THE BACK SQUAT IN SPORT PERFORMANCE
Squats are one of the most popular forms of strength training for core muscles, i.e the abs, the muscles
of your back, the hips flexors and extensors, and it has many variations. Some squat with the weight in
front while others do back squats (the most common form and therefore simply called as thesquat),
some squat with dumbbells while others with loaded barbells.
For sportsman of practically all kinds, whether you’re a sprinter, jumper, vaulter, rower or a bodybuild er, core training with squats is quintessential in your routine as it is what can propel you faster, higher and further than ever before.
What back squats can do for you
So how exactly can this wonder exercise help you in improving your sports performance? The answer is
in your core, literally. Think about it, you rely on your core musculature every single day for doing
something as simple as standing. These amazingly coordinated groups of muscles are continuously at
work, maintaining spinal column curvatures and keeping your whole upper body balanced.
These muscles are the key connection between your upper and lower body and every movement requiring
both upper and lower body coordination involves these muscles working together in perfect harmony.
The back squats, along with deadlifts, are the exercises with the widest area of effect, simultaneously
engaging all the muscles of your back and legs, and even your upper body as you hold and maintain your
grip on the weight. Such exercises are called compound exercises and they are extremely effective in
getting your musculoskeletal system to increase its weight-bearing ability and power.
Anterior and Posterior chain muscles
As mentioned above the squat is one of the most effective compound exercises to strengthen more than
half of your body’s musculature. It does this by simultaneously recruiting type I and II muscle fibers in all
muscle groups involved in maintaining the weight and balancing the body. We divide these groups into
two broad categories:
This chain of muscle groups is situated anteriorly in your body and include the quadriceps, the abs
or recti, the external and internal oblique muscles of the abdomen, the hips flexing Iliacus and Psoas
muscles and even the pectoral muscles in the chest.
The posterior chain contains all the muscles of your back from the Trapezius, Rhomboids and the Lats
or Latissimus dorsi, down to the hip extensors like the Glutes and Hamstrings. This group also includes
the all-important muscles that are involved with manipulating and therefore maintaining your spinal
By working on all these diverse groups of muscles at once, back squats help to condition them into
working synchronously, and with progressive overload, these muscles get stronger and stronger. The
benefit of this to all sportsman is the fact that this increased strength directly translates into more
You can lift more than you ever could, run faster than your personal records, and jump higher
than your benchmark heights by incorporating this simple yet highly effective exercise into your
Growth by stretching
Squats employ a continuous motion cycle from the beginning at standing position to slowly bending downwards on your hips and knees while keeping the back straight and then pushing yourself back into
the starting position. The whole range of motion can be divided into two phases with reference to the
·The eccentric phase – this is the descent from start to the bottom. You lower your body under the
weight in a controlled fashion, resulting in your posterior chain muscles slowly getting stretched to
greater and greater lengths while the anterior chain slowly shortening in length.
·The concentric phase – this is the ascent from bottom back to the starting position. This is
where your posterior chain muscles exert their force as muscle fiber lengths shorten to pull
your body back up. The anterior chain, therefore, experiences an eccentric stretch as your body
ascends and straightens out.
You can see that both chains of muscles experience opposite phases to each other throughout the range
of motion. As both chains experience the eccentric stretching, and then concentric contraction, micro
tears in muscle fibers occur and these tears are then repaired and reinforced when you rest, leading to
bigger and thus stronger muscles.
Furthermore, because of the forced stretching muscle fibers go under the stress of the weight,
specialized stretch sensors called Golgi Tendon organs are stimulated which incite the nervous system to
send in ‘contract’ signals to the muscles. The muscle responds by recruiting muscle fibers and then
With progressively heavier loads, the Golgi Tendons essentially realize they can’t make do
with the same number of contracting fibers anymore, and this is where the benefit of compound
exercises comes in.
With heavier loads, the muscle also begins to recruit more muscle fibers to get the job done. You practically see it as greater strength and endurance in your sport with the same mass ofcontracting muscle.
Core stability and Posture
Another benefit of squats deals with their tone. In sports your muscles need to be in perfect form even
when resting, to have no hindrances whenever they need to work. Therefore, the muscles are always in
a state of isometric contraction, that is they are always slightly tensed by the nervous system and this
maintains your normal posture.
The traps, abs, muscles of the abdominal wall, hip flexors, shoulders and even the quads are all involved in maintaining a normal upright posture of the skeleton and all are again involved in maintaining proper form while squatting. Starting light and then progressively adding more weight allows for strengthening of these ‘postural’ muscles.
ACL and meniscus tears
The knee-joint bears the greatest stress during squatting. Therefore, it is common for novice lifters to
get too ahead of themselves on the squat rack and end up with knee injuries like tears in the
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) or the menisci (shock absorbing and lubricating pads between the
femur and the tibia). In severe cases, even whole tendons may rupture and tear away from their
attachments on the bones.
Avoiding ACL and meniscus tears involves knowing and applying proper form when squatting. The
normal squat form takes your hips deep beyond the level of the knees. Any squat that is not deep
enough is called a partial squat, and partial squats put immense stress on the knee-joint while sparing
the actual muscular targets of the exercise.
Furthermore, incorrect or partial squatting keeps the hamstrings from strengthening. The hamstrings are also a powerful stabilizer of the knee-joint and so,ham strings weakened by incorrect squatting also lead to ACL tears. Full squatting, therefore, not only is safer in terms of real stress on the knee-joint but also develops the joint stabilizing muscles like the hamstrings and even the quads.
What back squat can’t do for you
Before you let your imagination run wild and start imagining back squats as the miracle exercise to get
your Olympic gold medals, it is also essential to know exactly what the back squat cannot help you with.
While it can and will increase power output and muscle recruitment to greatly improve your knee
stability and strengthen up your core, it can’t help you with sport-specific skills.
If you’re a sprinter and you have bad form, squats can’t fix it; instead, your squat derived power and speed may suffer at the hands of a bad form. Similarly, squats can’t help you throw a basketball more accurately or help you do a home run every single time if your bat-timing is not up to the mark.
We recommend squats as a foundational exercise to develop the main muscles employed in practically
every exercise because all exercises need power, strength, and speed.