In this article I will focus on different types of squats.  First off, how should we perform them – a full squat or just a little bit?  There are a lot of opinions.  For some very deep squats work better and others struggle to perform them.  Why do we have so many different approaches?  The answer lies in the morphology (shape and structure) of our bodies.

picture from www.powerliftingtowin.com
picture from http://www.powerliftingtowin.com

People with short legs can normally do deeper squats and lift heavier loads than those with long legs.  People with short thigh bones (femur) are able to keep their torso straight when performing a squat, forcing their quadriceps to do all of the work.  On the other hand those with long thigh bones tend to lean forwards more when performing a squat which transfers the work from the thighs to the lumbar area and buttocks, which can lead to a herniated disc.

There are two schools of thought on how to perform a squat with weights.  The first recommends full motion, whilst the second a reduced range of motion.

Full range – by going as low as possible we force our muscles to work over a wider range, which exercises all of the muscles in the legs.  We also have a greater stretch of the muscles.  This method of performing a squat comes with the risk of tearing the muscles via overstretching and mechanical problems can affect the knee joints.  When doing a full range squat it is not possible to lift as much as when doing a shorter range squat.

Shorter range – this type of squat allows us to lift greater weight but is not stretching the muscles.  This exercise is friendlier for the knees, but it does not work the whole of the thigh as the hamstrings are neglected.  As the weight is increased the risk of lumbar injury rises.

The type of squat best suited to an individual that lifts weights will depend on his/her morphology and technique.

For years in Europe we have been told not to perform squats lower than 90° as it is not good for the knees.  Nowadays this advice is changing due to the fact that the more that we avoid doing full range squats (as we grow up) the less able we are to them.  If we do not perform the full range of movement the neglected parts of our leg muscles get weaker and over time deteriorate.

New studies show that full squats are in fact better for our joints as this natural range of movement “greases” the joints better.  As a part of the full squat the wider muscle group works causing increased muscle tension, which leads to more stable joints.  Low squats also help with stretching the ankle and hip joints and is a great resting position that can be observed around the world, for example in a lot of Asian countries.  Another benefit from performing a full squat is that it improves core stability more as additional balancing is required.

I would not recommend that anyone with knee problems attempt to do full squats.  From my own perspective I have been doing full squats with dynamic stretching (see previous article) for some years now and have managed to get rid of the pain I had in my knees

I hope you find this article helpful



For years I had done the traditional approach to stretching in martial arts training.  This consisted of a general warm up followed by static stretching, which then moved onto kicks, punches and whatever else was being taught in the session.   Using this approach I was not able to perform high kicks for over fifteen years.  I had always struggled with my suppleness and in looking for a solution to my problem lots of instructors told me that I just simply do not stretch enough.  As a result I did very long sessions of stretching followed by kicking.  However, I was not able to kick higher and over time I had increased pain in my muscles and joints.  The effect of this was that my ability to kick actually decreased as often after sessions I had developed micro injuries and pains in my muscles that were taking a long time to heal.  I had then been told by my doctor that my hips are in fact ‘closed’ and so I would never be able to kick high and so I dropped my strenuous stretching regime and went back to doing enough stretching to maintain mobility.

After a few months of lighter stretching I realised that I was actually able to kick higher and more freely.  On discovering this I started to analyse my body’s response to different forms of stretching such as dynamic, static, forced, isometric etc.  From my studies came the clear view that for my body structure, the traditional methods of stretching were not suitable.  Having changed my programme of stretching for a few years I can now freely kick higher than my own head height.  My closed hips do not allow me to kick perfectly, but at least I know that there are other ways to improve my flexibility.  Now I do five sessions of stretching a week and no longer suffer with muscle or joint pains.

Most of the martial arts training sessions that I have seen/experienced run with the same traditional model: aerobic warm up, stretching, technical then cool down.  In my opinion an aspect of this cycle that is incorrect is when instructors use static stretching techniques directly after the aerobic warm up, which I believe should be used only as cool down exercises.  By doing these static stretches we stretch our muscles to their maximum, which causes micro tears.  This then limits our muscles’ abilities to perform rapid contractions, but we then move onto dynamic techniques such as kicks.  Consequently performing static stretching first can actually have a detrimental effect on our performance.  As our muscles already have micro tears at this point, performing repetitive rapid contractions can cause further damage on overstretched muscles.  Our trainee might not feel this damage, but with time it can accumulate and result in injury.

Our muscles respond to the micro damages in our muscle fibre by creating scarring.  This scarring makes our muscles less flexible, which is why some people experience muscle tightness after intensive training and the process of stretching the muscles has to be repeated again to counteract the tightness.

In my experience it is much more efficient to use dynamic stretching as part of a warm up prior to training as this prepares our muscles to perform dynamic contractions without overstretching our muscles first.  Doing dynamic instead of static stretching also helps to maintain our aerobic effort and so our body does not cool down prior to executing techniques.

For beginners we can also achieve suppleness quicker by stretching only one side of the body (unilateral) at a time.  This is because when we stretch both sides of the body (bilateral) (e.g. both legs) at the same time, our nervous system responds quicker to protect our muscles from overstretching and so limits our progression.  Stretching only one side at a time allows us to stretch further, but is also more representative of fighting where we only kick with one leg at a time (usually!).

All of my students are now training this way and we can all see the beneficial results, especially for those people who have been struggling with their kicks, who now love to kick to the head!  As a bonus we also have not had any muscle injuries.  Static stretching in our club is done only as a cool down but is used on every session.

Combining these two methods of dynamic and static stretching in this order produces better results than the more traditional setup.  It is also the recommended method of stretching by experts.

I am aware that there are other methods of stretching that are effective for others as we are all different, but on the basis of my body responses over nearly 20 years, I can recommend this method as it is certainly beneficial to me and my student s.

Thanks for reading.

Seminar Review

Last weekend our club hosted an International Budo Seminar where we had various martial arts instructors demonstrating and teaching their arts. Personally for me this event was a great success, especially as I was initially worried that we would have only limited attendance. In the end we had over 30 people turn up and I hope that they all had a great time. Below you can find a short review that was written by one of the participants, followed by a few pictures.  Enjoy 🙂

Group photo
Group photo

“Martial Arts Seminar August 2014

This August I had the opportunity to attend a martial arts seminar in Guildford with instructors from the UK and mainland Europe who are high level teachers in various disciplines.

For me it is always interesting to train with new instructors and in styles that differ from those that that I regularly practice. There are opportunities to learn new ideas and variations of existing techniques; a chance to expand horizons.

This seminar did not disappoint. Not only did we get a chance to experience new possibilities but there was also a real sense of camaraderie. Instructors from different styles and countries coming together with open minds and students (mostly) enjoying learning. I certainly hope that we can experience more seminars of this calibre in the future.”

By Robin K.

not so serious photo
not so serious photo

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Pub after seminar

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Thank you for your time 🙂