by Bret Contreras April 14, 2012
Prior research by Frye showed that the powerlifting style squat (well sort of but not really), though quite safe for the knee joint, was inherently dangerous for the spine. I’ve always been uneasy regarding the methods and biomechanical calculations involved in Frye’s research, and thankfully new research by Swinton et al. has just arrived delving into the differences between the traditional squat, the powerlifting squat, and the box squat. This Paul Swinton dude is quickly becoming my favorite researcher. First he conducted a study on powerlifting practices, then a couple on deadlifts, then one on vertical jumping, and now this study (all of which I’ve reviewed either in my blogs, my TNation articles, or my research review service). If you’re not sure about the technique between the different types of squats, here are a couple of videos you can watch:
Box Squat Form (the study I’m reviewing utilized the high box squat which is second in this video)
I’ll try to sum this up quickly. The study examined 12 male powerlifters (average age was 27, average weight around 220lbs, average max squat around 485lbs, average years lifting experience 9 yrs) and utilized biomechanical equations, inverse dynamics, markers, 9 cameras (VICON), 2 force plates (KISTLER), and software (VICON) to calculate joint angles, joint torques (moments), velocity, peak power, rate of force development, and ground reaction forces.
What the Researchers Found that Was Not Surprising:
What the Researchers Found that Was Surprising:
I’m sure this study will raise some eyebrows but I’m very well-versed in Biomechanics and the results actually make sense if you understand the interplay between the segment positions and barbell displacement in relation to the joint centers, but if I tried to explain it further I’d probably confuse my readers. In other words, this study seems very legit to me.
The box helps lifters sit back while staying upright (at least with submaximal loads), which actually decreases hip and spinal loads and increases knee loads (prior research by McBride supports this notion in terms of quadricep EMG activity – there wasn’t much of a difference between squats and box squats). The lifters paused for an average of 1.7 seconds during the box squat which most likely decreases contribution from the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) and would explain the decreased force and power production. Something about the pause on the box really seems to help create a ton of RFD which could indicate that it transfers nicely to sport.
The researchers pointed out that knee loading isn’t the only factor to consider in determining joint safety – it’s also important to consider knee ROM and displacement of the femur relative to the tibia. For these reasons the traditional squat is most likely the hardest variation for the knee joint.
The box squat is clearly an excellent alternative for those with restricted ankle mobility (dorsiflexion) who are unable to perform a full range squat (ass to grass) as it will allow for an excellent training effect and the adherence to proper technical form.
Really this study just illustrates that when determining the safety of squat variations you don’t just have to consider how far you sit back, how far the trunk leans, or how far the knees travel over the toes; you also have to consider how far you shift forward or backward with the bar relative to the feet, as this influences joint torques considerably. For this reason, box squats and powerlifting squats could indeed be “safer” for the low back compared to traditional squats.
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The post From the lab to your pocket – Part 2: Accurate max strength measurement with your iPhone appeared first on Bret Contreras.
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