and abdominals. If your ankles should currently lack sufficient mobility to allow for a deep squat with an upright torso, try elevating your heels by putting a 5 or 10 LBS plate under them. Of course, if your ankles’ mobility is poor, you should also consider to work on improving their flexibility by including appropriate calf exercises and ankle stretches in your work-out routine.