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Exercises That Can Cause Injury: The Squat

Squatting too lowSquatting-type exercises are an important part of everyones workout routine. As a byproduct, there are a lot of figure competitors who have sore knees …or kness that are easily ‘tweaked‘.

Since the explosion of women athletics in colleges, along with the increased number of women in gyms… doctors have noticed that women have a much higher percentge of knee injuries than men. There are a number of reasons for this… but one of them is squatting technique – either in preparation to jump (as in basketball or volley ball) or in the gym doing squats, lunges etc., and not being careful with technique. Below (video) is something I see much too often that can lead to injury, if done on a regular basis:  “The Bounce”

Bouncing at the bottom of a squat makes it easier to get out of the lower squat positions – similar to bouncing the bar off your chest while bench pressing. The problem is that the knee tendons/ligaments are under a lot of strain during this bounce. Tendons are very strong and designed to handle more stress that the actual muscle the are attached to… BUT, you don’t want to repeatedly test their strength.

In the video below, the first few reps are done correctly (…no bouncing at the bottom). The remaining reps are done INCORRECTLY (bouncing at the bottom). Ideally, you should try to pause for a split second at the bottom of your squat to eliminate any possible bouncing. This is not only safer, but you get a better workout, because your leg muscle have to do ALL the work …with no help from the much stronger tendons.

Bouncing has always been a problem when doing regular bar squats, but it is even more of a problem now with the many plyometric based exercise programs that use jump squats and simiular types of movements – it’s very important to stay in control of these movements especially when you are tired or going for speed (form can become very sloppy wheh trying to ‘beat the clock’). Figure competitors must always keep in mind that an injury will make it very diffcult to reach competition condition… especially if your legs/knees are affected – because trying to do jump squats, cardio etc., on an injured knee is next to impossible.

Are Plyometrics Safe for Figure Training

Figure competitors ask me about plyometrics all the time. “Is it a good way to train?” …”Are they safe?” …”How often should you do them?”

plyometrics traing and figure competitionPlyometrics were one of the greatest breakthroughs in sports training… ever! Developed by a Russian doctor, Yuri Verkhoshansky in 1964, helped the communists countries (Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc) dominate track and field. The United States went over to see why a small country like East Germany with the population equal that of New York State (abut 17,000,000 people) could dominate the United States (with a population 10 X that of East Germany – 180,000,000) in Olympic competition. They discovered that they were using a training techniques named plyometrics.

Plyometrics are designed to stress the body in a way so that it becomes stronger, faster and more powerful. They were designed for high level athletes. These exercises place high levels of stress on joints, ligaments and muscles – but this is necessary for the muscular and neurological adaptions to take place in the body that will lead to improvements.

That being said…. plyometrics were never meant for group training classes where participants perform hundreds or thousands of repetitions during a single class. Participants, many of whom, may not even have an athletic background – I know quite a few people who who are starting to complain about sore knees etc., from these plyometric classes/workouts that are popping up.

Because of the many workouts and hours of cardio you must do to get ready for a figure competition, It’s easy to get nagging injuries. Too many plyometrics may push already exhausted joints and muscles over the limit… so it is imperative that you listen to your body and stop any exercises the second you feel something “weird”

It’s not that plyometrics should not be done but you have to:

  • know your body’s limit
  • don’t do entire workouts using just plyometrics
  • perform the ‘safer’ plyometric exercises

When done alongside other exercises, plyometrics can get your heart rate up and can help you burn a lot of calories.

  • For example: instead of trying to get your heart rate up doing 35 jump squats. You could get your heart rate up on a spin bike, get off immediately and do 12 jump squats. Now that’s a workout… and you cut your jump squats by 2/3.

One leg dominant exercises: Exercises that requires you to support all or most of your weight on one leg should be avoided or done in a limited fashion. I never have anyone do one-legged jumps/bounds and only occasionally will we do jump lunges. These are exercises I used when I did plyometrics to increase my vertical jumps 20 years ago. They worked great back then for increasing my vertical jump (I ‘posterized’ a few people) but my knees are paying a price nowadays. It was definitely not worth it! My problem was that I did too many reps and exercises. The key with plyometrics regardless if you’re just trying to improve in sports or lose body fat is QUALITY over QUANITY…. don’t overdue it!!! I got an x-ray of my knees few weeks ago and the pictures were not good… the doctor called it right away: “You must have been a jumper?”

Safer exercises: exercises like jump squats are much better because your weight is distributed more evenly when you land, but still not everyone can do them. A small percentage of people can jump really high…. the large majority should be more cautious and jump less aggressively. The landings should be soft so that the knees can absorb the shock as you lower down into a squat position. True plyometric exercise is done exactly opposite (knees don’t absorb the impact) but the strain on your knees would not be worth it… plus you get a better fat burning workout when lowering into a squat position.

conclusion: Plyometrics can definitely be a part of your fat loss workout program. Put them in your workout to get the maximum benefit from them… but don’t build an entire workout around plyometrics.