Squats And Athletic Performance

By Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN

Athletes train for explosive power, muscle strength, speed, agility and functionality. In their training, athletes perform a series of compound strength training movements including the squat.  Compound movements are multi-jointed exercises that train your muscles to work together to achieve an end.

Why use compound movements
Athletes need to train more than on joint at a time to achieve optimum functionality and strength. Isolated movements, such as those utilized by bodybuilders, benefit only 1 or 2 muscle groups, and should not be used by athletes training for a sport.

Our bodies, and more importantly our muscles, are designed to work together. Your brain recognizes movement over muscle, so you need to work your body in such a way that it develops sound athletic movement patterns that gradually increase in strength. Muscle increase in strength through synergy, or assistance of other muscles. If you want stronger deltoids, you need to work your biceps, triceps, and lats all at the same time.

So, what better way to build your entire lower body than through squat movements? When performed correctly, squatting promotes muscular balance while preventing muscle injury.

Squats for athletes
Back squatting is a great way to increase athletic mobility. It should be used along with deadlifts, front squats, and overhead squats in your athletic strength-training program. Squatting is a full body exercise, meaning it elevates your human growth hormone and testosterone levels by networking muscles, tendons, and ligaments together in a kinetic chain.

The primary muscles used when squatting are the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, and glutes. However, because of type of movement used, you isometrically build upon your lats, chest, delts, and even your arms.

Squat technique
When performing a back squat, place the barbell across your upper trapezius muscle, right below your neck. Upon descending, your body should move into a seated position, with the top of your thighs below parallel to the floor. Pause in this bottom position and begin ascension. Once you ascend, squeeze your glute muscles at the top.

Squat position
Focus: take your time to focus physically and mentally before you begin to descend. Step away from the squat rack so you have adequate enough space for the entirety of your movement.

Body position: align your thoracic and vertical spine by lifting your head up. Keep your chest up and your abdomen tight throughout your movement. The intra-abdominal pressure will provide added support for your spine.

Squat movement
A majority of your emphasis will be on the posterior chain, where your hips move backward first. By doing this, your legs will naturally follow suit. Never move forward, extending your knee beyond your ankle. Always move your hips backward as though you were sitting on a chair.

Stay tight throughout he movement. Hold the bar in place with a strong grip and firm trapezius muscles. Pull yourself down by using your hamstrings and glutes rather than just allowing gravity to take over. You want a controlled movement on the way down as well as on your way back up.

Athletic squat tempo

As an athlete, you want to use a tempo with a 3:1 ratio, meaning you move down for 3 counts and explode back up. This teaches you muscle control and builds explosive power.

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