Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ball Squats Revisited

Lately I have been looking back on some articles I've written over the years and reading them. Gosh...its unbelievable how much I've learned in only the last 3-4 years. And through that learning, how I've changed my position on things that I thought were staples in my repertoire of training. For instance, I wrote an article titled, "Not Quite Ready for the Ball Squat" in 2006 and it was meant with mixed reviews.

You see at that time a few years ago, I was watching alot of trainers prop their sedentary clients on a ball against the wall and "squatting" up and down along the wall. What I really saw--looking back now--was sedentary clients leaning all their bodyweight against a 65 cm plastic ball and "rolling" up and down. Many trainers position their client incorrectly on the ball--having clients place their feet too far away from the center of mass. Once they begin squatting, there is no way they can keep their weight on the back of the thighs and heels. It is impossible to re-position the center of gravity (CoG) because most sedentary clients have weak hamstrings and glutes. So the lower they body travels down-wards, the more sheer force is placed on the patella tendon and quadriceps tendon. Hence, the ever familiar "knee pain" sedentary clients speak of whenever they try to "squat". The next step a trainer takes once they hear knee pain complains, is position the client feet further from the center of mass (CoM). Why? Because they are trying to displace the weight shifted forwarded by having the client position themselves to place it on their heels (posterior). This is the position that is normally seen in gyms and taught by unsuspecting trainers:



See where the knees are? See where the feet are placed? The center of mass (CoM: trunk/pelvis) is adjacent to the knees in the down position. This position creates shear forces onto the knee joint repeatedly. Mind you, people that perform this exercise are not hot, young models like the one I found in the picture. Most are 200+ pound sedentary females with already debilitating knee and hip problems.

In the picture, the center of gravity (CoG), displaces the engagement of the hamstrings in the movements. The trunk and upper spine create this displacement by keeping upright along the ball. Let me ask you...stand up from your chair and try to squat with your back and chest perfectly straight and erect, respectively. If you can do it with your thighs going down to parallel, please send me a picture.

Secondly, 90% of your clients will perform this exercise on their "toes". The weight and underlying restrictions they have in the hip flexors and lower back, will cause them to shift the body weight forward onto the "balls" of the feet--creating a more stressful environment for the joints.

It is time to teach clients the old primal movement pattern of a normal body weight squat. I think we, as trainers, have gotten away from basics for favor of fad tools and gimmicks. The stability ball may have its place in a training program--however, for movements that were once natural for the body should be performed...well...naturally.

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