Friday, 12 November 2010

The Back Squat- How do you perform it and is it a good exercise?

I have really started enjoying the blogging lately and I find that the best place to pick up inspiration is when I am in the gym training. Today this wasn’t the case as I actually got my inspiration to write about the Back Squat when I woke up this morning. My gluteus muscles were so sore after the squats I did yesterday that I could barely get out of bed, but it is a great feeling knowing you have worked hard!! So today I will talk a little bit about the Back Squat.
The Back Squat is a very common exercise in the world of Strength and Conditioning, in fitness centres and pretty much everywhere people do some form of strength training. It is an exercise that every S&C coach should have in their exercise “library”. The Back Squat works the key muscles groups in your legs as well as your core muscles. In almost every sport where you move your own body weight around is it important to have strong legs.These are the muscles that you work in a Back Squat if you do the exercise correct:

• Quadriceps, Gluteus Maximus and Medius, Hamstrings, Erector Spinae, Latissimus Dorsi, Abdominals and the Adductors

As with every exercise it is important to perform the exercise correctly and the Back Squat is definitely no exception. I will therefore describe how to perform the Back Squat (from a Squat Rack):

Equipment needed: Barbell, Squat Racks, Weight Discs and enough floor space

Starting position

• Grab the bar with a closed pronated grip (overhand)

• Step under the bar and position your feet parallel to each other

• Place the bar in a balance position on the upper back and shoulder in one of the two locations:

o Low bar position: across posterior deltoids at the middle of the trapezius (using a handgrip wider than shoulder width)

o High bar position: above the posterior deltoids at the base of the neck (using a handgrip only slightly wider than shoulder width)

• Hold your chest up and out and tilt the head slightly up

• When you are ready to lift the bar off the rack, extend your hips and knees to lift the bar off

• Take one or two steps backwards, position your feet shoulder width apart (or wider), with the toes pointed slightly outwards (Picture 1 and 2)
Picture 1- Starting position from the side

Picure 2- Starting position from the front
Downwards phase

• Maintain a position with the back flat and chest up and out

• Allow your hips and knees to slowly bend while keeping the torso-to-floor angle relatively constant

• Keep the heels on the floor and the knees in alignment over the feet

• Avoid rounding your back or lean your upper body forward

• Keep bending your hips and knee until your thighs are parallel to the floor, the trunk begins to round or bend forwards or your heels lift off the floor (Picture 3)
Picture 3 Bottom position

Picture 4- Bottom position
Upwards phase

• Maintain your back flat, elbows high and chest up and out

• Extend your hips and knees, whilst keeping your heel son the floor and your knees in alignment over your feet

• Avoid bending forward or round your back

• Continue extending until you reach the starting position, don’t lock your knees fully

• At the end of the set, step forward towards the rack

• Squat down until the bar rests in the rack

It is great if you can look at yourself in the mirror when performing a Back Squat as you can keep an eye of your own technique, at least from the front. I am not going to describe the most common mistakes people do when squatting in this post, but one thing you can look at if you have a mirror is whether your knees are moving inwards or the distance between your knees stays the same throughout the movement. Knees moving inwards is particular common in women and there can be several reasons why this happens, but sometimes it is possible to correct it by just focusing on it (if you are aware it is happening).

There are a lot of discussions on how deep you should go in the back squat. I personally think that you should aim to get your femur parallel to the floor (like described above). The reason for this is because the gluteus maximus (the big hip extension muscle) becomes more active when you get full range of movement (Picture 5) This is not only positive from an athlete’s point of view, but also for people wanting to get a strong and powerful bottom! From an injury prevention point of view the back squat is a very important strength exercise for the quadriceps muscles, which is important in relation to knee injuries and knee pain so it is definitely a good exercise in my eyes.

Picture 5- Gluteus Maximus
 I know a lot of girls are scared of getting “bulky”, “big” and “massive” which I think is a bit sad (I will come back to this on another blog post) but surely everyone wants to have a nice, strong bum??!

So people, let’s get our bottoms strong, explosive and powerful!

Have you ever tried the Back Squat? Do you like it?


Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The RICE principle

Acute injuries are unfortunately a big part of the sporting world today. No matter how much we try to reduce injuries by making sure our joints and muscles are strong and stable enough, acute injuries have always occured and will keep occurring. If you are lucky to have a Sports Therapist present when you suffer an injury you don’t have to worry about what to do, but not every team or club are lucky to have access to a therapist’s assistance on every single training session. I think it is important that athletes and sports people understand what the RICE principleare, how it works and most importantly how you should use it. Following the simple steps underneath can help you reduce the injury time of acute injuries and therefore helping you return to your sport quicker. This is the reason why I wanted to talk about the very common RICE principle that I am sure a lot of athletes have heard about already.
So what does the letters RICE principle stand for and how can you use it?


REST: I am sure most of you agree that it is self explanatory what rest means, but you may also agree that it is not always easy to rest even if you are in pain!? Does this sound familiar? I definitely know by experience that it is not always easy to go off the pitch when you get injured, if you are playing an important match or competing in an important competition. Everyone has got different pain threshold and can handle different amount of pain and discomfort. Therefore it is important to remember that if you suffer a painful injury and keep playing, all you do is probably increasing the healing and recovery time of the injury which means you might be out for several weeks/months, rather than days. I believe that players and athletes get to know their bodies’ limits better with experience and therefore are able to make the right decisions about when it is best to stop playing or competing.

ICE: Everyone has seen sports therapists and physiotherapists carrying several bags of ice packs or frozen ice when they are pitch side. This is because ice is one of the first things that you put on an acute injury, like a sprained ankle. But why do we actually do it and is there anything you have to be aware of when using ice? When an acute injury occurs, the body’s reaction is to increase the blood flow to the injured area (inflammatory response). This is why people’s ankles and knees get red and swollen after severe injuries (Picture 1). The injured area often feels warm as a result of this and the ice gets put on to try to reduce this. Ice decreases the size of the blood vessels (called vasoconstriction), which slows down the blood flow to the injured area and it also decrease pain by doing so. Ice also reduces the risk of cell death by decreasing the rate of metabolism. The important thing to bear in mind when applying ice is to never put it straight onto the skin. If you do this you can actually burn the skin and cause severe damage to the skin! To be safe, it is recommended to put 2-3 layers underneath the ice like  bandage or anything you have available to make sure you avoid any burns. Keep the ice on initially for 20 minutes.

Picture 1. Bit of swelling present here.

Picture 2. An example of ice packs (
COMPRESSION: Compression simply means to wrap something tight around the injured area. This can be a bandage, but it can also be anything you have available like a t-shirts or scarf etc. Compression is also used to decrease the blood flow to the injury and therefore reducing recovery time, just like ice. The only thing you have to watch out for is if the compression is wrapped too tight. You can notice this is if the distal part of the limb (for example your toes or fingers) change colour and becomes blue/red. All it means is that the blood flows is being cut to the rest of the limb as well as to the injured area, so make sure you undo the compression a bit if this happens.
 ELEVATION: This simply means to elevate the injured area above your heart. So if for example you have injured an ankle, you can lie down and place your foot onto a chair or a bench. By doing this gravity helps to draw blood away from the inured area. It is advised to elevate the injured area for the first 48 hours after the injury occurred.

Hopefully those of you that weren’t too sure of how the RICE principle works know now. I tried to make it as simple as possible so that everyone is able to use and apply it when needed. It is simple and it can save you a lot of time in recovering from the injury.
 As I will be moving to Cardiff this weekend I may not have proper internet connection the first week or so, but I will keep you all posted as soon as I can:)