The simple answer to this question is squat more right? For long-term gains and muscle adaptation this is true. But we can make faster gains by moving more efficiently. When you were a kid did you ever stand on an empty coke can? Amazingly it would hold up because everything was distributed to accept maximum force. Then your sibling or friend would inevitably come over and put a little dent in the side and you would crash down to the ground. But what does a coke can have to do with squatting? The straighter we can keep our knees and ankles the more efficient our system is, this means less waste in the system and improved gainz!
We have all seen the high level weight lifters that somehow survive with the baby giraffe legs. This shows me that they could increase their weight by 15-30 pounds if they are more efficient. Amazingly enough with improved movement efficiency we will also have less pain and lower our risk for injury. What could be a better 2-for-1, lift more and decrease risk of injury all with some simple exercises. (photo to the left: @sageburgener)
I had a patient Erin come in with severe knee pain that was to the point of where going up stairs was miserable. She would even avoiding sitting if she knew she would have to get up within 10 minutes. After we got the knee calmed down and she was able to squat again she went back to the same weights as before her knee injury. After 3 weeks of consistency with her exercises and squatting once a week her back squat jumped 30 pounds. That was more weight than she had added in the prior 6 months with a 3 times a week squat program! What could these magic exercises be? Simple yet effective is the name of the game, Single leg bridges, banded side steps, and banded squats. Consistency is key to the effectiveness of these exercises if you do it once a week you will see change but it will be slowed. Erin was doing this 5 days a week as accessory work, and her work paid off big!
Why the hips you may ask? Our hips control the rotation of our knee and ankles. If we can activate our hip external rotators to keep better alignment with squatting we are more efficient, more efficiency leads to more power in the direction you need it to get the weights up. All 3 of these exercises target our hip external rotators, mainly the superior fibers of gluteus maximus and gluteus medius.
Single leg bridge-
Make sure you are not over using your Hamstings! We are trying to get the glutes to take over with hip extension. Start with 2-3 sets of slow and controlled 8-12 reps then you can progress to fast up, slow down.
Banded side steps-
The higher up the band on the legs the easier it will be. Focus on keeping to toes straight ahead or slightly turned in to bias glutes. Perform 2-3 sets of 15-20 feet.
Place the band just above the knees, make sure to keep tension on the band the entire time. Using around 50% of your max perform 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps.
If you need help with your squat give us a call for your free 15 minute phone consultation 808-599-0177.