Squats, deadlifts and lunges…if you’ve been around the gym, you’re familiar with them. If you’ve been injured before, there’s a high probability you’ve been warned not to do one or even all of them ever again. We see patients on a regular basis that come in with strict instructions to avoid deadlifting. Depending on who you talk to, you will receive varying opinions regarding when to perform and when to avoid these exercises. The question at hand is, are these 3 exercises bad?
The answer is no. Squats, deadlifts and lunges in and of themselves are not bad. If you do not believe me, I have the following questions for you to ponder:
- How do you get into and out of your chair?
- How do you pick your grocery bags up off the floor?
- How would you get down on the floor to watch a movie or play with a child? How would you get back up?
Objection! Leading the defendant. Of course, I am and here’s why. You squat when you get into and out of your car, use the toilet, sit down into and rise from a chair. You deadlift (hip hinge) to pick up your grocery bags, pick up your kids to hug them and when your keys fall on the floor. You likely lunge to get down to the floor and again when you get back up. You use these 3 movements ALL. THE. TIME. The 3 “bad” exercises are not just for the gym. These are foundational movements that are critical to performing regular activities of daily living. We just add demand to those movements in the gym for various reasons.
The problem is not the movement. The problem is with how the movement is being performed time and time again. Think of squatting as a tool to perform a task much like a hammer. There is no inherent problem with hammers. You can do a lot of good things with a hammer, but the most obvious is pounding a nail into a piece of wood to hold it to another piece of wood. However, if you decide, for whatever reason, to hit yourself in the thumb repeatedly with the hammer, you would not look at the hammer and say it is bad. The problem is not with the hammer, but rather your ability (or inability) to use it correctly.
So rather than applying a blanket statement that says squats, deadlifts and lunges are bad, we would rather suggest that improper utilization of these 3 movements can be problematic. Another question that tends to accompany this discussion is, would you make your grandmother squat? Well, given what we stated previously, it’s safe to assume you know the answer, but before we jump into that I will ask you to consider this quote from Paracelsus, “all things are poison, and nothing is without poison, the dosage alone makes it so a thing is not a poison”. Keeping the prior quote in mind, I would absolutely ask my grandmother to squat. She still needs to use the bathroom after all. My grandmother also sits down, stands up and gets into and out of her car. Therefore, she squats all the time. The difference is, I may need to modify the dose to keep it from becoming a toxic movement. It is not likely I am going to ask my grandmother to squat with a 300-pound barbell on her back, but I may ask her to perform squat exercises with just her bodyweight getting into and out of a chair. Using proper loading strategies like in the video below, she can safely perform these exercises without getting hurt while at the same time maintaining the proper fitness levels required to potentially live on her own well into old age (I am not giving old age a number). So, when I see patients for post-surgical rehab following spinal surgery and they come in with strict instructions to avoid deadlifts, my question is how are they going to get their keys off the floor if they drop them? The answer is they need to deadlift, but they need to do so in a safe way with proper load (dosage).
My hope is that you see the importance squatting, deadlifting and lunging and are not afraid of performing them. It is important to note that these 3 movements should not cause you pain. If you currently have pain while performing any of these movements, we suggest coming in for an evaluation and movement assessment to see what corrective exercises can help make these movement patterns safer and more effective for you. Also, if you are considering starting a new gym routine, we suggest a movement assessment as well as working with a gym trainer or coach who is well versed in movement quality assessment and correction. As we say all the time, first move well and then move often.