Wednesday, May 1, 2013

You Want Maximal Performance & Size Gains + Complete Thigh Development? Then Full Squats are For You!

So you got to squat?! But how?
I guess that many of you will be missing more recent news on training programming and exercise selection. And I would in fact love to write about these topics more often, but with 37% of the US population being overweight, 99% of the studies deal with the question: "How can exercise help the overweight, obese and morbidly obese survive?" The interest or rather the funds for research as into such profane things as the effect of range of motion in heavy load squatting on muscle and tendon adaptations, on the other hand, are so scarce that K. Bloomquist's, H. Langberg's, S. Karlsen's, S. Madsgaard's, M. Boesen's, T. Raastad's latest paper is almost an exotic bird and that in a journal with the auspicious title the European Journal of Applied Physiology.

Interesting studies on specific exercises are rare

In their latest study, the researchers from the Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark and the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences tried to elucidate, whether the deep (DS) and shallow (SS) squatting would have a differential effect on specific adaptations in the front thigh muscles, the patellar tendon and the 17 male particpants in their early twenties.
Table 1: After an initial familiarization (week 1) and pretesting week (week 2) the subjects preformed the above workout; submax exercises were preformed for 8 reps with a weight the subjects could lift for 13-14 reps (Bloomquist. 2013)
Yet while all subjects were sports students, the scientists excluded those who had been squatting regularly within the last six months (probably to see statistical significant effects):
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"During the intervention, subjects were requested not to participate in endurance sports more than three times per week, or to engage in strength training of the lower extremities. After a 1-week familiarization period, subjects were tested and paired according to their initial DS strength. From each pair one subject was drawn, by envelope, into either the DS or SS group with the other member of the pair allotted to the opposite group."
After the 14-week (effectively only 12w) training period the subjects performed a follow up test in the course of which the researchers evaluated the 1-RM and isometric strength, the cross sectional area of the front thigh muscle, the total lean body mass, the collagen synthesis in the patellar tendon and the jump performance.
Figure 1: Changes in muscle power / performance (jump squat & counter movement jump) and size in the shallow squat and deep squat group (Bloomquist. 2012)
I guess a brief glance at data figure 1 should suffice to see that performance wise the full-squat (0–120 ° of knee flexion vs. 0-60° for shallow squats) play in a whole different league:
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  • much higher torques (not shown), slightly more pronounced gains in 1RM strength (not shown)
  • greater increase in leg mass, significantly higher increase in CSA with increases in CSA on all not just the proximal sites
  • greater jump squat & counter movement jump (CMJ) performance increases
In view of these favorable results the only reason not to deep squat would probably be that it could hurt your patellar tendon, but contrary to what the scientists had expected,...
"[...] neither group elicited gains in patellar tendon CSA or collagen synthesis.[...] Though not expected, these results are in accordance with several resistance training studies that have shown that increases in strength were not accompanied by increases in tendon CSA. Rather, a markedly altered elastic modulus was found in these studies, implying a change in the composition of the tendon structure instead of the size."
In trained athletes / sport students a picture perfect deep squat may thus be considered a save and highly efficient way to build bigger and stronger wheels.

Did you know that you can use your 1-RM squat to calculate your training weight on hamstring exercises? Ebben et al. found the following equations to yield reliable results: (1) seated leg curl load = squat load (0.186) + 10.935 kg, (2) stiff leg deadlift load = squat load (1.133) - 86.331 kg, (3) single leg stiff leg deadlift load = squat load (0.443) - 3.425 kg, and (4) good morning load = squat load (0.961) - 105.505 kg (Ebben. 2010). I have my doubts that this will work for all of you, but give it a try, it's free ;-)
Bottom line: So if you "got to squat" as the imagine next to the introductory paragraph clearly suggests, the deep squat is the way to go? Well... compared to the shallow squat to a knee angle of 90°, I would fully subscribe to that (as long as you know what you are doing and not hurting yourself by squatting with improper form), when it comes to the "to parallel" vs. 90° knee angle questions, the advantage of the full squat may well start to melt away.

Yet while the data in the SuppVersity EMG Series suggests that this is the case for the quads, it is highly questionable if the glute development the aformentioned slightly sexist image is unmistakably hinting at will not still suck if you don't squat to a 120° knee angle. Try it for yourself and feel the glutes working. If it's the pretty behind you are after, you won't get around squatting "deep" as far as the squat is concerned. But hey, who says you got to do that with weights that are so heavy that they put you at risk of injury?

  • Bloomquist K, Langberg H, Karlsen S, Madsgaard S, Boesen M, Raastad T. Effect of range of motion in heavy load squatting on muscle and tendon adaptations. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2013 Apr 20.  
  • Ebben WP, Long NJ, Pawlowski ZD, Chmielewski LM, Clewien RW, Jensen RL. Using squat repetition maximum testing to determine hamstring resistance training exercise loads. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Feb;24(2):293-9.