Every good bodybuilder seems to recommend squats as the best exercise to build big thighs, but some people say the exercise can hurt the knees. What’s your take? In this case, maybe you need the best knee sleeves and the best way to protect a joint from injury or deterioration is to make it as strong as possible, and the best way to accomplish that is by means of a traditional free-weight bodybuilding program, intelligently applied.
Appearances are Deceptive
Your knees are nothing but little joints with no apparent muscle, while your legs are sequoia-sized slabs of mass. Don’t let that fool you a leg is only as strong as its knee.
Consider what the knees have to endure: they support hundreds of pounds as you squat; they have to withstand changes in the dynamics of that weight as they bend forward into a more vulnerable position of stress–out of the body’s vertical plane of support; and they have to act as shock absorbers, not only for running, but also for accepting the downward force at the bottom of a squat repetition. When I stop to contemplate how much a knee works in a day, I’m in awe of its might.
As a bodybuilder, you want the biggest legs you can get, so be prepared to train them with exercises that make your knees as strong as possible. That means all of the muscles that support and stabilize your knees must be trained with exercises that strengthen them equally, all the way around. That’s what is meant by functional and practical strength: your knees are able to support the weight you are carrying and they affect how you are carrying it, regardless of the position of your body or how you are squatting.
This type of omnidirectional knee strength can be built only by means of barbell squats. If your body is supported or braced at any point (by a machine), you will be pressing against that support as you squat, which forces your body to use the leverage that will shift the strength to other muscles unevenly, resulting in uneven development and strength. This is the principle behind isolation training, and it has its place in refining a physique for a contest, but too many bodybuilders substitute several isolation movements for a single harder-to-perform compound movement, mistakenly assuming that the sum of isolations equals one compound. Not so.
Always include Free-weight Free-standing Squats
Leg presses and hack squats bring out separations among your vast muscles, but by doing so, the exercises strengthen your patellar support muscles more than the muscles in the backs of your knees. These movements further unbalance circumferential knee strength by reducing the involvement of the glutes and hamstrings, which many people forget are important parts of the leg muscle group.
For complete leg development and knee longevity, it is imperative that you always include free-weight free-standing squats in your leg workout.
For longevity, it’s also important to use common sense in how you perform squats. Too much weight can be counterproductive. Every structural component has a limit. When doing squats, increase the weight only when your entire body leg muscles, knees, back, etc. is ready to increase in weight. Also, be sure to do several warm-up sets before moving to heavy working sets.
Common sense also dictates proper form. Your feet should be hip- to shoulder-width apart, and you should maintain a very slight bend in your knees when in the top position. Accentuate the natural curve of your lower back, and keep your abs pulled in tight, with your chest up and your shoulders back while holding the bar tightly across your rear delts and traps. As you squat down, lead with your hips to sit back and down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. To drive out of the bottom of the squat, push through your feet, leading with your hips to return to full extension. Throughout the entire motion, maintain a straight-ahead gaze.
Do squats first in your leg workout, for three to five good working sets (not including warm-ups). Once you’ve built a tight, full, honest pump from squats, you can start carving up the meat with leg presses, hack squats, extensions, and lunges, along with hamstring exercises, such as leg curls and Romanian deadlifts, to maintain a strength balance between the fronts and backs of your thighs. Sorry to put you through so much work, but you’ll find it’s worth it.
Causes of these conditions and ways to reduce the pain and deal with it without putting your daily activities and life on hold are some of the most important messages that I strive very hard to convey in the simplest manner. (JACOB GRILL)