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The Best Squats You Aren’t Using

sandbag training

Nothing about 2020 has felt normal and that might be the understatement of the year. Typically the industry likes to have fun with October being Squatober, but things have just felt different. We haven’t played it up like we typically do, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t have some fun and give you some great training ideas.

We have written quite a bit about squats, not just because they seem to be foundational to every fitness program, but also that we look at squats a bit different. In DVRT we don’t talk about how to isolate your quads more because that’s not really what squats are all about. In fact, we could make the argument that thinking in that way of using this or that muscle really misses the boat on why squats are so effective. What do I mean?

squats

This review paper on ACL injury rehab gives us a good explanation…

“The hip, knee, and ankle joints when taken together, comprise the lower extremity kinetic chain. Kinetic chain exercises like the squat recruit all 3 links in unison while exercises such as seated quadriceps extensions isolate one link of the chain. Biomechanical assessment with force diagrams reveals that ACL strain is reduced during kinetic chain exercise by virtue of the axial orientation of the applied load and muscular co-contraction.

Additionally, kinetic chain exercise through recruitment of all hip, knee, and ankle extensors in synchrony takes advantage of specificity of training principles. More importantly, however, it is the only way to reproduce the concurrent shift of ‘antagonistic’ biarticular muscle groups that occurs during simultaneous hip, knee, and ankle extension. Incoordination of the concurrent shift fostered by exercising each muscle group in isolation may ultimately hamper complete recovery.”-Palmitier, et al, “Kinetic Chain Exercise in Knee Rehabilitation”

Okay, if that was a bit too sciency for you, don’t feel bad. It was a super geeky way of saying that the point of squats is to teach the lower body to work efficiently together. Trying to emphasize one muscle or another for one doesn’t really matter ALL that much in building actual muscle. Additionally, the way we build strength and resilience is by teaching the body to work as it is designed to function. When it comes to squats that means a strong, deep position squat with good posture. How do we do that in DVRT? Coach, Johnny Rhodes does a good job of showing some of our DVRT progressions of how we build strength and mobility with manipulating how we hold the Ultimate Sandbag.

 

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Let’s talk Squats! Squatting shouldn’t be a one size fits all movement with the only way to progress it is to add weight. Instead we should add layers of progressions (as in seen in the 5 videos). My clients always used to ask why I like the USB so much and it’s because of the layers of progression you can do with it. Yes weight can be used to make an exercise harder but for some people, be it physical limitations or if you just have one ultimatesandbag, adding different variations can increase intensity. By changing body position or holding position of the Ultimatesandbag, we are giving a different stimulus to the body. 1️⃣ Bear Hug Squat: Wrap arms around bag and actively pull the bag apart. This fires our lats and core to teach us how to keep proper tension in our upper body. 2️⃣ Front loaded (FL) Squat: by changing the holding position we are asking our core to be dialed in a bit more so we don’t fall forward with the USB. By pulling the USB toward our body we are able to keep that same core tension. 3️⃣ Fist Loaded Squats: Same as FL Squats but now the USB in on our fists which causes the USB to be in a more unstable position. 4️⃣Sprinter Stance Front Loaded Squat: now we have changed the body position with our FL causing our base of stability to be decreased. Back heel stays up pressing through ball of foot on back end while stabilizing the front leg and pushing into the ground. 5️⃣Shoulder Sprinter Stance Squat: Now we have progressed to a loaded side plank while squatting. Same as above with feet but now we are engaging the lat on side holding the USB to provide tension and core stability. Give these a shot and if you have any questions let me know! @ultimatesandbag @jessbento_physiotherapist @corymcripe

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John shows not only progressing squats, but also how we build to more single leg squats through our Sprinter Stance. Moving to more single leg squats actually helps us build balance between the two sides and correct imbalances that often are masked in focusing too much on the bilateral position. The great thing about the Sprinter Stance is that it is actually very friendly to many people’s knees and low back issues, plus makes unilateral training more accessible to more people.

Outside of the Sprinter Stance squat, one of the most underused and overlooked ways to make squats more challenging is using lateral squats. We are moving to more unilateral squats, but the base of support allows us to make this more manageable to teach and implement into a variety of workouts. When you combine the position of the body and the load position, you get some amazing options to build strength and mobility.

One of the very best “squats” that I don’t see people use enough may not seem like a squat to many people. However, step-ups are very closely related to squats and are amazing ways to build not only single leg strength, but stability and control in deceleration as well. When you combine these elements, you get far more effective leg workouts than trying to change the quality of your squats to target “this or that” muscle. Quality movement always leads to better gains rather than trying to isolate a specific muscle.

squats

Even better is the fact with step-ups we can change the height of the step, the direction of the step, the position of the step, and we can go from the top down or bottom up, there are such great ways to build incredible leg strength as well as other powerful functional fitness qualities. My point is that squats are about quality movement and have layers to them that won’t break our backs and knees in the process. Imagine getting stronger, but moving and feeling better too. Doesn’t that sound like the point of any good training program.

Want to find out more about how we build movement? Don’t miss our 20% sale on our Online Education, workouts, and Ultimate Sandbags with code “save20” HERE

 

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How far is this leg exercise? Way behind squats and deadlifts? If so, we need to re-think how we see building a strong, stable, and mobile lower body. Step-ups are not only one of the best single leg exercises we can use, but one of the best leg exercises overall. They are highly progressive whether it is the height of the step, direction of the step, or how we load the body how @rdpaget and @dvrtfitness_uk show to emphasize different functional training qualities. _____________ What makes step-ups so powerful? From a muscle development perspective, they are highly underrated. In fact, compared to squats and deadlifts there are some interesting findings. Like “the split squat and step-up may present exercise variations that more effectively target the hip extensor, knee extensor, and biceps femoris long head muscles (than the squat), which may be relevant for the design of resistance training programs that specifically aim to strengthen these muscles as part of sports performance or injury prevention efforts.” (Kipp et al, 2020) ______________ “Unilateral squats with the same external load per leg produced greater peak vertical ground reaction forces than bilateral squats, as well as higher barbell velocity, which is associated with strength development and rate of force development, respectively. The authors suggest using unilateral rather than bilateral squats for people with low back pain and those enrolled in rehabilitation programs after ACL rupture” (Eliassen et al, 2018) _____________ These step-ups can emphasize qualities like frontal plane stability, cross patterns that connect the kinetic chains, and offer us so many chances to build strength, stability, and mobility all the same time. Building up knee resilience, functional muscle, and strength in all 3 planes while sparring the low back is something we should value more!

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