Squats Might Be Killing Your Body

Squats are a go-to exercise for most people today. But is it possible that it might not be the right exercise for your body?

As a fitness expert for over 25 years, I have gotten so many questions about many different topics regarding fitness and health. One subject I get asked about more than any other is squats.

Here are some of the questions I have been asked about squats:

  • Why does my back, knee or hip hurt after doing squats? Despite following all the rules, what do I still experience pain?
  • Why have my legs gotten bigger from squatting? I thought squats were supposed to tone my legs and make the smaller?
  • Why does everyone tell me to do squats, even though it does not feel good when I do them? Are squats good for me?

These are my insights into these commonly asked questions and this is what I share with my clients:

First and foremost, I always remind people that we are not all the same. What is good for one person is not necessarily good for another. If any thing you are doing hurts or causes pain, STOP doing it. Do not follow the “just work through it” mentality. The truth about squats is that people do get injured and people do experience pain from it. Unfortunately, it might not be fair to place all the blame on squats because there are other extenuating circumstances that might have originally caused the injury but squats can (and do) contribute to the pain or injury.

As a fitness professional, I would never want anyone to experience pain or injury, regardless of whether they are my client or not. I have always wondered if there are factors that contribute to the way that people execute or interpret the execution of an exercise. Could some exercises like squats be too fundamentally complex for certain bodies to execute properly or are they just not meant for everyone?

The check-list below contains some factors that prevent people from being able to perform proper squats.

Squatting checklist:

  1. No squats if you have bad posture
    Many people complain about shoulder and hip pain when they squat. The pain they experience in their shoulders is often due to bad posture when they squat. (For example, bad posture makes people put the bar on their necks, instead of across their shoulders). Squatting might not be the origin of the pain, but it will exacerbate the pain. Any exercise that is painful has the potential to cause serious injury and should not be continued.
  2. No squats if you have limited mobility
    Many people often complain of back pain when they squat. As already mentioned, the pain might not be caused originally from squatting but the pain does not discriminate. There is often a requirement that you must have a high level of mobility and flexibility in your lower back before you start squatting, otherwise you put tremendous pressure on the spine. Pre-squats, you are required to have high mobility and flexibility to avoid pain or injury. Most people are not very flexible and their mobility is often limited, making them prime candidates for serious injuries from squats.
  3. No squats if you have a pre-existing injury
    Many people have back issues or old back injuries that linger. This injury can flare up with squats and it may cause additional pain and injury, resulting in long-term health challenges.
  4. No squats if you have bad technique
    Because squats are such a complex exercise, many people are often unaware that they are unable to execute the exercise using proper technique. Like I stated earlier, the squat is not an exercise that people can afford to do using poor technique. The potential for serious injury from squatting is extremely high. It is common sense that proper technique should be used with any exercise, but we all know that is not always the case. There will always be people that can’t or won’t execute proper form or technique. Although the squats themselves are to blame for people using bad technique, they can become the Grim Reaper that comes to collect because the results of not using the proper form can be terribly devastating.
  5. No squats if you have muscle tightness
    Many people have muscle tightness or muscle inflexibility. If your muscles are tight and you have limited range of movement in the joints, squats will cause pain and stress to your body.
  6. No squats if you have the wrong footwear
    Many people are not aware that squatting requires a specific and unique type of footwear.  Improper footwear will not provide proper arch support and can cause serious issues with squats. So, get special footwear for your squatting sessions!
  7. No squats if there is an imbalance
    Far too often, the way people measure their progress in the gym or in any exercise program is by how much weight they can push, pull, or lift. Inevitably, people will use too much weight when attempting to squat. We all have a dominant side and experience some type of imbalance in our bodies, (i.e. one leg is longer than the other). The combination of squatting with too much weight paired with the natural imbalances in the body creates the potential for disaster.

In theory, this check-list is a great idea but is this reality?

These are just some of the requirements on the checklist that if you choose to squat, you should follow. Ironically, the same facts that make for a perfect squat are also the same facts that I believe makes it
very challenging for most people to use squats and to do them properly. Most people believe that pain is a requirement for success but that is not a belief I subscribe to. I believe that when we have pain in our body there is something wrong. Pain is the body’s messaging system trying to alert us when we need to pay attention. But, because of the “no pain, no gain” culture, people believe that they need to push through the pain in order to get results. This is 100% false. Pain causes us  to be in a state of fight or flight, and causes tremendous stress to the body, which in turn causes the body to produce more of the hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone that tells the body to store fat.

Because there is such a fierce support for some steady staples like squats, it has almost become a taboo to question or possibly have an alternative view about some of these exercises that are causing injuries
and hurting people. There are quite a few evolving views in the health and fitness industry. But when it comes to squats, there has been a long-lived understanding that anyone that has any pain or injury from doing squats must have been doing it the wrong way. ‘They must have had terrible form’ or ‘they did it wrong’ are two of the most commonly stated comments that you will hear about people who experience squats related
pain or injury. Is everyone doing it wrong? Or is it being wrongly prescribed to everyone?

It is true that some people do exercises improperly and I am sure we have all seen interesting exercise moves in our gym or on social media. It is a fact that a lot of people do exercises wrong, that’s nothing
new, but there are also some exercises that people butcher and get away with it. There are also some exercises that people cannot afford to do incorrectly because they are unforgiving and can cause serious
long-term damage.

Could the exercises be too fundamentally complex for certain bodies to execute properly or are they just not meant for everyone? It might be a little bit of both, but we cannot find out if we continue to ignore
having the conversation and keeping the status quo.

I would never want anyone to get injured while exercising, even if they are not my client. I have always believed that things can always improve and that the fitness, weight-loss and health industry should
continuously evolve. It is progressive to investigate and have conversations about making things better by looking at some of the factors that make people interpret and perform exercises the wrong way.

No one type of exercise or method can give us the results we seek. We should always do more research on the things that we do, especially when it comes to our bodies. All human beings are different. We
have different body types, shapes, strengths, and goals. Therefore, it makes zero sense to say that only one exercise— the squat, is the key to getting the best lower body.

Squats are popular but very risky. Ultimately, it is your choice if the risk is worth it to you or not. If you have done squats in the past and have experienced pain or injuries, you might understand what I am
talking about.

If squats aren’t working for you, please try some of the UFiiT leg routines.

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