Wednesday 19 April 2017

Is Your Core Strong Enough For Your Squat?

A friend called me on Easter Sunday with a bit of an urgent need. He's a good friend, so I came into the office for the holiday. The issue? He threw out his back squatting.

This individual is a very strong, powerful weightlifter, but this wasn't the first occurrence of this type of injury. I had to give him a bit of a hard time, however, as I knew he hasn't been keeping his core conditioned for the heavy lifts he does. Unfortunately, he's far from being alone in this situation.

As I so commonly drone on about like a broken record, core strength is essential for activities of daily living and for keeping the spine healthy during weightlifting and sport. Truly enough, though, with careful attention to form, exercises such as squatting without a strong core is still possible. Especially with back squatting, with the bar sitting at the back of the body to focus the weight through the hips to make it easier to engage the more powerful lower-chain muscles, people tend to neglect the need for trunk stability. What's more, with the arms out to the side with the back squat, we are able to achieve activation of the lats which assist with spinal stability through their connection to the thoracolumbar fascia (which essentially covers the entirety of the lumbar spine).

However, switching to the front squat, with the weight lying to the front of the body and the forces threatening to deform the spine a bit more - and with the lat engagement removed - any deficit in core strength quickly becomes apparent. Back or front, though, injury risk is still prevalent without a well-conditioned core complex.

You see, the final muscle group that's around to try to pick up the slack is the spinal erectors. They're very quick to strain or spasm as soon as they're left alone to bear the weight of a barbell, and most back injuries during squatting occur during those instances that the other muscular systems fail and the erectors are forced to overcontract to try and guard. 

Unfortunately, the going trend is for many gym rats to simply rely on the use of weightliftings belt in order to substitute for core instability and protect their back. This is fine (and probably in best interest) during maximal loads, but becoming dependent on this crutch for submax lifting is doing you no favours unless your intent is to resort to wearing your belt home, to work, and during every other aspect of life as well.

When it came to my client, once we mobilized his (several) joint fixations and settled down the acute spasm, the next step was to emphasize the importance of core stability in neutral hip and spine positions. Once he's ready to return to lifting, I had to recommend he keep his squatting firmly in the submax range while he works on improving his core strength. Until his trunk stability is up to par, there's simply just no point in attempting to increase the weight that the legs can push, less he begin to push weight that threatens to reinjure him again. Essentially, his legs are under maintenance instructions while the core catches up to the game.

Don't let things lead to injury. Do some planks. Do some deadbugs. Don't rely on the weightlifting belt to protect your back because you probably won't be wearing it when you go to pick up your kid.

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