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Squats That Save Your Knees Part 2

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Jessica Bento, Physical Therapist (Creator Of DVRT Rx Healthy Knees, DVRT Restoration, Shoulder & Pelvic Control Courses)

How does someone go from having excruciating pain when they squat to being able to not only squat pain free but do so with a good amount of weight? In Part 1 (you can read HERE) I broke down how we often miss two of the most important aspects of squats which is how we use our feet and engage our core correctly.

Once we establish the foundation of both the feet and the core, we can discuss how different types of squats actually create different results in our fitness training. During Part 1 we discussed our DVRT press out squats and why they are so important in patterning good squats and how we want to squat deeply and with a vertical torso.

Where do we go from there? Do we just do whatever squat we feel like? Josh has written a lot about building systems and having experienced DVRT progressions myself, I can tell you being mindful of which squat you use actually makes a big impact in our training. The goal of this post will be breaking down to you how we step by step build more challenging squats.

Goblet Squats

The fitness industry has become very familiar with goblet squats. A great way to help people learn how to squat, but we a much shorter lever arm than the press out squat, we can apply more load to the body. The goblet squat at first seems like an exercise that requires almost no coaching. Just put a weight in front of the body and squat right?

I am all in favor of squatting with a load in front of our body (we will discuss why this is so important later), however, just holding a weight in front of your body doesn’t guarantee you a great squat. What makes the goblet squat such a great movement is the tension we can create against the weight and the weight distribution itself.

This means using a dumbbell or kettlebell makes a profound difference as Josh breaks down…

Bear Hug Squats

At a certain point, the upper body becomes more of a limiting factor in goblet squats than we see in the lower body. The goblet squat was originally intended to be more of a foundational patterning and strengthening drill, not one that was aiming for maximal efforts. So, what do we do once we reach that point with our goblet squats?

The answer is moving to our DVRT bear hug squats. Outwardly, the goblet and bear hug squat appears similar. However, if we appreciate the differences in the tools we start to recognize some substantial differences. For one, the bigger the Ultimate Sandbag, the easier it is to squat which is opposite of the goblet squat. The dimension and dispersement of load in the Ultimate Sandbag helps the weight become part of our body and giving us more tension and feedback.


Kettlebell expert, Adrienne Harvey actually experienced and shows the differences when we were shooting our DVRT book several years ago. 

In the above example, both are good squats, but you see the bear hug squat gives us an even more vertical torso that the goblet squat. This allows us to use more load, but also build greater mobility and place that load through our legs and not our low back!

Kettlebell expert and DVRT Master, Steve Holiner breaks down some of the key differences of these squats.

Front Loaded Squats

Every squat we show has a point where either we can’t use heavier loads or using heavier loads causes issues outside that of the squat. Where most people would point to this as a limitation and why we should barbell squat (keep teasing I will show the many faults of back squats later), they fail to realize we have more options that we do with the barbell.

The press out squat, goblet squat, and the bear hug squats all to some degree actually help us in patterning the movement of the squat as we build more and more strength. After bear hug squats we can move into a squat that has more of the weight working against our movement (you can always revisit any of these squats, but we are discussing progressions). The front load squat is unique in that we can hold the weight in a position that wants to pull our body forward and we have to create tension against the Ultimate Sandbag to have a dynamic plank.

With all Josh explained, you can miss other subtleties like his upper back wants to round with the barbell because he can’t create tension. This along with the general idea that tension equals stability also places more load through his low back with the barbell. So, we make these distinctions because they are important!

Double Rack Kettlebell Squats

Like the bear hug and goblet squats, the front load and double rack kettlebells look similar. It isn’t until we are ready to look deeper that we see significant differences. We just spoke a great deal about the fact that in the front load position the weight spans my body and I can create tension against the weight to help me create stability. However, with the double rack position, the weights sit outside my body which creates more instability. The only way I can create stability in this case is driving my elbow into my ribs and squeezing the handles.

The way I create tension here is so important. Either I create my plank and I feel strong and stable or I don’t and while my body thinks it is creating leverage I am actually causing issues in my back and potentially knees!

You can see the all TOO common mistake of using double kettlebells!

Fist Loaded Squats

Probably the most overlooked squat in our DVRT system is the fist loaded squat. I think a lot of people get overwhelmed with all the options we forget to look for the incremental changes we can make to develop a new stimulus to our squats. Of course doing a fits loaded squat requires us to be able to clean the weight to our fists.

In fist loaded squats we still want to create tension and our only option in doing so is by trying to keep our wrists neutral and “pull apart” the handles as much as possible. Having the weight in this position makes our squat a powerful core exercise as well as lower body movement.

You can see in this Ultimate Sandbag complex I perform that the fist loaded squat is very challenging on my core strength, but also allows me to move into other patterns like pressing overhead which HAS to occur with the weight on the fists if we are using Strength, Force, or Burly Ultimate Sandbags!

Off-Set Kettlebell Squats

The above examples can offer an extensive opportunity to train better squats where we actually move better after training, not worse! We can use load, pauses, and a host of other methods to make the above squats plenty challenging, but also productive. As we move forward in our squatting, we want to make the movements more sophisticated. That means making the squat which is predominately a sagittal plane movement (we use three planes when we walk or do every day movements) into having to deal with more planes of motion.

In DVRT we do so by first making sure that people can resist unwanted movement during the squat as that is the basis for not only strength but also stability. Off-set kettlebells allow us to do this progressively by using two kettlebells of different weights. We can initially make the differences 4kg and over time make one kettlebell bigger as the other gets lighter. This gives us an opportunity to progressively learn how to resist rotation and lateral flexion. In other words making our squats more about real world strength.

The goal shouldn’t be to rush through these progressions, but rather, to learn what each progression teaches us. It doesn’t mean we can’t go back through this squat series and change the intent behind using them in our program. However, my goal is to show you a system of better movement that if you follow the details of each version you will find that you can squat without many of the common issues that plague most programs! In the last installment, I’ll go over how we bring squats to new heights and have you re-think how you see and use squats in your workouts.

Save 30% on Jessica’s DVRT Rx programs and courses with code “July” HERE as well as all throughout DVRT HERE

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