Barbell squats (back squats) and deadlifts are a great starting point for any gym program as they are important to gain lower body strength which is helpful for anyone, whether you are a sporting person or not.
They are two of the most popular exercises performed at the gym as they have many benefits for overall health. They are effective exercises to strengthen a range of muscle groups in the lower body allowing easy movement and also helping to prevent injuries. For these reasons among others, physiotherapists recommend squats and deadlifts for functional strength.
While they are both common exercises, it is worth pointing out they are two of the more technically difficult exercises, especially for those new to resistance training or with limited experience in these lifts.
The Benefits of Squats & Deadlifts
While both these exercises strengthen the muscles in the legs and the glutes, they each activate slightly different muscle groups to give you a great workout for your lower body. There are many reasons for incorporating these exercises into your routine.
● They are great maintenance for quad and glute strength.
● Contribute to core-stability training programs.
● Can help improve posture.
● The movements cross over to movements in many sports including sprinting and jumping.
● Help increase power which can improve performance in activities such as cycling and running.
● They can help improve flexibility in the spine and hamstrings.
● Fantastic for burning energy and fat due to the large muscles being used for the movements.
● By assisting with bone strength, they help prevent osteoarthritis in the most at-risk joints like knees and hips.
● Can enhance grip strength.
● Help to improve the hip hinge, especially helpful for those with sedentary jobs or lifestyles.
Injury Risks to Look Out For
As several joints are used, especially when performing a deadlift, there is a lot that can go wrong when performing this exercise. Take the time to learn how to perform these exercises with the correct technique to reduce injury risk. Common injuries are to the back, but the biceps can also be injured, with tears to these muscles a result of not lifting well.
Many people may be wary of performing these exercises due to being misinformed that they are ‘bad for your back’, and therefore often avoid them. It’s understandable to be nervous about injuries to the spine as they can be nasty. But do not be deterred from squats and deadlifts because you can definitely undertake these safely and get positive results.
Your sports physiotherapist can provide advice and training on undertaking a safe and effective squat and deadlift movement. The team at Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy are experts in treating injuries, as well as preventing them.
There are some things to consider such as knowing that there isn’t a perfect squat technique as each individual is slightly different and that affects how each person best performs a squat. Also, remember that the spine is actually a really resilient structure and is capable of significant load through its full range of motion.
Technique Tips for Squats & Deadlifts
Our joints are robust and incredibly adaptable, providing we are smart with when and how we increase the load on them. Some of the best tips for performing squats are listed below.
Keep Weight Even on the Feet
It is important to keep your feet spread apart with weight distribution even on each foot as this keeps the body well balanced. This is crucial in protecting the body from injury when exercising with heavy loads.
Imagine you are going to sit on a chair and do that in your squat movement. This loads the hip/hamstring muscle group which is the most powerful in the whole body. The hip extensor muscles, primarily the glutes, work most effectively when the hip is flexed, and that happens when you stick your bottom behind you on the way down.
By ‘sitting on a chair’ you also reduce the extension of the chest, to help protect the lumbar spine. Also, it helps you keep the centre of mass (the barbell), directly over the feet.
Bend Knees & Ankles
The largest difference between a squat and a deadlift is a combined movement in the hips, knees and ankles. Allowing the joints and muscles to work in unison, it controls the weight on the way down into the squat and drives the weight back up.
You will find there is a particular position that is comfortable for you with your foot placement and direction. Feet at hip width apart is a good guide, but it may be wider. Always keep your knees in alignment with your feet and hips – in other words, don’t allow your knees to come in narrower than your feet. This will keep everything loaded evenly and reduce stress on the knees.
Maintain Spine Position
Try to keep a neutral spine position as best you can. Due to our individual differences, you may find you have some spinal flexion or bending, and it can differ depending on the depth of your squat.
The most important tip is to work at a sustainable pace. Always increase your load gradually so you avoid unnecessary injury.
Deadlifting Following a Back Injury
If you have had a back injury and wish to progress back to deadlifting it is critical to work on strengthening the back and hips. By strengthening the tissue in these areas, you will be able to increase the load with minimal risk of further damage.
There are several good exercises to strengthen the back and hips, including Chinese planks, bent over rows, banded good mornings, glute bridges, single leg deadlifts, lunges and hip thrusts.
Give the experienced team at Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy a call to book a consultation to take you through these exercises or discuss your situation for advice on squats and deadlifts. Remember, you don’t need to avoid these exercises, reap the benefits instead.