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Movement Mondays: Introduction to Squats for Gamers

Welcome to Movement Mondays, where we go over ways to keep mobile without making yourself miserable. Each week, we’ll cover a different topic, from running to weightlifting to dancing to rock climbing. There isn’t only one right way to stay active; the “right way” is whatever meets certain basic requirements (150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, muscle-strengthening exercise that hit all major muscle groups 2x/week) and, more importantly, keeps you interested in moving. Follow this series to see if you can find what moves you here!   

This week’s topic: Squats!

WHAT ARE SQUATS?

Let’s keep this simple – it is one of the most frequent movements we perform on a day-to-day basis. Getting up out of chair, getting into your car, getting out of bed, picking something off of the floor, making sure all of our cables our well-hidden behind our PC setup… it is something we NEED to be good at. In this article, we write about about all different types of squats you can do for exercise.

WHY SHOULD I SQUAT AS A GAMER?

First, and clearly most importantly, squatting is an integral part of developing a good butt.

Not sold? No? Ok. Squats are also valuable for gamers outside of booty-related reasons. While squats are primarily an exercise for developing leg strength, they also require activation of core muscles and postural muscles (especially for weighted squats). These are the muscles that keep you sitting upright, well-supported and not slumped over, through the entirety of a Siltbreaker campaign or the whole first act of Diablo 3. Good posture, supported by strong postural muscles, also improves your breathing. If you can’t remember why breathing is so important for gaming (other than the obvious), check out our article on the topic here.

There are very few people who shouldn’t squat, and it’s an exercise almost everyone can do. If you have a history of knee or hip injuries, you may require modifications; if you have certain medical conditions, you may need to clear a new exercise regimen with your doctor first. As with any exercise program, if you are significantly overweight or have not exercised in a long time, check with your doctor to make sure you cardiovascular system is prepared for the extra workload exercise will cause it to take on.

Whether you’re doing them bodyweight only or with a weight, you risk injury doing squats if you do them with bad form. Especially if you’re doing them weighted, your form needs to be the most important part of the lift, not the number of plates on your bar.

HOW TO SQUAT PROPERLY – FOR GAMERS

bsquat2front bsquatside2

Let’s move from top-down with all of the things you have to consider as a gamer when performing squats. Let’s split this up into some easy to understand sections: The Spine (Neck, Mid-Back, Lower Back), Bar and Shoulders, Hips/Knees/Toes

The Spine

As we have mentioned many times in our previous posts – ITS ALL ABOUT THE NEUTRAL. From the neck all the way down to the lower back, keep your neutral by keeping your chin slightly tucked, bring your chest up and find the “center position” of your pelvis. DO NOT LOOK UP DURING YOUR SQUAT  – while it can help engage some muscles of your back it adds excessive compression stress to your neck. The focus of this exercise is for your BUTT, remember? not your back

1HP Form Code: Tuck your Chin, Keep your Chest up and neutral lower-back.

Bar and Shoulders

Make sure your shoulders are in the shape of a W and form a shelf for the bar to sit on a nice groove between the bone the protrudes out the most from your neck (C7 Spinous process) and the muscle belly of your upper trap! We call this position the high-bar.  Keep your shoulders STABILIZED THE WHOLE TIME DURING THE DESCENT AND ASCENT of the squat. Do not let them droop as it can compress nerves

1HP Form Code: High-Bar Position and Shelf for the Bar (W), Keep shoulders active

Hips, Knees and Toes

Let’s look at your hips and knees from both the side-view and the front view.

With the side-view: The first major point to consider with the side-view is….the squat is all about the HIP-HINGE. Meaning… imagine as though you are going to sit on the toilet. Do you send your butt back first or bend your knees?? SEND YOUR BUTT BACK and fold at the hips!

Another key point to remember with the side-view is minimizing how far your toes pass your knees. Everyone has unique bio-mechanical differences (length of the leg-bone vs. length of thigh bone) which means it’s possible for one to perform the squat with the knees going past the toes. Just remember – MINIMIZE this from happening and use more of your butt (hip-hinge, hip-fold) for the movement of the squat. 

With the front-view: All you have to consider is the alignment of your knees to your toes. The center of your kneecap should be aligned with the between your second and third toe (or the midline of your foot). This allows for appropriate use of your butt during the exercise!

Also with the feet, the recommendations to keep your toes pointed forward is not always the best recommendation. Again, everyone is unique and the way our hip connects to our pelvis is shaped differently per person. One person may feel as though they are pinching at the front of the hip if they keep their toes forward while others may feel totally fine. The best recommendation is to have your toes pointed 15-20 degrees out from the front – this takes into account MOST morphological differences

1HP Form Code: FOLD from your hips to start the movement. Minimize knees going over toes. Knees aligned with feet. Feet turned slightly out. 

More about Squats & Variations for Gamers

As Matt shows in the GIFs above, your squat should be slow and controlled on the way down, fast and powerful on the way up. Your knees should stay behind your toes and should never drift inward. Your back should be straight and as upright as possible.

Make sure to keep your core muscles (abs and postural muscles) engaged. This doesn’t mean you should hold your breath or suck in your stomach. Think about how your stomach feels when you cough or laugh hard; that tightening is what you should feel when you engage your core muscles.

In the gifs above, Matt is demonstrating a weighted back squat. Some other useful variations to know are the front squat and the goblet squat.

In general, all squats will involve your quads, glutes, hip stabilizers, and back muscles. However, back squats shift the focus slightly more towards your glutes and lower back muscles, while front squats will shift the focus slightly more towards your quads and upper back muscles.

There are two ways to do a weighted front squat. The first way requires a bit more wrist strength and mobility; the second way is a little easier on your wrists if you have less mobility or a history of injury.

Option #1: Wrists extended, bar supported by  hands and chest

fsquat1side

Option #2: Arms crossed over bar; bar supported by chest and held in place by hands

fsquat2front

Goblet squats are slightly different in that they are done with a kettlebell or dumbbell, not a barbell, but the same principles apply: same muscle groups engaged and strengthened, same focus on good form.

gsquatfront

gsquatside

WHAT IF I CAN’T KEEP GOOD FORM WHEN I SQUAT?

If you’re having trouble with maintaining good form, it’s likely related to one of two things: weakness or immobility. Let’s look at two easy adjustments to make to address those.

One of the most common points of weakness in the hip abductors, muscles that help keep the knees from drifting in.

The first option to address this is to place something between your knees, like an exercise ball. However, this will not help strengthen the weakness, only prevent the symptom (knees drifting in). A better option, which may require decreasing the weight lifted overall, is to wrap a resistance band around both legs, just above the knees. This acts as a postural cue to keep your knees pressed out, and requires you to keep your hip abductors engaged in a way that strengthens them.

Another common issue is decreased mobility in the ankles, specifically in dorsiflexion (ankle bending). This can lead to compensations like knees bending too far forward (in front of the toes), increase bending at the hips, and rounding of the back, all of which put you at risk for injury. To manage this particular issue while lifting, place a small support underneath your heels (not more than an inch or so tall, such as a 10 lb plate). For a longer-term fix, stay tuned for an article later this week on how to improve your dorsiflexion!

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I SQUAT?

As with our Intro to Running article, the answer is “it depends on your goal.” If you’re lifting for muscular strength, you’ll want to perform more sets of lower repetitions and heavier weights. If you’re lifting for muscular endurance, you’ll want to perform sets with more repetitions and lower weights. If you’re not sure what your particular goals are, and just want to be healthier in general, three sets of 10 repetitions is a good place to start.

If you’re just starting out, lifting every day is overdoing it. Start out no more frequently than every other dayrest and recovery are as important as the work you put in. Make sure that rest is productive, though; the more you continue moving, the less you’ll develop delayed-onset muscle soreness and tightness. Squats should never make up the sum total of your workouts, but they’re a very basic and very important exercise to include. They should be done early in a workout, before muscle fatigue puts you at risk of poor form. When you do include squats, a sample workout might look like this:

Workout 1

  • 10 min aerobic warmup: walking, running, bike, elliptical
  • 1 warmup set of 10 bodyweight squats
  • 3 sets of 10 weighted back squats with 2 mins rest between sets.
  • Cooldown: stretching, foam rolling

Workout 2

  • 10 min aerobic warmup: walking, running, bike, elliptical
  • 1 warmup set of 10 bodyweight squats
  • 3 sets of 10 weighted front squats with 2 mins rest between sets.
  • Cooldown: stretching, foam rolling

Workout 3

  • 10 min aerobic warmup: walking, running, bike, elliptical
  • 1 warmup set of 10 bodyweight squats
  • 3 sets of 10 weighted back squats with 2 mins rest between sets.
  • Cooldown: stretching, foam rolling

TL;DR

  1. Form is KEY: back straight and mostly upright, knees not inside of feet and not much further forward than the toes, core muscles engaged

  2. If you have issues with hip stabilizer weakness, try keeping an exercise ball between your legs or a resistance band around your legs.

  3. If you have issues with ankle range of motion, try keeping a support underneath your heels

  4. Back squats, front squats, goblet squats, and bodyweight squats are all perfectly good exercises.

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& some help from

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