It’s a common thinking between triathletes and endurance athletes, that lifting weights, any barbell movements, especially barbell squats, will drastically slow you down.
I’m going to debunk that myth and show you how squats, done with proper technique, can help or add speed, shave off a few minutes from your run and from your bike, and how it can also help with any injuries or muscle imbalances you may be experiencing.
Myth: Squatting Causes Bulky Legs
Most people think, “I’m going to have big legs and it’s going to slow me down on the run and the bike. The more weight I have the slower I’m going to go.” That’s common thinking.
The most important thing to remember is that without an excess amount of protein and calories, your body is not going to build a great amount of muscle mass, so nutrition is the key. What squats will do for the lower body is reverse those imbalances caused by all the triathlon training, the long hours on the bike, and time spent running which can all cause certain muscles to over-develop and others to under-develop.
Squatting is a great exercise because it has one of the highest muscle activation rates of all exercises. Squats activate your:
- core and abdominal muscles
- lower body muscles, including the posture chain, hamstrings
Unless you are training in certain rep ranges, squats are not going to build that type two muscle fiber, which is the larger of the two. That is what body building training will mostly target, with rep ranges of 8-12.
Type two muscle fibers are the thicker muscle fibers. When you are doing squats in the proper rep ranges, over 15-20 for endurance atheletes, then you are working more on the type one muscle fibers, which are the slow twitch muscle fibers.
These are the muscle fibers that are not only smaller, but fatigue less. Unless you are training in that specific lower rep-range, fear of having bulky legs is not going to be a realistic concern.
Myth: Squats are Bad for Your Knees
We hear this all the time whether at the local gym or from seasoned athletes and trainers, so I’m going to go into specific detail on this. I have a physical therapist friend and we always joke around that half squats are really bad for your knees but full squats are bad for your ego.
Now let me explain that – it may not make a lot of sense or sound funny right now, but once you know the biomechanics of squats, it will all fall into place.
When we do a half squat as opposed to a full squat, we don’t get that hamstring activation, but we are able to do a lot more weight (hence the ego joke). Once we get to a certain point, our hamstrings start to eccentrically load so they activate and help stabilize the tendons and ligaments in your knee.
Conversely, if I did not get to the full range of motions squat, and did not activate the posterior chain, that is what’s going to be worse for my knees than proper squats.
Let’s say you know how to squat correctly and that you know how to eccentrically load and push your hips back on the way down. The next thing to ask is, how are these squats going to do the opposite, how are these squats actually helping my knees rather than hurting my knees?
First, when you do create that hamstring activation, it helps keep you from making a quad dominant movement, as well as keep pressure and stress off the tendons in your knee joint. Cycling and running are heavier on the quads than they are on the hamstrings.
How many times do you see people with runner’s knee start to do some soft tissue work on the quads and all of a sudden, Bam, their knees are feeling a lot better? That’s not always the case, but a lot of times if inflammation is the problem, the quads are holding a lot of tension.
That’s a good indication to show when you are running and cycling that the quads are a heavy use and the hamstrings are not.
We all know how muscle imbalance can cause injuries – one of the muscles surrounding the joint is either stronger or weaker than the other muscles. It’s important to make sure that within a set of muscles, one area is not too strong. Otherwise, it will be pulling and creating tension just like quads do in runner’s knee and maybe causing inflammation and nagging pain.
Some people argue that squats aren’t beneficial, there’s no squatting technique in swimming, that there’s no specificity (benefits don’t directly carry over).
Let me address that as well, because even though there is no specificity of movement, it doesn’t mean your body won’t benefit from training these key energy systems.
As a triathlete, we learn that we have different energy systems, whether its aerobic or anaerobic and what this does is train the energy system that is primarily used in the climbs in the sprints, climbs on the bike, hills on the run, these times when you will see a lot of people slow down, on hill, on the run. So this is going to help build up that lactate threshold, done in the correct energy system and the correct rep-ranges.
If you’ve ever had nagging shoulder pain and you think it’s a rotator cuff or overuse injury, or if your shoulders are holding you back while swimming, I want to offer you a video course that’s going to help correct this problem and help get you back into race shape. Hopefully you can break through those PR’s or accomplish your goals, whether a half ironman or a podium finish.
To watch the video course, sign up with your email address and the videos with the password will be sent directly to your inbox. From there, you can watch the video series as many times as you like! Thanks again for stopping by, until next time!