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How to Squat Deep without Hurting Your Knees, RKC Style

March 3, 2005 09:16 AM

While grocery shopping the other day we came upon a half dozen bags of flour that had fallen off the shelf and onto the floor. My three-year-old son, seeing that things were not right, proceeded to put the packages of flour back on the shelf. Now, he did not think about how to pick up the bags of flour, he just squatted down on his hams, grabbed the bag with both hands and stood up. When he got each bag to shoulder level, he handed them off to me to put back on the shelf. Each bag was lifted in precisely the same fluid manner. After six lifts the mission was accomplished. The bags of flour were back on the shelf.

The reason I wrote this article was because after my RKC weekend past June I was showing a very well educated Ph.D. how to do the front squat with one 16 kg kettlebell. She was taken aback by how far down I was squatting. She said in everything she learned, you were not "supposed to" squat past parallel. She feared massive knee damage. My three year old doesn't have a Ph.D. in kinesiology but he knows the proper way to lift a heavy object without hurting himself. Why would you not work through the full range of motion? Good thing I couldn't perform a pistol yet; she would have really freaked out!

As my fellow comrades learned at the Russian Kettlebell Challenge course, we all had to relearn how to do the rock bottom front squat. We did not know how to fire our hip flexors and quads properly during the descent. We all fixed those problems through a series of innovative stretches/exercises that let us use our natural abilities and strength again. It was a truly astounding transformation.

Deep Squats, RKC Style, Step 1 ? Fix the Hip Flexors

The first thing we had to fix were our 'dumb' hip flexors. This is accomplished with the help of a partner. The "victim" gets to lie down on his back and the instructor kneels or squats by his feet and grabs both ankles while providing resistance. Some resistance; this is awareness drill, not a workout. Especialy take it easy if the victim has a touchy back. Meanwhile the victim pulls his knees towards his chest using the hip flexor power (pull from the 'crease' found at the top of the leg where your leg connects to your body). Keep your shins parallel to the ground.

To put your newly found hip flexor strength to good use grab yourself a kettlebell and clean it to your chest. Then get ready to squat, but this time instead of just dropping down, pull yourself down with your hip flexor power. It should feel the same as pulling against your instructor's hands when you were lying down. You will be amazed at the difference in your squat!

Deep Squats, RKC Style, Step 2 ? Fix the Quads

Now we have to fix our tight quadriceps. Grab your kettlebell again and clean it to your chest. Pull yourself down with your hip flexors. When you can't go any deeper let out a sigh of relief 'through your legs' at the teardrop above your knees. You will go deeper. Another option at the bottom of the squat is to imagine that you are 'elongating' the 2 to 3 inches of the quad just above your kneecap. 'Create space.'

My son Brock already knew how to squat by using his natural ability. Those of us who were privileged enough to go through the Russian Kettlebell Challenge course had to relearn what Brock already knew. We can learn a lot from a three year old!

Joe Pavel, RKC is an avid kettlebell juggler and is available for small group and individual kettlebell instruction in the St. Paul/Minneapolis metro area. Check out my web site at: Contact: 651-246-7180 or e-mail: