The squat exercise is one of the most common compound exercises which targets multiple muscle groups like quadriceps (front side of the thigh), glutes (hip muscles), abdominals, calf, and hamstrings.
Squat requires concentration and coordination between the major and minor muscle groups to maintain the form throughout the workout. The abundance of benefits from squat is also accompanied by an increased risk for injuries.
The resistance bands play a significant role in maintaining the form and preventing the overtraining of the targeted muscles.
Here, I am going to explain the major challenges with squat exercise, especially for beginners. After that, I will elaborate on how resistance bands can effectively handle those issues based on some scientific and technical grounds.
All the technical details shall be explained in most simple words. The knowledge that you will gain through this article shall change your perspective of looking at the exercises.
So why should I use resistance bands for squat? The resistance bands, when used for doing a squat, prevent the caving of knees towards each other. Further, the exercise bands help the body recover the sticking point and improves the technique, posture. Due to the variable resistance provided by the bands, it lets you complete the full range of motion of squats and enhances the flexibility of muscles of leg and hip muscles.
I have just summarized the answer in the above paragraph, which is just the tip of the iceberg. The reasons behind the caving of knees, sticking point, the short-range of motion needs an in-depth understanding.
Once you know the root cause behind the common problems associated with squat, it shall be quite easier to understand the role of resistance bands while doing squats.
Here is the index of the reasons you should be doing squats with resistance bands –
Jump anywhere you want. Do read the most elaborated and relevant points mentioned at Sr.no. 1 & 2
❝ Hi, I am Ravi, your companion and a passionate fitness athlete, cyclist, runner, gym enthusiast who just loves the concept of resistance bands for their extreme flexibility. I have been using resistance bands as one of my primary fitness equipment for the last many years ❞
So let us begin-
The squat is a high impact exercise where slight deviations from the form can cost you a knee injury.
Here are some of the technical reasons you should be using resistance bands to load your squats
1) Inward movement of knees –
When you are moving into the bottommost position of squats, the knees tend to turn inwards towards each other, which puts extra strain on knees. The scientific term coined for the inward movement of knees is referred to as knee valgus or caving of knees.
Here it is essential to understand why knee valgus happens so that you may be able to understand how resistance bands can assist you in resolving this issue.
❔ What is the reason for knee valgus/caving of knees during squats?
If you observe any newbie doing squats for the first time, you will find that the gap between the thighs reduces as the hip moves in the downward direction. This reduction of gap or inward movement of knees happens due to the following reasons-
a) Overactive hip adduction muscles (muscles are responsible for bringing legs closer to each other and towards body midline)
b) Weak hip abduction muscles (muscles are accountable for moving legs away from each other and body midline)
c) Pronation of feet (Inward movement of feet under pressure towards the gap just under the foot arcs)
d) External rotation of tibia bone (frontal bone of the lower leg, which is also called shinbone)
In short, the tight adduction muscles and weak abduction muscles causes inward rotation of the knees, which are further aided by the pronation of feet and external rotation of the tibia bone.
To know more about the knee valgus, visit this – What is knee valgus – Science direct
😇 The good news is that the caving of knees might not be due to the weakness of muscles!
Well, you heard it right!
You may be wondering about the various reasons I just mentioned in previous paragraphs, which are contradictory to what I just said in the headline of this paragraph.
For beginners, the caving of muscles/knee valgus might not be due to the weakness of muscles. But a lack of practice or awareness of the brain about the movement of knees during the squat exercise.
We all have been hearing right from childhood that the practice makes a man perfect. There are scientific reasons behind the saying.
Whenever we start any activity, most of the time, we perform it poorly. With a little help from the partner, as we start focusing on the weak points, improvements begin to happen.
❝It happens as our brain learns from past experiences and develop memories from bad experiences. Keeping a record of mistakes helps our body not to repeat them and gradually improve the sequence and numbers of triggering of muscle fibers for any activity.❞
In the case of squats, it might be normal that our body is still learning about the dynamics of the exercise and muscles to be employed.
It is where resistance bands can help you send signals to the brain about the caving of knees.
❔ How can resistance bands help you with knee valgus/caving of knee?
When we perform any exercise, including squats, some of our muscles, which are playing a side role, are not actively engaged with the brain. Those balancing muscles work subconsciously until the coach/trainer points out the mistakes.
Just take an example of a standing triceps extension where our elbows always try to move away from each other, which makes the elbow joint unstable. We have to consciously focus on the elbows for the first few weeks until the brain learns to keep elbows together subconsciously.
When we wear mini loop resistance bands/hip bands around the thighs during the squat exercise. These booty bands help you keep knees at a distance from each other.
❔ But how is it possible when the job of booty bands is to pull the knees towards each other by stretching of rubber?
When we wear booty bands around the thighs, the mind takes note of the resistance exerted by the bands to pull the knees closer to each other. In other words, you become aware of the positioning of knees along with the other body parts.
So when you are pushing your body in the upward direction during the concentric phase of the squats, the brain intentionally opposes the inward pulling force of the booty bands. As a result, we try to keep knees, steady in their position, thereby reducing the caving of knees by a significant margin.
2) Overexertion of force on engaged muscles during the weakest phase of squats-
We all know that the knee joint is most vulnerable to injury when squatting downwards. As such, even slight overexertion of force from dumbbells/barbells can easily affect the knees.
Let me take you to the scientific side of squats to explain how resistance bands can prevent the overtraining of engaged muscles. Do not be afraid as I would try my best to explain all the technical jargon where ever they appear.
In every exercise we perform, the muscles behave differently at different joint angles during the range of motion. This behavior of muscles is demonstrated through a strength curve, which is a function of the torque developed by the muscles vs. joint angle.
Here torque refers to the force which is applied perpendicular to the fixed segment/body part connected to the joint to rotate it.
Now, just try to remember which part of the squat exercise you feel difficult to perform! In most of the cases, it is the bottommost position where thighs are parallel to the ground. However, as soon as we start extending the knees and hip in an upward direction, we start feeling better.
It happens because our muscles are not able to produce enough torque at the bottommost position. Whereas the weight we are carrying in hands creates a maximum force in this position.
❔ But Ravi, the external weights such as dumbbells and barbells are fixed in nature, then how could I believe that the value of resistance by them varies during the range of motion?
It is imperative to understand the answer to the above question so that I may explain how resistance bands can help you with the overtraining of the muscles involved in squats.
Rewind those physics lectures from schooldays. The thigh bones act like a lever, which is pivoted over the knee joint. The external force exerted by the dumbbells/barbells always acts in the downward direction due to gravity.
This external force attempts to rotate the lever between the knees and hip in a downward direction.
The exact formula for torque exerted by the external force is Torque = Force x length of lever x sin (Q), where Q is the angle between the force and the lever. So, the component of the force exerted by the dumbbells over the thigh bones, which is perpendicular to the thigh, is actually responsible for making squats harder.
Such a stance happens only in the bottommost position of squats where thighs are parallel to the ground and are making a 90° angle to the lower legs. The force produced by the dumbbells is acting in a downward direction due to gravity. As a result, this force is always perpendicular to the lever (thigh) at the bottommost position of the squat.
❝In a nutshell, there is maximum torque exerted by the dumbbells in the bottommost position. Whereas the torque produced by the muscles in this position is weakest.❞
That means the resistance curve of fixed weights such as dumbbells and barbells is precisely opposite to the strength curve of the muscles during the squat exercise.
For curious minds, here is the research published on Research gate in November 2018 on the implications of variable resistance – Muscular bases and mechanisms of variable resistance training efficacy
❔ So what happens when we do exercise with a resistance band such as power loop resistance bands (pull-up assist bands) or the tube resistance bands? –
In the bottommost position, when we are about to start the concentric phase by contracting the glute muscles. The resistance bands offer minimum resistance in contrast to the fixed weights, where maximum resistance is provided in this position of the squat.
As soon as the muscles of glutes and legs start recovering from the sticking point (weakest point), the resistance offered by the resistance bands also starts increasing due to the continuous stretching of the band.
In a nutshell, the resistance curve of resistance bands follows the strength curve of muscles during squat exercises.
📑 Additional Resource –
Similar benefits are also experienced with banded push-ups. If you are curious to know about the role of power bands and tube bands while doing push-ups with resistance bands, do visit this fantastic article – Benefits Of Band-Assisted Push-Ups vs Ordinary Push-ups | Bench Press.
The above discussion brings a single most relevant fact to the spotlight. The fact is that the resistance bands are always beneficial where the exercises follow the ascending strength curve of muscles.
Examples of such exercises are push-ups, chest press, chest fly, shoulder lateral raise. The common thing among these exercises is the pushing of weights instead of pulling.
It means all workouts where we push the weight are an ideal candidate for the addition of resistance bands to them.
There are some other benefits of doing banded squats and similar exercises worth knowing-
3) Faster muscle gain-
The faster muscle gain with resistance bands assisted squat happens due to the lower resistance in the final phases of eccentric movement (downward) and initial stages of the concentric movement (upwards).
Due to lower resistance offered by the bands during the initial stretching, we can accelerate the weights faster in an upward direction during the concentric phase. Similarly, we can de accelerate the weights more quickly during the downward movement of the loads.
The fast acceleration and de-acceleration of the body during a squat with resistance bands means that the body needs to recruit a more significant number of fast-twitch fibers. These fast-twitch fibers and their increased volume in this exercise multiply the growth of targeted muscles.
4) Increases maximum strength-
The exercises we perform are always restricted by the sticking point (weakest point) during the range of motion. The sticking point is one where you feel most difficult while lifting weights.
In the case of the squat exercise, the sticking point happens at the bottommost position. The maximum weight we can raise during a squat is limited by the weight we can carry during the sticking point (bottommost position) of squats.
As resistance bands provide a lower resistance during the bottommost position of the squat, it means we can lift much higher weight in the balance stages of the range of motion.
The increase in the amount of resistance, we can bear during resistance bands aided squat means that the maximum power is bound to improve.
It is the reason most of the ace athletes and coaches make use of the combination of resistance bands and fixed weights to increase the maximum power.
The squat exercise can also be performed by using resistance bands and fixed weights simultaneously in the same activity. However, such variations are only recommended for intermediate and advanced athletes.
📑 Additional Resource-
Here is a fantastic article where I have discussed the implications of using resistance bands in combination with fixed weights- How To Use Resistance Bands In Combination With Free Weights – Guide.
5) Improves the posture and technique of doing squat-
The most common issue with lifting weights higher than you can afford is the adverse effect on the posture and technique of exercise. It happens because we try to skip the part of the range of motion where lifting such a higher weight is just impossible.
You must have seen people doing half squat and half chest press while lifting extra-heavyweights. Compromising with the range of motion means that the muscles are not wholly flexed and extended.
Lower flexion and extension of engaged muscles during exercises mean lower flexibility and tight muscles.
❝ The resistance bands provide a self-accommodating resistance band to the body at various stages of the squat. So, we can efficiently complete the full range of motion without compromising the posture and technique by using resistance bands while doing squat.❞
6) Improves the flexibility of engaged muscles-
As discussed earlier, resistance bands provide you the space for completing the full range of motion, where the involved ligaments can move over a much broader spectrum. The increased flexibility of the muscles decreases the impact of external force by reducing the rate of increase of that force.
7) Improves balance-
The resistance bands similar to the fixed weights, such as dumbbells and barbells are just a source of resistance, which is applied at a particular point as decided and guided by us.
There is no support system like the machines available in the gym for assisting in squat, chest fly, chest press, which restricts the free movement of body parts.
The free movement of resistance bands and fixed weights needs to be counterbalanced by the counter-reaction of the brain through the engagement of more balancing muscles.
It is the reason that we, as a trainer, always recommend doing free weight exercises in comparison to the extension/flexion machines with guided paths available in the gym.
8) Prevents injuries-
When we exercise with a leg extension machine, our back and glute muscles are put to rest over cushioned seats. Whereas in the actual world, most of our movement happens in 3D space without the support of machinery.
Comparatively, less usage of balancing muscles/secondary muscles during machine-based workouts creates un-balances.
The use of free weights, such as resistance bands, forces our body to engage more of the secondary muscles to support the primary muscles while doing exercises such as the squat.
9. Final opinion-
Never judge any equipment based on its appearance. The resistance bands are one of such weak-looking friends who are indeed a versatile and useful tool for most of the people pursuing fitness as their passion.
As stated above, the resistance bands bring smart resistance into the play, which has several benefits attached to it. The lower resistance offered by the bands during the bottommost position may leave that position undertrained.
The remedy to this drawback can be to use resistance bands in combination with the free weights, such as barbells and dumbbells, as stated before.
📑 Additional Resource –
Here is a relevant article where I have discussed how the combination of resistance bands with fixed weights can provide tremendous benefits and some warnings worth knowing – Benefits Of Combining Resistance Bands With Free Weights -Pro And Cons.
Optionally, different variations of exercises can be performed in addition to the banded squat in a recommended sequence to train the muscles at different angles and different points during the complete range of motion safely and effectively.
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