Know This…Garbage Reps

Garbage Reps

We’re concerned about the long term impact to knees from Wall Balls and other common work capacity event light to moderately loaded, high rep deep squatting movements – and even though in past year’s we’ve deployed these events, we’re working now to eliminate them from our programming.

By Rob Shaul

I started feeling my knees walking down stairs in my late 30’s. It was just walking downstairs, and other than that occasional issue, my knees were naturally lubed up and ready to go.

I’ve never had a knee injury, but have trained my entire adolescent and adult life – running, lifting, biking, and for the past 10 years, my own programming. As well, I’ve been an active mountain athlete – mountain running, backcountry hunting, trail running, fast packing, fly fishing, skiing, backcountry skiing, nordic skiing, etc.

I’m 47 now, and two years ago, at 45, things got much worse. I began to feel my knees at the beginning of training sessions. Nothing too terrible, and for a time I wore neoprene knee sleeves to help them get warmed up.

They are worse now, and unless I’m training or running, my knees are always stiff and painful from arthritis. I’ve tried glucosamine, joint juice, ibuprofen and prescription arthritis medicine – all to little effect.

It’s pretty funny to watch me start the training session warm ups, or stand up after a plane ride. Unless I’m warmed up, I can’t demonstrate squatting technique for my athletes – and have to use a “fitness model” volunteer.

I might not be unusual for someone my age, who’s also lived an active life. As well, I’m not sure my training over the years has made things worse.

Anecdotally, I know men my age who’ve been sedentary their entire lives and also have arthritic knees. I also know men my age who have been life long mountain professionals or career tactical athletes and move pain free.

Interestingly, I’ve done a bazillion push ups and bench presses and pull ups and other upper body exercises over the years and my shoulders aren’t arthritic at all. Just my knees.

Never the less, my own knees have me concerned about the long term affects of training – especially high volume, lightly or moderately loaded squatting and lunging – on knee health.

I’ve come recently to refer to this type of training as “Garbage Reps” – not heavy enough to build strength, and generally designed as part of a work capacity effort.

Here would be a work capacity event example from my own programming:

10 Rounds for Time
10x Back Squat @ 95/135#
5x Scotty Bobs @ 15/25#
10x Box Jumps
10x Ankles to Bar

Those 100x Back Squats are the “Garbage Reps.” We’ve begun to consciously eliminate this type of effort from our daily programming for mountain and tactical athletes.

High volume bodyweight squats and lunges are fine, box jumps are okay, and you’ll see us deploy lots of sprinting and shuttle sprints in our work capacity programming. We don’t need high volume, lightly loaded squats or lunges for metabolic conditioning. Sprinting and other exercises get the job done and are perhaps more transferable to the real world.

We still squat and lunge – but I’m trying to do it heavy – or moderately heavy – to build strength.

It’s important to understand that if you use your body hard, like I have, there’s going to be wear and tear. Often tactical athletes write me about their aches and pains, and blame the job. It’s not the job’s fault – it’s part of the cost for a high speed life at the tip of the spear and for using your body daily to make a living.

I’m not sure anyone would be in any better shape if they’d worked a sedentary job for 20 years – but they certainly wouldn’t have had the incredible experiences or relationships which come through choosing a tactical or mountain life.

We do what we can to make our athletes as durable as possible to avoid or mitigate job-related injury. As well, we need to think about the long term effects of our training methodologies and exercise selections – and work against undo harm getting athletes fit.

That being said, tactical and mountain athletes have high-impact, dangerous professions, and proper training for these occupations must reflect this reality in impact and intensity. Saving your knees for your 40’s doesn’t help much if you get shot or injured at work because you weren’t fit enough for the job’s physical demands.

On my list for research is a comparison study of the knee joint health between long-time crossfit competitors, Olympic Weightlifters, power lifters, lifelong runners, and sedentary people. This could tell us a lot.

If you’re not yet where I’m at in years, one thing you’ll learn when you get here is “motion is lotion.” If I don’t do something active every day, the stiffness and pain is a lot worse!

Questions? Comments? Your Experience?
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Know this…Do Full Squats To Build Stronger, Leaner Legs

Do Full Squats To Build Stronger, Leaner Legs

by Poliquin™ Editorial Staff 9/17/2013 4:18:34 PM

Do Full Squats To Build Stronger, Leaner Legs
Do full squat to build stronger, leaner legs for enhanced coordination and athletic performance. You know full squats are a great bang for your buck exercise and new research shows that they are the safest form of squats for the knee and lower back musculature. By making full squats a training staple, you can achieve the following worthwhile benefits:
•    Maximal muscle growth of the quadriceps and hamstring musculature via increases in muscle cross-sectional area. •    Enhancement of muscle coordination, strength, and power for optimal athletic performance benefits such as increased jump height and sprint speed. •    Greater knee joint stability due to Increased strength of the cartilage tissue and ligaments surrounding the knee. •    Application of lighter, more manageable training loads to the spine with less compressive force on the intervertebral discs.
This new analysis found that contrary to the common belief that partial squat training is safer for the knee and back, half- and quarter-squat training “will favor degenerative changes in the knee joints and spinal joint.” Incomplete loading through the full range-of-motion leads to weaker connective tissue and imbalanced musculature.
In addition, concerns about degenerative changes to the knee joint that are associated with a high risk of chondromalacia, osteoarthritis, and knee pain from deep squats are unfounded.
Take away points from the study include the following: 1)    The greatest compressive force on the knee joints are observed at 90 degrees of knee flexion—the range reached in a half squat. Due to what is known as the “wrapping effect” the load distribution during a squat is better managed at the knee joint as flexion descends beyond 90 degrees into a parallel and then deep squat.
2)    The fact that partial squats lead to higher loads being lifted than during full squats at the same relative RM leads to much higher compressive forces on the knee joint. Partial range-of-motion training could contribute to knee joint degeneration in the long-term.
3)    The restriction of forward knee displacement (knees over the toes), as is commonly recommended in partial squats, leads to greater forward leaning and ventral flexion of the thoracic and lumbar spine. This places greater shear force on the intervertebral disc, which should be strictly avoided.
4)    Knee injuries, such as knee sprains, usually occur during high acceleration during full squats, as in the deep squat catch phase of a clean and jerk. Researchers caution that deep squats should be trained under control. This should lead to the development of correct movement patterns and functional adaptations of the cartilage and meniscal tissue for injury prevention.
5)    Deep back squat workouts with a load of 1.6 times body weight caused no change in knee stability compared to a 19 percent decrease in knee stability following a 10K race in distance runners. Researchers suggest this is due to greater strength in the ligaments, such as the ACL, that surround the knee.
6)    There’s a gender difference in lumbar flexion during the deep squat. Females have less range of lumbar flexion and more anterior tilt of the sacrum compared with males. They also have a lower stiffness and greater range between motion segments of the lumbar spine. It’s suggested that females are capable of developing more muscular stabilization of the lumbar spine.
7)    Researchers stress the need to maintain the lordotic curve during deep squats for optimal technique and to avoid disc injuries.
Use this study to put your fears related to full squat training to rest. Focus on impeccable technique in the deep squat for greater mobility, coordination, athletic performance, and muscle development. With full-range squats you’ll be optimally training the lower body musculature and connective tissue for injury prevention.
Partial squats may have their place if you are an advanced trainee. Again, technique and proper progression are paramount because when compared to deep squats, partials place greater stress on the knee and spinal joint.

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