Bodybuilders, on the other hand, subscribe to the philosophy of form before weight. We work only with as much weight as is challenging, while able to maintain form. Squats performed this way will ALWAYS challenge you, and they will NEVER injure you.
I think this is nothing but a scare piece. And anyone chiming in saying they agree and they don’t squat anymore, and it’s because of knee pain, or back pain, has clearly been squatting with bad form. Squats are like anything in weightlifting: do them right, do them safe, and they’ll work wonders for your body. But don’t do them wrong and then complain they’re unsafe. That’s just silly.
His first point might be true in theory, but observation shows that perfect form in skill movements under load EVERY time is a myth for the vast majority. Now up until this point, the only injury I’ve brought up in relation to the squat or other skilled compound movements are those that occur in the gym.
There is another class of injuries that sneak up on you. Those are joint wear and disc compression. Perfect form EVERY time might not prevent these injuries from occurring. One of the problems with this class of injuries is they are slow and accumulative. You see as crazy as it sounds, loading 300 or 500 pounds on the top of your spine several times a month for years isn’t really what the spinal column was designed for.
But don’t listen to me. For $9 you can get the Kindle version of Congruent Exercise by Bill DeSimone.
Congruent Exercise by Bill DeSimone
Congruent Exercise goes into great detail on why the spine was not designed for the barbell back squat. I’d like to share one passage from page 57 of the Kindle edition.
The consequence of mis-loading the discs may not be immediate; it may just accelerate long term wear. You may voluntarily try to keep your back tight during a squat, deadlift, (etc.), you may appear as if you are, but the weight is definitely trying to bend your spine forward. Since you can’t see into the spine, you don’t really know if each of the deep muscles is holding the vertabra in place; they may not be, creating the impingement/herniation, just not yet at a noticeable level. You may squat/deadlift/etc. for years, then tie your shoes and “throw your back out”.
Congruent Exercise also provides exercise alternatives, not just for the squat but for other widely accepted load bearing exercises that are rough on the joints. If you care at all what sort of damage you are inflicting upon your joints and spine in the weight room, read this book.
Was my squat post a scare piece? Yes, it was. I’m trying to share what took me too long to figure out. You don’t need to load the base of your spine with heavy weights to gain muscle in your legs. There are safer alternatives. I believe the risks of injury is far too high. Pointing to the few survivors that can go decades with no ill effects is not evidence the squat is superior to other exercises. It is evidence that some people can thrive and survive extreme levels of stress.
When over 99% of fitness “professionals” cheerlead the almighty squat, I dare to have a conflicting opinion. However, I am not alone. Anthony Dream Johnson gets it. Be sure to read his posts Barbell Squat: the Worst Exercise in Existence? and Top 10 Reasons NOT to Barbell Squat.
Although this post was mostly aimed at the barbell back squat, the core message also applies to any load bearing compound movements, especially the ballistic ones such as CrossFit.