How "Torque" can up your performance

Is it leg day? If you don’t necessarily have a leg day you should at least be squatting on a regular basis. Here’s the truth: A healthy dose of different squat forms in your training regimen will make you bigger, faster, and stronger. It’s science… 

Any form of physical stress on the body will cause the body to react in defense (i.e. the release of hormones). Whether you’re banged up in a car accident or sprint a 5:50 mile the same hormones are released in a specific order. Epinephrine (adrenaline) has many responsibilities in the body, but in stress situations it usually releases first to activate the sympathetic nervous system and your fight-or-flight re-sponse. 

The pancreas then increases output of glucagon to synthesize glucose (sugar) thereby increasing content in the blood, but it is usually countered a few minutes later with the output of insulin. Insulin comes along and forces the liver, skeletal muscles, and fat tissue to soak up that blood sugar. Insulin also increases cellular replication and protein synthesis. A few hours later your adrenal glands release cortisol to fight inflammation and again increase blood sugar. Finally, a day later the pituitary gland recognizes the damage that the body has experi-enced and it releases growth hormone and that is the good stuff that we want to get bigger, faster, stronger. 

All of that was a long way of telling you that loaded squats engage more skeletal muscle groups on a greater demand than any other physical activity and therefore re-sult in more hormone activity. Now that reason is in place we should talk about how to squat with the most power, stability and safety. 

Your squat should consist of strong, complete flexion in the hip, knee, and ankle followed by even stronger extension of the same. We’re going to create that strong, stable squat by starting organized. Mark Ripptoe is a legend in weightlifting. He wrote the book Starting Strength among several other literary contributions. He explains very well the difference in body geometry for the different squat forms (i.e. high-bar, low-bar, front, overhead). We will discuss more on that in a later installment, but essentially you can’t expect to crush your strongest squat ever if your body is not set up for it prior to beginning the lift.  

Coaching cues for low-bar back squat (getting organized):
  • Approach the bar with your game face on; many athletes talk themselves out of a lift before getting to the bar… OWN IT! 
  • Take position under the bar with the bar resting just below the apex of your traps (for high-bar back squats).
  • Your grip on the bar should be as close to the shoulder as you can manage; this will allow you to pull down on the bar during your squat, engaging critical upper body stabilization.
  • “Turn on” your butt; you cannot squat without engaging the glutes, so if you tighten those huge power house muscles prior to starting then you give yourself a head start.
  • Position your feet to turn out approximately 5-12 degrees; this will allow your femur to pass through your pelvis and will allow you to screw your feet into the ground creating torque in the knee and hip offering the safest position for ligaments.
  • Take a deep breath and hold it; this fills the thoracic cavity with air and tightens the abdominals and thoracic stabilizers.

GET ANGRY AND SQUAT HEAVY! Keep in mind that friends don’t let friends squat shallow. Your hip crease should pass below the horizontal plane of your knee on EVERY squat. Full range of mo-tion is essential to proper development of length-tension relationships with muscle groups. With respect to the long and large muscle bellies of the quads and hams those length-tension relation-ships are so crucial for athletic potential. 

Kelly Starrett, physical therapist and founder of Mobility WOD, has a great explanation of the importance of torque in the knee. Try this: On your right hand, wrap your middle finger over your fore finger as tight as you can get them. Now wrap your other hand around those fingers tightly to make a fist. Exter-nally rotate your hand and feel the torque placed on the fingers. Now rotate your hand internally and feel the fingers release and almost completely separate if you can go far enough. This example is an almost perfect model of the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments in the knee (ACL/PCL). When you externally rotate your hip in your squat (or any athletic movement for that matter) you provide that essential torque on the ACL/PCL that stabilizes the knee. This same position torques the collateral liga-ments as well. If your knees cave in or your hip internally rotates then you create slack in the ligaments and open a huge window of awful opportunity for strain and tear. 

Stephen Pruitt owns Kudzu CrossFit in Madison, MS. He has a Master Degree in Exercise Science, Health and Wellness with emphasis in Sport Rehabilitation and has recently been accepted to the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. He is recognized by CrossFit as a Level 1 trainer with certifications in Olympic Lifting, Mobility and Strongman Programming. He is recognized by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Corrective Exercise Specialist. Prior to owning a gym, he was a active-duty officer in the Air Force and consulted with several private clients on lifestyle changes to combat the fat. Having been an obese youth himself, Stephen coaches and consults athletes and clients with a true passion that only comes from experiencing the bottom of the barrel. Although, he now focuses his coaching on enhancing the performance of youth and adolescent athletes, his heart still draws him to the fight against obesity. 
Stephen is married with two dogs; his wife is also a fitness and nutrition specialist as well as a published fitness model. He can be reached at Kudzu CrossFit