10 Common Squat Mistakes and How to Fix Them. Part 2.
6. Missing Out On the Stretch Reflex In the lifting world, it is no secret that a tight, short muscle contracts harder than a looser, shorter muscle. The muscles tightened in the squat store elastic energy (as well as keep your back, hips, and knees in safe and correct positions). You may have noticed a “bouncing” sensation at the bottom of your squat, or seen this while watching elite lifters. This is caused by a phenomenon of the neuro-muscular system called the stretch reflex. The stretch reflex happens when a proprioceptive component within the belly of the muscle called the muscle spindle detects stretch (lengthening of the muscle). Muscle spindles detect both the amount of stretch and the rate of stretch in the muscle. When sufficient stretch has been reached to stimulate the muscle spindle, an impulse is created in a sensory neuron which travels through the spinal cord to alert the Central Nervous System (CNS) that the muscle is being stretched. In an effort to protect the muscle from being overstretched (and possibly injured), this spinal cord impulse causes a reflex contraction of the muscle. This reflex is referred to as the "stretch (or myotatic) reflex". So what does this mean for lifters? Thanks to this reflex, more efficient firing of more contractile units occurs after a stretch. Therefore the stretch reflex is a chief component of all explosive muscular contractions. During the squat, the external rotators of the hips position the femurs (or thighs) so that the adductors and external rotators can participate with the hamstrings in the bounce. Thus the wholehip musculature can contribute to squatting efficiently. This can only happen if the knees are pushed out and the glutes are engaged during the squat—another reason glute activation is such an integral part of the squat. Performed correctly, the “bounce” you feel out of the bottom of your squat is due to the stretch reflex, and is both safe and beneficial. Timing is everything here. When used properly, the bounce will be immediately followed by a powerful upward drive of the hips. If you’re not ready, the bounce will end up followed by a pause, from which you will have to try to restart your upward movement. This means that the bounce must be anticipated as the first part of the drive, and that squat descent speed must be correct. Think about the “up” drive during your descent to anticipate and be ready for the bounce. As discussed in Part 1, descending too quickly by relaxing muscles is less safe, and the “bounce” will be less effective. Only tight muscles store elastic energy. If you are loose enough to drop into the squat faster than you can come up, you need to tighten up more. This will also help to prevent injuries. More about tightness in number 7.
7. Core Troubles Core stabilization creates stronger and more efficient movements, and is vitally important for the health of the spine. Without optimal bracing (stabilization) of the spine, force transmitted to the primary engines of your hips is reduced, resulting in loss of stability, force, and power during movement (i.e. squats). Whenever a muscle contracts, it pulls towards its center, exerting a pulling force on each of its attachments. In order for one of the attachments to move powerfully and efficiently, the other attachment must stay fixed. Otherwise, the strength of the pulling force on the mobile attachment site will be diminished. Thus it is essential to stabilize our core so that the strength of muscle contractions goes towards moving the upper/lower extremities rather than being lost on unwanted core movement. In the context of squatting, stabilizing the core helps to produce stronger and more efficient contractions of the prime movers, as well as protecting the spine from being forced into dangerous positions under heavy loads.
Stabilization diminishes unwanted motions of the spine which can lead to overuse, misuse, and degeneration. All too often, we don’t realize the consequences of our actions until it’s too late. When we lose good spinal positioning during a lift, stabilization and force production from the hips and shoulders is potentially shut down, leaving way for knee and shoulder injuries. 3 Reasons People Default Into Mechanically Unstable Spinal Positions:
They have a task-completion, get-the-job-done mindset.
They’ve ingrained poor positions and movement patterns in their training and day-to-day life.
They don’t have a reproducible, all-encompassing bracing strategy