By Frank Wintrich – O2X Human Performance Specialist
King of Movements
When I was working in college athletics, the back squat was the KING OF ALL MOVEMENTS. I had a whole day dedicated to the “BIG SQUAT” — there were poems, T-Shirts and play lists – it was a HUGE deal. All this attention was not just for the physical benefits, but also because of the incredible psychological benefits of this incredible movement.
There aren’t many absolutes in the Human Performance realm, but one thing I think every coach and practitioner can agree on is that every program should include some variation of the squat pattern movement.
Regardless of your age, rank, operational capacity, field, or fitness goals, some variation of this movement will benefit every tactical athlete.
While the squat is typically viewed as a “lower body” movement, it has outstanding positive training effects from head to toe, and, when performed correctly, it can be one of the best performance enhancing movements in your arsenal.
Why is this? For one, squatting is a movement pattern we engage in daily — like when we sit and stand, or when we crouch down to pick something up. The squat also has a high level of dynamic correspondence to running and sprinting. There are countless variations that can be applied to the squat as well. So, let’s go in depth (pun intended) with the KING and see what he has to offer.
Squats Improve Muscle Hypertrophy
No surprises here. After all, the squat is a lower body movement that requires your major lower-body muscles to work in conjunction with each other. Here’s an overview of the main leg muscles bolstered by the squat.
Glutes: Combined, the gluteus maximus and medius make up the largest muscle in the human body and are responsible for a large portion of power production. Squatting strengthens the glutes — which is important considering that stronger glutes aid in lower body strength and stability. Strong glutes help protect your spine so that your erectors are not constantly being overworked because of weak, lazy glutes.
Quads: The four quad muscles — vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris — support leg extension and protect the knee from instability. Also, research suggests that fuller ranges of motion can elicit significant quad growth at lower intensities. Simply put, you don’t always need to squat heavy to build mass, but you do need to squat in the full range of motion.
Hamstrings: Made up of the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris, the hamstrings flex the leg when walking, jogging, and running. The hamstrings also play a large role in our ability to jump.
Squatting can improve your Ability to Jump
Speaking of jumping, squatting can improve our ability to jump. When we squat we’re strengthening all the muscles of the lower extremities, therefore increasing our ability to produce power. A study published in 2012 analyzed 59 participants and their vertical jump while following a ten-week program that focused on three squat variations: front squat, back squat, and partial squat. The results? Deep full squats improved vertical jump by increasing the ability to develop force.
Squatting can Improve Sprint Speed
I’ve already asserted that squats improve power output, and higher power output can improve sprint speed. Studies show a direct correlation between sprint speeds and full squat power outputs. Fourteen soccer players tested both their vertical jumps and sprint times and then performed weighted squat jumps and full squats. Both squat variations resulted in faster sprint times.
Squatting can improve Torso Strength
I’m referencing the whole torso as the core, not just the abs. When you’re holding weight and moving through multiple planes of motion, the body must work hard to remain stable and not fall over. This, in turn, strengthens the entire torso, which includes the lower back, inner spinal stabilizers, mid-back, obliques, and abdominal musculature.
Squatting can Improve Mobility and Build Stronger Joints
Mobility isn’t just about your range of motion, but how strong you are in specific ranges of motion. Repeatedly performing squats trains your joints to move through multiple planes of motion. Adding weight to your squats over time will result in strength throughout all ranges of motion of a squat. That newfound squat strength can then carry over to everyday life. When you regularly squat, you strengthen and build the muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments that make up the joints involved in squatting.
Squat Variations to Check Out
There are a lot of ways to train the squat pattern movement, and though they may be different, they are all beneficial. Here are a few squat variations worth trying:
The goblet squat is a fantastic back squat alternative, especially for beginners who want to improve movement mechanics and technique. Along with being a great preparatory movement for back squats, the goblet squat is a great movement to do during warm-ups and when teaching torso position.
The front squat is a commonly utilized squat variation, especially in Olympic lifting programs where it is a vital part of the clean and jerk. I frequently find, when working with athletes, that it is an outstanding way to teach proper torso position throughout the entire range of movement, particularly for taller athletes. Front squat is also a great option if you have shoulder issues that prohibit putting a bar on your back.
A staple in all my programs, the box squat is one of the very best tools in learning how to properly reach your hips back and your knees out in the squat. The box squat is great because it provides the lifter with a kinesthetic cue when they’ve reached proper depth, breaks the concentric/ eccentric chain, and teaches the lifter how to properly control the load in the eccentric phase.
Squats can help you build more muscle, increase strength, and improve power output. Before you start loading your squats, ensure that your technique is on point.
The squat is one of the best general movements for tactical athletes. Any tactical athlete can benefit from some form of squats because they work the entire body, and studies show squatting to increase lower body strength can produce the following benefits:
– Better functional mobility and faster walking speed
– Greater bone mineral density and less chance of breaking a bone
– Stronger core musculature to prevent lower back pain and injury
– Faster running speed at short and long distances
– Greater vertical jump height
– Better performance in the field
About the Specialist: Frank Wintrich is an O2X On-Site Human Performance Specialist who specializes in Strength & Conditioning. His role as a human performance program manager is to support tactical athletes with comprehensive training, programs, and resources that will arm them for success on and off the job. The work of the FBI is dynamic, challenging, physical, and critical to our national security, Frank and the O2X team specialize in preparing tactical athletes for just such a mission. Prior to O2X, Frank served as the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division after serving 20 years in collegiate athletics. During his collegiate coaching career, he served at 9 different institutions across a multitude of sport disciplines – most recently as the Director of Football Performance at UCLA.