Rules I always break and why – Episode 2.5

18 Jul

In episode two we talked about the upper body, how external load should precede body weight, and  a little bit about how closed chain movements are different than open chain movements.

Today we’re going to focus on lower body movements.


What we are about to go over is something I wish I knew about the day I stepped foot in a gym. Although I was 16, and probably wouldn’t have given two shits anyway.

Seriously though, take this information to heart and apply it. If you’re well into your training career, don’t be afraid to take a step back to take many steps forward. If you train others, you really need to apply this. Mainly because my eyes are sore from watching you let your clients put 225lbs on a bar, move it about 4 inches, just so they can feel good about themselves – and you can tell them how strong they’re getting. Or not getting…

Here’s the ass backwards rule:

External load before body weight in lower body movements.

It seems to make sense right? I mean you can walk, go up stairs, squat down, bend over, jump etc. You can do all of that with your body weight, so why wouldn’t you add an external load right away?

Gray Cook, who is a world renown physical therapist and strength coach, made this quote famous:

“Don’t add strength to dysfunction.”

This principle is the basis of why the above rule needs to be broken. Just because you can literally squat down and bend over doesn’t mean you can do so with the proper body mechanics. If you can’t demonstrate the proper movement pattern with your own weight, why would you re-enforce these faulty body mechanics by adding weight?

Oh ya, you want to get HYOOGE. Let’s get educated first: (Note: I’m going to focus on the squat.)

What constitutes proper squatting mechanics?

Key Points:

  • There’s more than one way to squat right. As the caption reads, the bar position will determine back angle. So those of you who religiously stick to the “back angle = shin angle” rule, not necessarily (another “rule,” bites the dust).
  • The load remains over the mid-foot. There are two types of forces in play when lifting: compressive and sheer. Compressive = good, Sheer = bad. If you want to get more on that here is a terrific article by John Izzo –> READ ME
  • Although the line is not drawn, imagine a point at the back of the head, between the shoulder blades and right on the upper most part of the buttocks. Notice that in all three example a straight line can be drawn connecting all three points, demonstrating proper alignment of the spine.
  • Many people will be a bit surprised to see the knees over the toes, if you read John’s article above you will learn why that is. You might also be surprised to see the chin “tucked” and not upwards. In order to keep the spine in a neutral position this is imperative and for further reading I direct you to this article by Charlie Weingroff –> READ ME TOO!
From the front:
Key Points:
  • Notice the “Good – Bad” photo. I think that about sums it up. Keep the knees in line with the toes and avoid the knees dropping in (valgus collapse). If you don’t you’re in for a world of pain. You will shut off the ability to use the hips (glutes, hams) – and be predominantly squatting with your quadriceps, placing excessive strain on the knee. Have you ever seen someone suffer an ACL injury? It looks a lot like that.
If you’re not able to display proper squat form, you need to fix it. The ability to perform the proper squat pattern, pain free, is important. In doing so, and maintaining the ability to do so, you are displaying a certain level mobility and stability.

Mobility — The ability to produce a desired movement.

Stability — The ability to resist an undesired movement. (Hartman)

The same goes for the lunge, and deadlift. If you can’t move correctly without load, don’t add it!
Therefore, here is the way the “rule” should look:
Body weight before external load in the lower body.
It doesn’t end there. Mobility and stability under load is a different story. Have you ever heard the phrase “Everything’s easy until it gets heavy?”
There’s a lot to be said for that. For one, once you add mobility, it may take some strengthening to get your stability up to par. As you add mobility you must in turn add stability, they go together like lamb and tuna fish – or maybe you prefer spaghetti and meatball?
Here’s a an article by Mike Robertson on the stability – mobility continuum –> LAST READ ME, I SWEAR!
In order to address this I would take two approaches:
  1. Check your ego at the door. Stop loading plate after plate to impress yourself. Continually squat to depth and use weights that allow you to execute proper form. Do the same for you training partners. Don’t be the guy, or the personal trainer, who allows your buddy / client to work heavier and heavier, losing an inch with each subsequent addition of 50lbs.
  2. Use exercises that cement good form. The goblet squat is an amazing exercise to teach people proper mechanics under load. The front squat is also a great choice. Both of these are way easier to teach and way easier to perform. The back squat is not easy, and takes time to instruct. Furthermore, the placement of the load promotes better form and allows you to sit back into your squat easier. A third choice is to have people squat to a box. This is not a box squat (maintain normal squat form, touch box, no pause). The box is there as a reference for people to know they have reached the proper depth. It helps mentally and physically. If you or your client can’t reach depth today you can use a box that meets them at the point before form breaks down. Instead of progressing the lift by adding load you can gradually lower the box, adding range of motion to the movement. Adding range of motion is as much a progression as adding weight is.
That’s it for today. I leave you with this: Do things right, forget about the amount of weight your moving until you move it correctly. That means being proficient in moving your body weight correctly before moving a load (lower body).
Remember you can all squat safely to parallel and below. We are born with this ability and lose it over time due to our lack of proper movement; i.e. sitting, driving, avoiding anything resembling a proper squat.
Whether you want to get bigger, stronger, or both, it doesn’t matter how much you’re lifting, just so long as you are progressing from what YOU are capable of today. Continuing to get better at a faulty movement pattern (aka adding strength to dysfunction) is only going to get you hurt. Nobody gets bigger and stronger when they’re injured.

3 Responses to “Rules I always break and why – Episode 2.5”

  1. Jazlynn August 9, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    Son of a gun, this is so helfpul!

  2. Bubba August 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    A few years ago I’d have to pay someone for this inofrmatoin.


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