Wednesday, August 22, 2007

That Old Stability Ball Wall Squat: Now Permanently in the Lexicon

Well, here it is. Straight from the NSCA's latest journal. Just knock me out. With all due respect to my colleagues, I do not use this exercise. With anyone. Even my 75 y.o. mother-in-law or my back patients. In my mind it promotes the following dysfunctional movement patterns:

1. Posterior positioning of center of gravity with a squat-like movement. No one can move like this in the real world (without the stability ball holding them up)--they will fall over backward.

2. Lack of slight, normal torso/hip flexion (with lumbar stabilization) that should occur with squat-like movement.

3. Lack of ankle dorsiflexion that should occur as a part of an entire lower extremity sequencing with any squat movement. Yes, dearie, those knees need to move over the toes.

It intrigues me that someone would use this with anyone that remotely resembles an athlete. Why not just bodyweight squats holding one dumbbell or a medball at the chest? I have gotten away from ever using DBs in the hands for lunging or squatting, preferring to use an implement at the chest or over the shoulders. Many times I've watched personal training clients "slink" across the gym with horrible upper body positioning and lower body mechanics. Most people need to first master lunging and squatting with bodyweight only; then extra resistance can be added, but it needs to stimulate and promote optimal torso positioning (IMHO).

Maybe my real problem is that when I have seen this exercise used in the past, the person doing the exercise is not attending to the movement; and the person who gave them the exercise is not giving any feedback on their body mechanics. I cannot tell you how many times I've seen clients/patients mindlessly flexing and extending their knees, with poor mechanics, jabbering away with the person who gave them the exercise to do. There is no effort or expectation to move well!

Every day, for decades, we move our bodies, getting off the toilet, out of the car, off the couch, freely in space. There is no stability ball, wall or Smith machine bar to lean back on. How is it that these type of squat exercises are now perceived as safer, better or appropriate for building leg strength and mechanics? Why is simple squatting such a misunderstood and under-utilized method of strengthening? In my book, it is the foundation for everything else we do.

You can teach people basic squat mechanics without a stability ball or wall behind the back. You might have to give more manual and verbal cues; you might start with sit to stand. You might even have to demonstrate! Hmmm...can you do it yourself? Try to teach it to an inexperienced person and see what you think. If you raise the expectations for your client, you might just be surprised at how well they move, if given the right instruction and a chance.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for speaking out. I've hated that movement from the get go.


Anonymous said...

Amen Sista!

I do use the exercise on a limited basis. But I always demonstrate it first myself and point out to the patient the finer aspects of the movement and don't leave their side as long as they are doing it. As soon as they have the finer points mastered the ball is history! It seems that a lot of folks who have trouble squatting lean too far forward and flex their spint too much and stay upright too much. If they squat with the ball conforming their spine to the ball and really push the but under they ball with effort and keep the upper back touching the ball when they do it it seems to be a nice proprioceptive prop. But.......If they aren't doing it with good form it's useless! S

Jerimiah said...

While I do use the wall squat, it is becoming far less often the more experienced I get. The biggest thing to learn is to ignore the patient when they say they can't and just teach them the proper progression. As you point out this often requires demonstration.

Joe P. said...

The exercise remains popular because it mimics the hack squat. Many orthopedists are not happy unless you send their ACL patients back with thunder thighs.

Jen said...

Body weight squats are much more functional. I never use it and wont! Not with my clients or with myself. It's not fundtional and does not Push Butt under. Pull the ball away and down they fall.
How does it mimic a back squat? If I wanted to do that I would have them use a PVC pipe so they would learn the correct form for a back squat.

~The Mighty Kat~ said...

It's all about the client. For someone just coming out of physical therapy with spinal issues, this is still a great tool to get them started on the path to strength.

Anonymous said...

OMG! I just looked at the NSCA's post for wall squats with the ball!!! NO WAY!!!! That totally freaks me out!!! I would never have anybody do it with dumbells nor would I have them do it in that manner. He is totally resting his thoracic area on the ball with his butt hanging there in space!!! That is soooooo worthless. SSSSSSS

Anonymous said...

Tracy, great perspective. I often see this one and it just makes me cringe. Even worse, I see trainers having clients squat on balance discs, bosu, or wobble board before they learn to squat freely with bodyweight. I have no idea why programming has gotten away from the fundamentals. It is truly a sad situation. Hey, just had a new client. 76 years old with Parkinsons. Imagine the looks I got when I started him out with deadlifts!! I was tickled. Dan Thacker

Anonymous said...

The NSCA Strength and Conditioning Journal (Vol. 29, #4-August 2007) describes and demonstrates the technique behind the stability ball wall squat, but doesn't explain why one would ever use it. Why does the NSCA promote these types of exercises? Do you, Tracy, have any thoughts on this?