Squatting is one of the primary basic movement patterns the human body is designed for.
Yet in our current society, that movement pattern has become very consistently flawed...basically meaning most people that you see walking down the street couldn't do a proper squat to save their life.
This phenomenon also tends to be where the myth that "squats are bad for your knees" comes from...honestly, the way many people squat, it actually IS bad for their knees.
A properly executed squat (assuming no structural or injury-related issues in the knees) is absolutely healthy for the knee joint and poor squat form CAN be fixed.
The exercise I'm going to show you today is one of the first steps towards fixing poor squat form.
High-Pulley Assisted Squats
The main problem with the bodyweight squat happens right from the start...and that is starting the movement by bending the knees.
To perform squats properly, you should start by sitting back, as though sitting down onto a chair. This engages the strong muscles of the glutes and hamstrings, rather than focusing the load on the quadriceps and lower back.
The problem I generally see there is that people who aren't comfortable squatting aren't comfortable with this "sitting back" movement at the start. It's a vicious circle in that poor initial form leads to a strength deficit in the muscles that SHOULD be working in the squat...which leads to a reliance on that poor form to actually perform the movement.
(Note: if you have a hard time feeling your glutes working when you squat, this lack of sitting back at the start could be your issue.)
And it's not even always a technique issue...it can be simply a CONFIDENCE issue.
You have to know you'll be able to come back up when you squat down and bending at the knees first gives people a feeling of confidence that they often don't have with the "sitting back" movement because of their lack of glute strength.
So to remedy this, we use the High Pulley Assisted Squat.
This exercise allows you to maintain your balance and your CONFIDENCE as you squat down, because the weight is actually going to counterbalance your weight and help you out of the bottom.
To do this one, you'll need a high pulley with a rope attachment (this is the best attachment for this technique) or a training band (hitched onto something high up so you can grab on in front of you).
Set a moderate weight on the stack - you may need to experiment a little with it to get it right. Stand in front of the high pulley and grab the rope ends. Set your feet a little outside of shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointing out about 30 degrees.
Begin to squat down, SITTING BACK instead of bending at the knees. Your knees will bend automatically...just focus on sitting back, sticking your butt out as you come down (your lower back should be arched on the way down). I also recommend transferring your weight back on your heels to help engage the glutes and hamstrings.
Use your grip on the rope attachment for balance. The weight stack shouldn't move yet.
Now as you come down further, lock your arms and pull the rope attachment down with you, as you come down into a full squat. This will raise the weight stack up a bit, which is going to counterbalance some of your bodyweight.
Come down as far as you can.
Congratulations! You've just done a FULL squat.
If you've never come down this far into a squat before because of poor form, balance or confidence issues, this will be an eye-opener for you. Having the weight stack there to help you back up can be a gamechanger.
Now, to come back up, consciously squeeze your glutes, pushing with your heels, and stand up.
The weight stack will help you out of the very bottom. As you come up, it will set back down, and you will come up the rest of the way on your own.
Who This Exercise is For
Because of the assistance found in this exercise, the High Pulley Assisted Squat is more targeted for beginning trainers who are just learning how to perform a proper squat.
That being said, if you or somebody you're training has issues with their squat form, this can be a GREAT teaching tool exercise as well.
In addition, because of how it takes tension off at the bottom and how it allows full control over the movement on the way down, it's an excellent rehab exercise for the lower body. Just make sure you're cleared to do squatting movements before using it.
I would actually prefer this one over a leg extension because it's a FAR more natural movement than an isolation exercise like the leg extension.
If you've never enjoyed squatting because of balance or confidence issues, or if you find your glutes don't get involved in the movement at all, this is a GREAT method for you.
It will help you gain the confidence you need to squat and get the most out of the exercise.
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