Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Are Hindu (body weight) Squats safe?

Summary: Overall safety is undetermined, but it does have the potential to be a dangerous exercise. There are many other exercises to compensate for the full range of motion and I recommend you try these instead.

A Hindu Squat is a body weight exercise that emphasizes the quadriceps. It is designed to not only target the quads, but much of the lower body and back as well and is touted by many body weight enthusiasts as one of the best all-around exercises you can do. Here's a video:

I learned of this exercise through Ross Enamait's Underground Guide To Warrior Fitness (I believe the 'second edition' is Never Gymless) and Matt Furey's Combat Conditioning.

As a body weight enthusiast myself I have performed this exercise many times and over the years have come to question its safety. The exercise is to be performed many times in a row; both Ross and Matt state that you should be able to do over 500.
While it is undoubtedly a great workout, through training in yoga, pilates, martial arts, weight lifting, general cardio and other channels I have repeatedly been told that your knee should never or rarely extend past the front of your toes because it puts a great amount of pressure on the knee joints.

I have never heard of anyone encountering an injury as a result of doing full hindu (bodyweight) squats, but I've removed it from my routine in favor of 'half' or regular squats (Mike Diebler in the photo).

Hindu squats will give you a full body workout, but have the potential to cause some damage. While I have found no conclusive evidence of serious injury caused by this exercise, to me it is simply not worth the risk. There are many exercises that can replace the full squat-to-your-heels motion such as the above mentioned 'half'-squat, lunges and calf raises. I recommend you try these instead. I also recommend varying your workout for different ways of doing the same exercise (see this post about fast reps, slow reps and static contraction). Some of the worst injuries people will tell you about are the ones that creep up on them over a long period of time such as joint injuries (bad knees, shoulders and elbows from doing something too much or improperly).

If anyone has any more insight on this I'd be glad to hear about it. If you're a kinesiologist or even a certified trainer or instructor I'd especially love to hear from you.


Jesse Crouch said...

I received a response from Mike Diebler(shown in the photo here) via email stating the following:

"... there is clear research showing the increase in shear and compression force in the knees when they are past the toes"

Also saying that he "wouldn't support an exercise like this" as he is someone in the situation of "recommending safe exercises".

Mike is a certified personal trainer with the National Association of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise and holds a Master's Degree in Sport and Exercise Sciences from the University of Florida. Read more about him on his site.

manesh said...

Squats with flat heel may cause prob to back. so u have to lower only up to middle (half or regular)

but hindu squats raise the heel to save the back.
so u can do full squat

Jesse Crouch said...

Interesting. I never understood that a reason for lifting the heels when going all the way to the ground. Thanks manesh.

walter said...

While I do agree that Hindu Squats are very dangerous to perform when not conditioned properly, the "knees never past 90 degrees" myth is not the culprit. The Hindu Squat form increases stress on the patellar tendon and will cause a flurry of overuse injuries.

The above 90 degree squat is actually what causes the majority of knee injuries when relating to squats. In partial squats, your hamstrings don't get a full stretch so most of the force is directed upward and forward onto the quadriceps and the attachment to the tibia. This produces an anterior shear from the patellar tendon and without a balanced pull from the hamstrings, you end up with major knee problems.

The book Starting Strength provides an incredibly more detailed explanation of partial squats and what full squats actually are.

Jesse Crouch said...

That is very insightful and technical.. I'm going to have to read this book now. Thanks, Walter.

Alternative Design said...

Just came across this, and thought I'd put a few things down on the subject;
To have to elevate the heel to perform a full ROM squat demonstrates a significant level of increased tension in the calf musculature. The correlative knock on reaction in the kinetic chain until properly assessed cannot be determined as far as the cause (it may come from above, or begin at the ankle), but more than likely knock knees, internally rotated femur, tight and immobile hip joints & lumbar hyperlordosis will be the lower body issues.
As a side note, an exercise like the sissy squat would target the same musculature without the knee pressure, and the 90º angle many try for is actually closer to 120º when measured (femur parallel to the ground), which may be out of reach for the majority of trainees.
Long story short, one of your primal movement patterns is dysfunctional & needs addressing.

Anonymous said...

No one has mentioned the wear on the patelar cartilage as a result of the fast or semi-ballistic nature of this exercise. Drawing from personal experience (R knee arthroscopy, shredded patellar cartilage)with similar exercises during years of Gojy Ryu and Judo (squat kicks and bunny hops), this is bound to be just as damaging. I believe this squat can be done safely when performed "super slow" that is, at least 6 seconds down, 6 seconds up.

withoutwriting said...

It seems to be common sense to me that if you want to train as a fighter, you need to prepare your muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints as a whole for exactly the type of stresses they will encounter in a fight. If you're a competitive fighter, this will involve performing a double-leg, at some point. And squats are good for shots.

Hindu squats train explosive force from a deep stance, off the toes. This type of movement is good training in my view, as it's exactly replicating the kind of demand you'll be placing on your body when trying to lift or severely imbalance an opponent after shooting in on them. You will be driving forward on your toes. You will be in a deep stance, past 90 degrees on at least one leg. You will be trying to apply ballistic, explosive force. Therefore you will need this kind of training to prepare yourself for the move you're trying to do on a resisting foe.

One presumes that this is why wrestlers throughout history have employed the "hindu" squat as part of their conditioning regimen.

The potential for injury is ever-present in virtually every valuable training technique that constitutes real martial practice. Do wrestlers wait until they have perfect skeletal alignment before trying to lift their opponent's weight, in order to avoid back strain? No. Because you're not going to get an ideal situation when facing a real human opponent. Thus, your training should reflect the ever changing, asymmetric demand on your joints and muscles which constitutes a real fight.

In short, as far as one can tell by looking at published research, as previous posters have said, the "don't go over 90 degrees" advice is dubious, the "knees shouldn't go over the toes" advice is dubious (one study at least shows that it may in fact be a positive tradeoff: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14636100), and the "don't do ballistic movements" advice is simply counter productive for fighters. You need full range of motion, you need ballistic, rapid strength through that range, and you need uneven, asymmetric muscular and skeletal alignment in your training, 'cos you'll need it in your fightin'.

If you're doing exercises just for general fitness, don't do hindu squats. But if you're a fighter, you should be doing much more risky things on a daily basis, if you're serious about your craft.

Tim said...

I have done Shuai jiao wrestling in China for a while now and many of the basic exercises are similar to the Hindu squat. At first I thought these exercises looked dangerous but I have never had any problems with them. Also quiet a few of the older wrestlers still can do them without problems.
On another point I have also practised Tai ji for many years and so many people have knee complaints even though the exercises are not very hard.
I know my old Karate instructor had massive knee problems from doing endless bunny hops when he was younger.


John Meaney said...

I'm 55 years old, and I've been doing Hindu squats 3 to 6 times a week, usually for 200 or 500 reps, for 7 years. No injuries and an awful lot of benefit, especially in the dojo. Same goes for Hindu push-ups and the wrestler's bridge. Does for karate what those batteries do for the Duracell bunny...

(I still run, lift weights and do bagwork also.)

Anonymous said...

Exercise needs preparation, and as the other comment said why do you have to go fast or ballistic all the time? Seems there should be a break in period and then variation throughout ones training career. Slow,medium, fast, explosive. I probably wouldn't do the last speed very often or much. A few sets of 4 5 reps every now and then, and why allways hunreds of reps on the other speeds? 1 day sets of 20 to 50 other days less, some days in the 100s to test oneself. Tendons and ligaments, cartilage must be conditioned over time. If one has knee issues, then experiment or maybe not at all. Should be that way with pretty much all exercises. The science doesn't seem clear on the shear issue and empirically there seems to be little problem. Many potentially dangerous exercises often have large developmental pay offs..Use your head, listen to your body.

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