If you were to choose the best exercise, it would be...

All trainees are looking for the "Holy Grail" - the best exercises, training plans, supplements, nutrients, ways of regeneration. Unfortunately, aside from a bunch of useful information, on the Internet you can also find much nonsense. On the occasion of choosing the best exercise, I will try to refute some popular myths.

What conditions "the best exercise" must fulfill?

  • It must engage as many muscle groups in your body as possible,
  • Its regular execution should be reflected in the effective strength (ie, it assists in any type of effort which is described in the rest of the text: a strength training can increase your speed of the sprint and improve your performance in high jumps),
  • It is equally suitable for the beginners and advanced,
  • It is safe (done properly does not pose any threat of injury).

My favourite would be the barbell squats. It's a great exercise for overall body development involving major muscle parts (mainly the front and to a lesser extent the back part of the thigh, buttocks, back rectifiers, abdominals). Squats are performed by weightlifters, powerlifters, strongmen, boxers, wrestlers, bodybuilders, athletes who train Brazilian jiu-jitsu and MMA etc. As one of competitions in powerlifting the squat is restricted by many rules: the IPF sanctiones its depth, the position of the barbell and its changing on the back etc. Professional weightlifters perform squats as a universal exercise which is to help them snatch and clean and jerk. One of the strongest weightlifters in the world (his result in the snatch was more than 211 kgs, while in clean & jerk over 240 kgs) a Russian Mikhail Koklayaev enjoys performing a back squat (with no gear, ie. no costume nor bandages) with 360 kgs and a front squat with the weight of 312,5 kgs.

For various reasons, many trainees avoid squats or do them wrong. The most common answer to the question "why don't you squat?" is: "I have a knee injury." If that was true, there would be a real epidemic of knee damages, and orthopedics would be a gold mine. A knee injury that prevents one from doing squats (even in a limited range of motion) is rare in young people (especially those who train recreationally). Similar injuries relate to the elderly with mechanically damaged joints and professional sportsmen (especially football players, runners, weightlifters, martial arts athletes).

Far more often, the real reason for avoiding squats is reluctance to train legs for it is one of the toughest kinds of work known to men (the tonnage to be lifted during one session of front or back squats can raise your heart rate to the maximum level). There are known cases of fainting during extreme lifting weights in the squat (eg. Austrian strongman Martin Wildauer lost his consciousness during his attempt to lift 240 kgs in the squat front). Instead of training their lower body, the practitioners would rather focus on their upper body: barbell bench press, flies or biceps exercises.

The second reason is the fear of using small loads in the new exercise. One who so far have applied "great" weights for bench press and rowing, cannot accept the fact that with squats he would have to go on with half the weight (which, according to him, would look ridiculously). If a practitioner already decides to perform squats with many kilos too much, it is usually at the expense of the range of motion. If you are not able to squat in such a way that the back of the thigh was lower than the knees (squat counted according to the rules of powerlifting), reduce the workload. If a squat is to serve its purpose, it should be done in a full range of motion (in short: ROM). The only exceptions to this rule are people with specific proportions of the bones who would have to excessively bend to reach the desired depth in the squat. Also, exercising with injuries / degenerative arthritis (such as chondromalacia patella) should limit the range of motion or resign from this exercise.

A youtube video: the most common mistake: minimum range of motion in the squat, excessive weight. Ego leave in the locker room, and perform squats in a full range of motion.

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If I were to choose between a set of the deadlift and the squat - I would decide on the latter. In many training routines squats are performed 2-3 times a week (for example bill starr, starting strength by Mark Rippetoe). In this case, the deadlift is not necessary, indeed, it may be difficult to implement (overload of the erector spinae and abdominal muscles - squats involve the same muscle groups). If you decide to perform the squat exercise as the only front and rear thigh training, in the long run you will certainly lead to deficiencies in your body. Research show that barbell squats are not a good choice when it comes to the development of the back of the thigh (eg. biceps femoris, semitendinosus, semimembranosus muscles). Three times lower engagement of biceps femoris muscle (back part) was observed during the partial squat, as compared to the vastus lateralis muscle (front thigh); the data refer to muscles working during the concentric phase of the movement. To a greater extent buttocks or the vastus medial muscles were involved. Natural choice for the back of the thigh muscles is the deadlift (especially in the stiff-legged version).

Myth # 1: "barbell squats are extremely dangerous."

Contrary to widespread (mis)information, properly performed squat does not cause "damage to your spine," nor will you experience a "more serious injury." Each exercise done incorrectly can contribute to the damage of the spine, joints, pain from overload or other ailments. Exercises (including squats) should be carried out by healthy individuals. If you suffer from complex injuries of your knee, hip and ankle, and you want to perform barbell squats, there is a good chance that you worsen your condition. Not rarely people would ask questions on the Internet about a training for instance after tearing their cruciate ligament. Never consult your injuries on the Internet. Only a qualified specialist who does a thorough research (often involving ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging) - may declare anything about the exercises that you can perform. Do not attempt any activity on your own.