The Squat is an exercise that we all know develops strong legs. Powerlifters have been proving it for years by lifting mammoth weight in this fashion. For years, strength coaches have used the Squat as one of the main lifts to develop strength, and since we always use the Squat for increasing athletic performance, why would anyone question its effectiveness in preparing you for your sport?
What if we ask, " How does this make me better at my sport?" Just because we have been led to believe that it will help our on-field performance does not make it so. But, before we start questioning the Squat and its benefits to athletes, it is only fair to make sure you have an understanding of what the Squat is not capable of helping you with.
- The Squat will not fix bad running form. If you want to be faster but have bad form, don't expect the Squat to make you fast. You need to fix your running form.
- The Squat will not help you shoot a basketball with more accuracy, or help your swing timing, or your ability to stay on two feet while ice skating, or any specific sports skill for that matter. The Squat is an exercise meant to make you stronger and more powerful (or is it?).
- The Squat will not fix your personal life, help you understand quantum physics, or help with anything besides muscular strength, nervous system timing, and overall health.
A Functional Movement
I know function is not very sexy to athletes, but function plays a role in how well you move, and it ultimately affects how you perform. The Squat is one of the most functional movements. You see it when you sit, go to pick up a heavy box (with correct form), or squat down to cook s'mores on a nice summer night. All of these movements involve the squat pattern.
You also see the squat pattern when you play sports. Examples include jumping, exploding off the line in football, taking a defensive stance in basketball, pushing off the wall in swim transitions, and so on. The squatting motion shows up everywhere.
So wouldn't it be good to quickly and easily train the muscles used for these movements?
When performing the Squat, you recruit the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, rectus femoris, hamstrings and glutes. Those are the prime movers of the lower body. They do not include the abdominal muscles needed to stabilize the trunk and the smaller stabilizer muscles of the lower body.
How This Benefits You
Being able to squat with good form will help you activate the muscles needed for basic sports movements like jumping and pushing off the ground. Knowing how to activate your glutes, quads and the abdominals all together is one of the keys to being able to produce speed and power.
Next time you do a Broad Jump, don't use your arms and see how far you get. A good arm swing will produce about a 10-percent increase in your distance. This is achieved by activating all the muscles of the legs, torso, and shoulders together.
Improve Power Output and Neuromuscular Efficiency
The Squat is very effective at improving power output. The Squat alone can improve your vertical jump height. When done at 80 percent or more of your 1RM, the Squat is most effective at improving power output when paired with polymeric training—e.g., Vertical Jumps, Broad Jumps, Sprints, etc.
High power output is greatly affected by neural factors such as motor-unit recruitment, rate coding and synchronization. What this means is that you will be able to increase your power if you can recruit large numbers of motor units, turn on type-II muscle fibers, and fire your muscles in the correct order.
There are two main ways to get your body's neuromuscular system working optimally to produce power: lift weights at 80% of 1RM or more; and lift weights at 50-80% of 1RM at a fast rate of speed.
How does this pertain to squatting? Adjusting the weight percentage gives you the benefits of lifting heavy weights and lifting lighter weights quickly.
How This Benefits You
Power output is, and has been, shown to be a good predictor of athletic performance. There's a strong correlation between squat strength, jump height and sprint speed. The more powerful you are, the faster you will run and the higher you will jump.
That is why the best jumpers are among the most agile and fastest athletes.
There's no proof that the Squat will make you better at sport-specific skills, unless your sport is weightlifting. What the research does show is that the Squat is effective and at preparing your body for sports that require power output, strength and speed.
It just so happens that the majority of sports require power, strength and speed.
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