During the past few months I have encountered many questions pertaining to the feasibility of the Deep Knee Bend. Some coaches maintain that this exercise is undesirable because it tends to stretch and tear tendons, ligaments and muscle tissue at the knee. They maintain that when a person is down in the lowest possible position, with the weight upon the shoulders, the weight will cause tendons, etc., about the knee to stretch and extend unduly.
In order to counteract this happening, these coaches recommend that their charges perform only the quarter squat, half squat, or in some cases coaches will eliminate the Deep Knee Bend altogether.
For many years there has been almost unanimous agreement among the trainers and experienced trainees of the world of weights that if a person only had time to do one exercise he would probably derive more benefit from the Deep Knee Bend than he would from any other single exercise. The reason for this was that when one performs the Deep Knee Bend properly he will bring into play more of the major muscle groups at one time than he will with any other single exercise.
Quadriceps, leg biceps, calves, back, deltoids, trapezius, and rib box are only a few of the muscle groups that are stimulated when performing this exercise.
Paul Anderson . . .
. . . worked almost exclusively on this exercise in his early months of training and this undoubtedly served as a basic foundation of his enormous strength. He has performed a Deep Knee Bend with a weight well in excess of 1,000 pounds and is the possessor of what are unquestionably the strongest pair of legs in the world.
Let's examine the facts of the Deep Knee Bend. It is quite possible to sustain some sort of knee injury when doing the Squat as it is sometimes called, IF IT IS PERFORMED IMPROPERLY.
Surely we will all agree that there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything. This fact, of course, applies to weight training as well as it does to any other activity. I will not agree that performing a Deep Knee Bend PROPERLY will ever injure the leg, or any part of the leg, in any way whatsoever.
When I go into the Full Deep Knee Bend without any weight upon my back, my haunches are less than one inch from the ground. My leg biceps are pressed firmly and completely against the calf and I am prevented from going any deeper into the squatting position. If I go down with 100 pounds upon my shoulders my haunches are still about one inch from the ground; if I use 500 pounds, I am still about one inch from the ground, and if I were to try 800 pounds (which obviously would be far from my ability to come up with), I would still be about one inch from the ground. It is simply structurally impossible for me to go any deeper into the squat.
What I am saying is that whether I go into the complete Deep Knee Bend with no weight upon my back or with a heavy weight upon my back my knee is in the same position.
If we are to condemn the Deep Knee Bend with weight upon the back because it stretches the ligaments, etc., then we must also condemn the Deep Knee Bend when it is done without weight. This, of course, would be ridiculous.
As a side thought, I also wonder what might possibly be wrong with stretching ligaments, tendons and muscles to a degree. This will, if gone about properly, increase flexibility which is always desirable.
Often a person cannot place the palms of his hands upon the floor when he begins. As he gets used to bending over he finds that he gets lower and lower and finally he is able to touch his toes with his fingers and eventually, if he pursues this exercise long enough, he will able to touch the floor with the palms of his hands without bending his legs.
Now what has the individual done? He has gradually accustomed the ligaments, tendons and muscles to stretch somewhat, thus enabling him to touch his toes. Actually he has improved his flexibility.
I can do a split without too much difficulty when I have been practicing it regularly. I find, however, that if I am to neglect doing the split for some time I cannot do it again until I have worked back into it for a while. What I am actually doing is stretching the structure of the body gradually, thus improving flexibility.
I believe that now we have established the desirability of performing a complete movement, and this included the Deep Knee Bend. COMPLETE and TOTAL contractions and extensions of each limb and muscle group assures COMPLETE and TOTAL development of each muscle group and perhaps more important, enables a person to retain complete and total flexibility of each limb and muscle group.
It is, on the other hand, quite possible to lose flexibility and attain only partial development. When we exercise properly, making complete contractions and extensions, we find that the end result will be the fact that rather than being "muscle bound" we will simply be "bound to have muscles."
One more point in defense of the Deep Knee Bend before we examine the potential reasons that have caused coaches and trainers attack upon this exercise.
When a lifter uses the Squat Clean he puts far more stress and strain directly upon the knee than will ever be put upon it while doing the Deep Knee Bend. One of the chief advantages of the Squat Clean is that it enables a man to go lower and still have the weight at the fixed position at the chest.
When a lifter pulls the bar from the floor and drops into the squat position, the weight falls upon the deltoids and upper chest and drives the lifter deeper into the squat than and Deep Knee Bend will ever drive him. This puts tremendous stress upon the knees, tendons, ligaments and muscles, and will certainly cause an injury if anything will. Actually, we find that lifters who use this style of squat clean posses tremendously strong, well-muscled legs; they are extremely flexible and seldom, if ever, sustain knee injuries. This type of clean would not be feasible or popular if it caused leg injuries.
Isaac Berger . . .
. . . the greatest 132 pound lifter in the world, cleans 325 pounds and more, using the squat style clean. Think of the fabulous pressure that is put upon his knee as that terrific poundage falls into place at the shoulders. Berger's legs are studies in strength, shape, and flexibility.
There is no logical thinking person who will, after examining the facts, blame the Deep Knee Bend WHEN PROPERLY PERFORMED, for injuring the legs.
What then seems to cause all of the hue and cry against this basic exercise?
Why do the theorists attack this basic exercise?
As we mentioned earlier in this article, it is quite possible to sustain some sort of injury when performing the Deep Knee Bend, if it is PERFORMED IMPROPERLY.
The following reasons are the factors that cause 99% of all injuries incurred while doing this basic exercise:
1) Many coaches and trainers fail to ascertain whether their charges have complete and total flexibility in the area of the leg and knee prior to beginning any Deep Knee Bends. If we were to place a heavy weight in the hands of a beginner, who cannot touch his toes, the weight would pull him into a bending position and might well stretch the tendons, ligaments and muscles of his back much farther than they are accustomed to stretching. This obviously would not be a wise thing to do.
We should first encourage the beginner to gradually bend over a little more during each workout session and soon he will be touching his toes without difficulty.
Many coaches are not careful in observing the flexibility of their charges prior to putting them on a weight training program. If a person who has difficulty performing completely normal squats without any weight is suddenly placed in a position where he has to go down with a weight upon his back, the weight may drive him into a much lower position than he is accustomed to and hence will overextend the elements at the knee.
Always be certain of the looseness or flexibility of a beginner before starting on any exercise! If he lacks flexibility give him movement which will enable him to regain total contraction and extensions BEFORE he uses weight.
2) Be sufficiently warmed up before starting your Deep Knee Bends. It is just as important to warm up the legs before doing squats as it is for a pitcher to warm up his arm in the bullpen before bearing down with his fastball. The pitcher who throws as hard as he can without taking a sufficient amount of warmup pitches is very foolish. The man who begins his Deep Knee Bends without warming up is just as foolish and very likely to sustain knee injuries.
3) Be absolutely certain that the collars are fastened tightly.
In quite a few cases of injured knees, the man performing the Deep Knee Bend tried to compensate for a shifting in the weight due to loose collars. As the load begins to slide down will often try to move with it and consequently drives upward from an unnatural angle. This can cause severe wrenching and tearing about the knee. LOOSE COLLARS HAVE BEEN THE CAUSE OF MANY AN ACCIDENT IN THE GYM!
4) Too much weight. This is a simple, yet basic reason for leg stress and strain. Always use the theory of progressive resistance when working any muscle group. Work your body within its capacity, gradually increasing the work load. As the poundages are increased, the strength and size of muscle will also be increased, providing, of course, that you are also combining proper nutrition and rest with your exercises. You will find that as you can handle heavier and heavier weights progressively you will not only improve muscle strength but tendon and ligament, ligament and joint strength also. Tendons and ligaments are, so to speak, the cables of the body. They can be strengthened through proper exercise.
5) We now come to what I believe is the most common cause of knee injuries due to the Deep Knee Bend. It is perhaps the most overlooked cause also. Try to stand with both feet about shoulder width apart as you would when doing the squat. Now drop into the lowest squatting position as fast as you can. When I do this even without weight, I feel a terrific pressure at the knees. Many people, far too many, use the "bounce technique" when doing the Deep Knee Bend. They take a heavy weight and rely upon the sudden drop and the "bounce" which is then caused when the tensed leg bicep and the tensed calf meet each other.
Consider the tremendous pressure that is brought to bear up on the knee and all of its component parts when this "bounce" technique is used! It is totally unnecessary and absolutely foolish to use the bounce, and yet it is widely employed by those who want to use poundages which are beyond their ability to perform properly.
By going down with moderate speed and recovering, you will derive all of the wondrous benefits which the Deep Knee Bend has enable men to receive in the past.
In conclusion, when I think of legs I think of John Grimek.
His legs are as flexible as those of a ballet dancer, and have the shape and beauty to inspire a Michelangelo and possess the strength to see him through a lifetime as a Master in the field of strength and development. These legs are the product of many exercises, the primary of which was the Deep Knee Bend and its many variations.
Think twice before you follow the advice of those who advocate the omission of the Deep Knee Bend. When done improperly, it is the cause of unnecessary and avoidable stress and strain.
When done properly it is rightfully . . . THE KING OF EXERCISES!
Enjoy Your Lifting!