There are few exercises that exist that are more beneficial than the squat. Contrary to popular belief, when properly coached and progressed, squats are an excellent training tool for improving leg and hip strength, load tolerance in the knee, and core strength. While it is true that squats produce compressive loads within the knee joint and tensile loads of the ligaments and tendons of the knee, current research has shown that those loads are still below the maximum tolerable loads of those connective tissues. In fact, evidence also points to a higher levels of tensile strength and cross-sectional area (CSA) of the quad, patellar, and achilles tendons in athletes who have participated in weightlifting vs non-weightlifting sports. Strengthening exercises for the quads that allow for progressive loading, such as squats, can in fact reduce the long-term risk of injury.
Squats Can Actually Help Your Spine
When looking at the impact of squatting on the lumbar spine researchers have found no adverse effects on disc height in the long-term. In other words, the idea that barbel squats cause degeneration in the lumbar spine is based more on fear than science. In fact, the increase in demand on core musculature would indicate that loaded squatting improves the stability of the spine rather than the opposite.
As mentioned earlier, learning to squat can provide a whole host of benefits that outweigh the risks. Those benefits include:
1. Increased overall leg strength for daily activities.
2. Increased core strength for spine health.
3. Increased hip and ankle mobility with progressive loading.
4. Increased metabolic rate due to the increased muscle growth.
5. Improved movement patterns to minimize injury risk with other sports and activities.
If you are experiencing pain with squatting, consider meeting with a physical therapist to assess what the possible causes might be. Not everyone needs to squat the same and a good therapist will help identify what your limitations are and how to properly progress your program to continue to reap the benefits of squatting without increasing pain.