When I was first coaching clients I dreaded having to teach people squats. To be honest, the reason was I didn’t know how to get someone to squat really well if they didn’t already possess the movement skills to do so. I would go ahead and do what I was taught in school and in my initial certifications, we would just barbell back squat and hope for the best.
Inevitably, my clients themselves started to hate squats. Whether it was because they would have discomfort in their low back or knees (sometimes both!) it would be something that I just chalked up to people being “soft” because the truth was I didn’t know how to solve the problem.
Sure, I tried to front barbell squat my clients. That was a little bit better, but most of my clients really struggled to hold the barbell in place. With the awkwardness of the barbell it was hard to really load my clients and we never got significantly better squats. Then in 2002 I came across kettlebells. I was so excited that kettlebells offered a much easier way to front load the squat and then I learned the value of tension, that changed everything!
Sherrington’s law of irradiation states, “A muscle working hard recruits the neighboring muscles, and if they are already part of the action, it amplifies their strength. The neural impulses emitted by the contracting muscle reach other muscles and ‘turn them on’ as an electric current starts a motor.”
Um, okay, how did that lead to better squats though? I was learning much deeper levels of corrective exercise at this time and the physical therapy system of PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation). A key concept of PNF is using the core to restore movement to the extremities of the body. This is achieved through “proximal stability” of the core that offers us then “distal mobility”. In other words, the greater stability we provide the core, the better mobility we can gain in the shoulders and hips. Such an idea allows us to solve a major issue in squats which is hip mobility.
So, how does irradiation and proximal stability end up giving the squats that I couldn’t solve before? Tools like the kettlebell and the Ultimate Sandbag allow us to use very specific tension techniques to gain the core stability that leads to both greater mobility in the hips and strength in the legs. In fact, a very deliberate consideration in my design for the original Ultimate Sandbag in 2004 was partly the ability to implement these concepts by using dimension of the Ultimate Sandbag.
That is why HOW you hold the Ultimate Sandbag and kettlebell can make ALL the difference in how we can build our squats and even progress them as I show below.
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The fact that kettlebells not only allow us to change the weight, but how we position the load on our body opens up a world of squats that most don’t even know exist! This isn’t just about giving you more squat options, but also ways to build greater functional strength through squatting. Coach Cari Satre shows a few more of our progressions (in order from foundational to more advanced) that we use in DVRT.
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Why would these kettlebell and Ultimate Sandbag squats build greater strength even though the weight is lighter than a barbell? For one, the weights are just not equal. Someone trying to squat double 88 pound kettlebells or a 150 pound Ultimate Sandbag are often humbled and find that weights even significantly higher on the barbell tends to be easier. Is it magic? Nah, just simple physics! For one, the loads being a more challenging holding position stresses the whole body more, it doesn’t rest on our frame or on the even more stable upper back.
Second, our legs can only produce as much force as our core can stabilize. That means we can load up our back on the back squat (why back squats often end up irritating many people) and still get the weight up without actually loading our legs nearly as much. When we are more vertical and our core has to stabilize while we achieve a deeper squat, we get way more leg training and isn’t that the POINT of squatting?
Coach Cory Cripe and Megan Berner help break down how we use irradiation to build the proximal stability that will give us the great squats we want to use in our workouts.
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