Cringe at the Gym

Let me preface this blog by saying that as a rule, I truly believe most personal trainers and fitness professionals enter this industry with a want a desire to help people. Most of us wake up early and go to bed late, and in the middle we train, motivate, and influence our butts off, sometimes at the expense of our own personal health. That being said, there are exceptions to to the rule. While the life of personal trainer can at times be taxing, the actual job itself is not hard. If you know the human body, how it is suppose to move, and how to problem solve, then the actual task of training someone is not difficult. This is why I sometimes cringe when I see a client doing something so obviously wrong, and frankly dangerous, under the tutelage of a costly personal trainer. Here is my cringe worthy story of the day.

Newsflash, if someone is incapable of performing a high bar back squat with passable form with only the 45 pound bar, chances are their form will not improve with 135 pounds on their back. And no, passable form is not a 3 inch 1/8th squat. This morning I see a guy and his trainer doing just that, with a Squat Sponge on the bar none the less! First of all, I believe Squat Sponges for the neck have no place on a bar when back squatting. Beyond the fact that you look like a sissy using one, the squat sponge is 2 inches thick! Ergonomically, now the bar is resting two inches away from your traps and lengthening the lever arm away from your hips and knees. This is highly detrimental to good form. Secondly, when performing a high bar back squat, it is perfectly acceptable for your knees to travel slightly over your toes, so long as the hips are going back first and the bar path remains vertically constant. The high bar, or olympic, back squat is more vertical in orientation than is the low bar or powerlifting back squat. So long as the hips are going back first, and your femur and tibia angles line up with your toes, the lifter is good. Which brings me to my last observation, it is okay, and actually preferable for the feet to externally rotate out to about 30 degrees so long as the femur and tibia angles line up with your toes. This is preferable for two reasons. One, it allows for the recruitment of your hip adductors, more muscle firing equals stronger lifts. Secondly, by opening the stance, the femur will not limit the range of motion by jamming into the anterior hip socket.

As a regression, if a lifter is having trouble with a back squat, especially if it is a range of motion issue, then trade the back squat in for a goblet squat and cue them to keep there chest up, push their hips back, and push out on their knees when they lower down. For goodness sake, do not add load to a crappy back squat.

Two lessons should be learned by this blog. First, learn how to squat properly, it is a great exercise. Secondly, hire a well-trained strength coach professional to assist you if you need it.

--Matthew Miller, CSCS

President - Miller Sports Training & Fitness


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