Every person moves in a way that is unique to their body; Isn’t it time to treat them like it!

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I received the following comment on Linked In and I felt the need to address it to a larger population. As a result, I am answering it in the contents to follow as a follow up to my previous article on squatting found here: Article on Squatting from January 2013

Ray A. •states:   Zig you’ve touched on so many points I’ll only address a few.
First, your baby squat comparison is poor at best since babies are born without patellas and don’t develop them until 2 -6 years old. Also their center of gravity is very low.

Second, in performing a squat the superior part of the scapula should stay in vertical line with the center (arch) of the feet. In this way the weight distribution is 50/50.The glutes HAVE to fire to come up from the end of the eccentric range.

Third, In performing a lunge if you push of the ball of the foot and the toes, you are overloading the quads which is worse for women since they are quad dominant.

Finally, lifting the heels with support during a squat will shorten the soleus and lead to and abnormal movement between the calcaneus, tibia and femur, during walking and running which in turn will cause discomfort or pain at the weakest part of the kinetic chain.
I didn’t squat until I was 35 years old because no one could explain how to perform it to my satisfaction. Finally, Vern Gambetta and Paul Chek explained it in a very comprehensive way.

Ok so here is what I have to say:

#1 The points I made were based off my evaluation of over 6,000 athletes performing a squat, using 3D motion capture technology, so I want to be clear that my findings are not my opinion or the result of trying to prove or disprove a theory or hypothesis.  They are based upon the objective findings of full body biomechanics data (which are not perfect by anymeans but better than visual or video).

In addition, my findings are merely based off the result of what people are actually DOING combined with an understanding of kinesiology.  Now let’s make one fact clear that we all agree on.  “Based on Kinesiology, every joint or segment of the body has a specific task to perform.” However, unfortunately because of neurological deficiencies, learned motor patterns, and muscular imbalances, every joint in the average person’s body does NOT function properly. So if we evaluate what 100 people are doing and make a blanket statement that “if thats how the best do it, then that’s how it should be done”, you are incorrect.  Tiger Woods once said, “Don’t try to copy my swing, because I am constantly trying to make it better, so by the time you get down my old swing, I’ve got a new and improved one.” Now Tiger may or may not have perfected his swing, who’s to say?  Its not wins and losses that tell you if his swing is the best, it is a swing efficiency test that will allow you to see how efficient it is.

Now back to lifting.  Even the best squatter or weight lifter is not necessarily the best technically or most efficient example of how to perform a lift.  They just achieved the goal better than the competition.  And if the sole focus was performing the lift or moving a certain amount of weight, then technique doesn’t matter, achieving the goal matters.  The human body is a great machine. It will find a way to perform whatever task we ask it to perform.  It may not be done biomechanically correct, or efficient but if it can be done, the body will find a way to perform the task.  In the world of fitness, physical medicine, and sports performance, the task or focus should be on developing the body from the ground up, not lifting the weight.  If your goal is to lift weight, who cares if your body is balanced as long as you can complete the lift. But remember, at some later date, you will ask your body to use muscles or joint that have not been tested and that is when you will see an Achilles rupture, low back, or knee injury.  So keep the task in mind but empower your entire body not just your mind a a few muscles you have overcompensated with in training or normal activity.

So here’s a thank you to Ray and his points which inspired me to write this follow up.

#2 Ray stated that, “First, your baby squat comparison is poor at best since babies are born without patellas and don’t develop them until 2 -6 years old. Also their center of gravity is very low.”

In response I have to state that you sir are incorrect.  Babies ARE NOT born without patellas, except in rare cases of a birth defect.  The patella begins to develop around the fourth month of the fetus as cartilage.  The patella is present in most new-borns but only begins to ossify (harden) Experts GUESS that the patella, which is a sesamoid  bone, begins to develop between the ages of two and three years old.  It is weight bearing activities in the TODDLER (pictured in my previous blog) that contributes to the ossification of the patella.  So to clarify, before a toddler starts to walk and bear weight, the patella is mostly cartilage.  As they bear weight it hardens and become more of the patella that we see as older humans.

Today, some children begin to bear weight at between 8-10 months old, contributing to earlier ossification than previous studies from the 70’s 80’s and early 90’s.  This is because parents are pushing the children to walk at an earlier age. This push can be harmful to overall bone development and cause abnormalities in walking or movement patterns later in life.

As for Ray’s reference to the center of gravity? A baby’s center of gravity is low compared to the ground. But compared to their leg length, it is not low. As a toddler develops into a taller person, the center of gravity does not change relative to their body, only to the ground.  An adult shorter person squats more efficiently than a taller person not because they are closer to the ground.  They do so because WE use cues that are meant for people who are 5foot -6inches  to 5 foot -8 inches tall.   A toddler doesn’t need to be told where to place their feet when they squat, their brain naturally seeks the place where they have the greatest amount of balance.  Its natural for them.

#3 Ray’s statement about scapula position relative to the feet in the squat is almost true but only in a perfect world where the upper and lower body segments are the same length and weight.  Since people come in all different shapes and sizes, this is not 100% true. However, it is another cue that is used improperly in the world of fitness and even physical medicine. It’s about as accurate a cue as telling every person who squats to stand with your feet shoulder width apart.  That cue is incorrect because some people have long legs, short torsos, and narrow shoulders. How should they stand? The answer is….It depends on the person.

#4 Ray stated, “Third, In performing a lunge if you push of the ball of the foot and the toes, you are overloading the quads which is worse for women since they are quad dominant.

I hate to say it Roy, but you are again a little bit incorrect.  First, all men are not the same and neither are all women.  So a general statement like that is not supported by all women nor men. From my research, 90% of men and 93% of Women are “quad dominant” because we live in a quad dominant world. Here’s an example, the next time you are standing, notice which muscles you are using the most. Try to contact or squeeze your glutes.  Notice how much you had to think about it.  However, when you look at quadriceps involvement in basic standing, the quads are the muscle group that keeps you on your feet.  Not the hamstrings and glutes. Its the quads that keep your knees extended which is what keeps you standing.

As for “kinesiology of the exercise”: A walking lunge, step up, and even a squat involves both pulling and pushing, not just a push.  A forward lunge with push back is just that a push.  In a normal lunge, “Rotational” forces are always at work while performing any ambulatory movement.  But as a society, we have a tendency to only coach what we THINK we see to justify our expertise.  I stopped thinking about what I see a long time ago and began to measure instead that way, my opinion would be eliminate and all I had to do was read the numbers.

In the picture to the left walking lunge with med ball extended(which is not meant to be an example of perfect technique), the lifter is preparing to step forward in a walking lunge.  If she pushes, she goes backwards.  However, if she pulls, her body goes over the top of the front foot, then she completes the lift by finishing with extension of the quads AND hips (glutes).

In doing so, the lunge will engage the big toe, plantar fascia, ankle (achilles), soleus, gastrocs, anterior/posterior tibia for lower leg stabilization, hamstrings, glutes, quads and lower abs in that order.  In ideal firing order, the squat and lunge are an exercise for the entire lower body.  Starting with the feet.

Done incorrectly, the quads are dominant and this becomes a knee extension exercise which is done by the quadriceps, not the hamstrings and glutes. Some people scoffed at my analogy of sprinters vs. distance runners in the previous post on squatting.  However, now is the perfect time to clarify.

Sprinters are the only athletes who are NOT AS quadriceps dominant as the average person, but only while they are sprinting. In normal ambulation, they are just as quad dominant as the person next to them in terms of muscle recruitment in everyday activities.

Sprinters, however do not push themselves down the track…they pull and push and the push only comes as they leave the ground in finish knee extension. however, the glute contraction comes in the form of a pull as they repositioning the pelvis for loading and absorption of forces.  Sprinting is the only non-quad dominant exercise done while upright on both feet.

Ray also stated that

“Finally, lifting the heels with support during a squat will shorten the soleus and lead to and abnormal movement between the calcaneus, tibia and femur, during walking and running which in turn will cause discomfort or pain at the weakest part of the kinetic chain.”

Nowhere in my article did I advocate lifting the heels off the ground. In the image of Arnold squatting with a 2×4 under his feet, it is done to maintain full contact from toes to heel. It is NOT done to shift the weight to the toes or forefoot.  They did it to achieve a solid stable foundation while squatting to COMPENSATE for a lack of ankle mobility.  However, you are incorrect again in your assessment regarding “abnormal movement between the calcaneus, tibia, …”  But rather that shoot it down, I’d have to ask what would be considered abnormal movement? And most importantly, how do know that it is abnormal?    Before shoes, man ran around barefoot and developed enormous density in the lower leg muscles, hamstrings, and glutes. It is excessive and improper “upright” posture that has changed our physiological development and contributed to an increase in body dysfunction like low back pain and more.

Here is a graph of a male subject doing an overhead squat. 

Screenshot of a 3D Overhead Squat Functional Movement Screen, with poor knee flexion.

Screenshot of a 3D Overhead Squat Functional Movement Screen, with poor knee flexion.

Notice the yellow (left knee) and bluish (right knee) lines as the vertical green line intersects them.  That point is at the bottom of the squat (maximum knee flexion) for a male subject  who is squatting through their heels.

The Red line represents the pelvis anterior/posterior tilt, and the green line going across the graph illustrates the Torso or Trunk Flexion/extension. For starters, at the point when the green vertical line intersects the yellow and bluish lines, they should all be nearly identical.  The white line represents pelvis height during the series of squats.  You might also notice how in the three consecutive squats, even the knees to not stay the same and stress is moving demonstrating more instability.  However, it is the instability of the male subject’s right ankle which allows for more internal rotation of the tibia allowing it to achieve greater flexion.

This is not a good thing for the lifter.  The internal tibia rotation causes medial knee pain, lateral knee pain, lateral right side hip pain, and shuts down the glute medius.  This only occurs when the gastroc/soleus (calf muscles) are not capable of firing because the weight is in the heels.

Now Roy said, “The glutes HAVE to fire to come up from the end of the eccentric range.”  However, here, in the graph, the (pelvis) represented by the red line bends forward slightly on the way down, loses the posture half way through the descent phase of the squat, then at the bottoms begins to tilt forward again.

Now just so you know, the pelvis should begin to tilt backwards from the bottom of the squat if the glutes are firing to assist.  In this graph, we see the quads taking over the get up to knee extension not the glutes contracting to get the pelvis extension (vertical).

(In the graph, notice how the red line does not follow the same curve as the other lines.  The Red HORIZONTAL line is the zero point or completely vertical.  Above the line is forward bend, below the line is backward bend.)

I could go on for hours about this particular graph but in the interest of not boring readers with things I get excited talking about, I have to come to a conclusion of this post. I have thousands of these graphs which I’ve been looking at for over 12 years while applying corrective exercises and re-assessing. I experimented with every cue and technique you could think of using with my clients.  And now I share what I’ve learned with each of you in hopes that you will leave behind the use of words like “the average person does this” or “everybody should do that”.  Other people who may be perceived to be experts may truly believe what you’ve learned from them, but we should trust in data not in reputations, and when it comes to technique the data is in the actual biomechanics of the motion not the result.  A person who develops their body from the ground up is that much more effective when the ask their body to perform a task. As I stated before, the body will find a way, but if you empower every joint and body segment to do its job, it sure does make it easier.

I learn something new everyday from my clients.  But I’m open to allow their bodies to teach me how to help them not to share what I think I learned from someone else’s body. We are all different even when we present the same symptoms.   I am sure many trainers like Ray get great results based upon what they believe. And Ray is not alone in his thinking.  I am sure we have probably not studied the same things. I’ve spent my life studying my clients not text books. I stopped following the “experts” because they all started to try to find their own unique niche or trick they could teach people to improve their brand.  Oh don’t get me wrong, I read other peoples books and listen to what they say, but it has to pass one simple test.  That test is….knowing what we know about how the body truly works, does it make common sense.  If it doesn’t throw it out. If it eliminates one joint or another, throw it out.  However, if your goal is task specific, you may accomplish the task with that tip or cue but you do it at risk to yourself and your body’s health in the future.

My hope for every reader today is that each of you gains an understanding of the following….

Each person moves in a way that is unique to them. This is based upon their own strengths, weaknesses, injuries, repetitive activity history, and neurological deficiencies, coaching cues, instructions, and much more.

To our profession or any exerciser: I know its easy if you are an expert or working with clients or patients to refer to techniques that are based upon the average person, but we must get into the uniqueness of each individual in an effort to get the most out of their bodies and help each person develop as an individual.  I love the feedback and appreciate the comments. It is the questions and comments that stimulate more questions and can ultimately lead us to the truth about health and fitness.  Be encouraged and know that your questions and thoughts will only lead you closer to unlocking the key to your body’s success.

Be sure to look for my upcoming book Absolute Kinetix: Fitness From the Ground Up!  Follow me on twitter @zig_ziegler

Have a positive day!