Is there a best way to squat? Does how you move matter?
We live in a world of extremes and the movement world is deeply split. In one corner you have a group of experts that will tell you the minutia of your movements is absolutely vital. For them there my be some variation from person to person but there is a right way to squat, press and do every other movement in the gym. Deviate from the optimal and you risk pain, injury, heart disease, war and the apocalypse.
The other side of the war says load people up. One movement screen went does the movement feel right to the athlete. If no change it. If yes load it up. Basically no movement is bad movement.
Who is right? It's complicated. Study after study keeps concluded that there is no evidence that things like muscle imbalance or lifting with a rounded back make someone more likely to be injured in the gym. Anyone who has ever been to a high school level weightlifting meet will see this in action. There is so much “bad” movement with a low injury rate. Same with most gyms. Walk in and most people don’t move anywhere close to perfect. To be fair even most physical therapists can’t agree on what is perfect.
Now some may say perfect movement will prevent pain. That seems to make sense but there is no research to back that up. In fact even prexisting injuries like disc issues and rotator cuff tears don't predict pain. It's unlikely that suboptimal movement patterns cause it. In fact most of the time when people develop pain from squatting it isn't in the beginning. They usually have been squatting or running for years. If the bad movement didn't cause problems in the begining it ius unlikely to be the culprit now.
From lifting to running getting injured seems to be less about how we move and more about how quickly we progress. In other words moving in comfortable ways isn’t more likely to result injury provided we slowly increase the volume and load. Starting a running plan at 1 mile a week and going to 40 week 2 will be far more influential on getting injured than how you are actually running.
So on that point the move in a comfortable way crowd is correct. You don’t mitigate gym injuries by moving “better”. That thought doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons to move with better technique so let’s talk about the three main ones.
You can squat any way you want but you may out an artificial ceiling on the weight you can move. A lot of lifting technique has been refined over the years in sports. People have been squatting and pressing for the heaviest weight in competition for years. What has evolved from that is a way to preform the lifts that are most efficient.
Spend enough time in a gym and you will meet people who would love to lift more weight but have been stuck at the same load for a long time. Usually its because they are using an inefficient technique. If you want to make changes progressive overload is the key so learning proper technique is crucial to getting the results we want from the gym.
This movement economy extends to conditioning as well. Proper running, biking or rowing technique can have a huge impact on how fast or far we can go. The same is true of CrossFit. Inefficient movement patterns in CrossFit workouts can hamper you ability to go faster. Essentially when it comes to conditioning you will have an emergency brake on. Not ideal to develop your engine.
“Bad” Lifting technique in the gym won’t make you more likely to get hurt in the gym. Outside of the gym though there may be good reason to work on how we move.
While most gym injuries are less injury and mainly pain outside of the gym especially if we play any sports we are exposed to traumatic injuries.
Things like ACL and meniscal tears in the knee and a lot of shoulder injuries can be more common when range of motion is restricted. Take knee injuries. If the hips or ankles are missing range of motion the knee will be less stable. This is why restriction at the hip or ankle make traumatic knee injury more likely.
Modern life leaves almost al of us with mobility or stability issues. The single easiest way to alter these is to move differently with heavy loads or high heart rates. So while moving well may not save you from pain in the gym it can save you from real injury outside of the gym.
Everyone says they need to stretch more.What that usually translates to is you feel tight or struggle in certain ranges of motion. Maybe your neck or back feels tight after a long day or maybe your hips don't let you squat all the way down. Stretching alone is not enough to fix this. The body adapts to what we demand of it and it measures that demand in time and intensity. So if we sit all day that will affect our mobility. You probably can't quit your job but if we do stuff with high intensity the body will adapt to that as well.
What is high intensity? When it comes to the body adapting we are talking about load and heart rate. In other words exercise. If we want to change our mobility there is no better way than to change how we move when working out. Correct technique will move you through the ranges you need to own to fix your tight hips.