Fit For Life: Mastering The Squat

Saturday, July 20, 2013


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Squats are only effective if done correctly. Make sure you're getting the most out of your workout!

The proper squat is a fundamental, and where I often begin with new clients. Are you ready to squat, and do it right?

The squat is a primal and functional movement that I believe everyone needs to be able to do, from teens to the elderly, and it should be done pain free (although if you have verified orthopedic damage, such as what would be seen on an MRI, you should refrain).

Knees in the way?

Knee pain may be keeping you from squatting both in the gym and in your daily activities, and that aching joint might be something other than a knee problem. Other factors such as poor ankle mobility, tight hamstrings/quads, bad posture or gait, can all contribute to “bad knees.”

Beginning with a good assessment, we can figure out why there is pain or inability, and address that–with the goal of progressing to a perfect squatting position. Of course, for those with cartilage issues and other structural injury, consulting a physician is a must.

Walk away from the weight belt

Have you been coached to wear weights around your waist when squatting or lifting? Wearing a weight belt to lift is like using a wheel chair when you don't need it. If your lower back can't handle the load you are lifting, you need to step back and reassess your workout. Think about this: if you never use your legs, how strong are they going to be? The same goes for the lower back. The only way to eliminate weakness is to make it stronger.

Core workouts are crucial here. I always balance abdominal work with lower back work, and train my clients to stabilize with the core when lifting heavy, not using a weight belt. When you stabilize you need to activate by breathing in and drawing your belly in, a weight belt makes you push out thus negating any activation in the abdominal wall, making it impossible for your core to get any stronger, so anytime you lift anything you pose the risk of injury. Not practical in my book.

The seated workout?

While we are on the subject of destabilization, I want to talk about how some people use single axis machines in the gym, supposedly for safety purposes. One of the main reasons my clients never use a seated single axis machine, is because you need to sit to use them. We wake up from a lying position, then sit to eat, use the bathroom, drive to work, at work, drive home, eat, and to watch television, or spend time on the computer. In my opinion that is too much sitting already, so you won't sit to exercise with me. Besides, when do you really do anything strenuous, or exert yourself while seated? Never. So why train to be strong seated? When you lift something standing, your body lifts systemically. Your hips and legs act as a shock absorber to protect your spine from impact - not possible from a seated position. Your core and stabilizer muscles need to “turn on” to assist with the lift, allowing you to use a large network of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers, however when seated, your core and stabilizers become sedated and inactive, only allowing you to use specific muscles to perform a lift. This leads to muscle imbalances and potential injury. So, get up and work out.

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Matt Espeut has worked as a personal trainer for almost 20 years with clients ranging in age from 14 to 86. His focus is on overall health, strength, and functional conditioning. Holistic health and nutrition is the cornerstone of all his programs. Matt works in private and small group training available at your home or office location or at gym facilities. Matt offers his services to everyone wanting to be more fit and healthy, overweight young people, youth/collegiate athletes, and seniors. Matt has worked and continues to train at several facilities in the Providence area including Gold's Gym and CORE Studio, and he believes continued education is a must in his field. Email Matt: [email protected], check out his website at or on Facebook at Matt Espeut or on Twitter @MattEspeut.


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