Testing Part II – Testing General Leg Strength
The next thing we need to do is determine your general leg strength. The best way to do this is to test your maximum squat in the gym. If you know how to squat, then get in the gym, perform a good warm-up, and build up to your 1 repetition maximum. If you already know what your 1-rep max is or can get an accurate estimate, all you need to know is how heavy it is in relationship to your bodyweight. Let me go ahead and mention that the results of this test over-ride the results of the first test. In other words, no matter what the reactive jump test tells you, - if your squat is less than 1.5 times your bodyweight you will need to work on building your basic strength! If your maximal squat is 1.5 x your bodyweight or more, your options become larger. So, for example, if you weigh 140 lbs. you will need to be able to squat 210 lbs with good form (140 x 1.5) before you start getting more specific analyzing other things. If you’ve never done a squat before then just assume it’s less than 1.5 x your bodyweight and start off doing one of the general strength programs using either bodyweight exercises or weights. If you currently train with weights it shouldn’t be too hard to test your squat.
So what parameters do I use to test my squat?
Most squats I’ve seen in the gym wouldn’t pass for what I consider a legitimate squat. To be considered legitimate, as you reach the bottom of the squat your hip joint should break parallel. To illustrate, put one hand on your knee and the other hand on the area where the upper thigh ties into the hip (the hip joint). When you descend into your squat, have someone monitor your form and pay attention to both the hip joint and the knee joint. In order to be considered a good squat your hip joint must temporarily go below
the knee joint. This occurs roughly when the middle part of the thigh is parallel or a little beyond parallel. If you’re not used to squatting like this then don’t be averse to start off light until you get the feel of the movement. It can also help if you put a box behind you that you can use as a gauge to determine depth.
Are full squats dangerous?
Many people ask if it is dangerous to squat full and deep like this and the answer is a resounding NO! There is actually more stress on the knee joint during a ¼ or ½ squat! When you squat deeper, the hip joint absorbs the majority of the load and takes stress off the knee. In contrast, when you squat above parallel the knees tend to absorb more of the force. Also, when you squat correctly the muscles of the vastus medialis, glutes, and the hamstrings are involved to a much greater extent. These muscles tend to be weak and underdeveloped in the majority of athletes. The vastus medialis (VMO) muscle of the quadriceps, also known as the “teardrop” muscle, is responsible for giving the knee stability. Full squats can effectively strengthen the VMO, which actually makes it a good exercise for knee stability.
I don’t know how to squat, can I do leg presses instead of squats?
First, I suggest you either get someone to show you how to squat or teach yourself. Squatting is a natural movement and is rather easy to learn. Simply start off with your bodyweight and squat down on a box to get the feel of it. Practically any good trainer, coach, or even experienced lifters, should be able to teach you how to do a squat within 10 minutes. Now to answer the question, yes, for the purposes of this test, if you don’t know how to squat, the leg press can be used as a substitute but you will need to do a leg press with 3 times your bodyweight to be considered equivalent to a squat done with 1.5 times your bodyweight. If you choose to do this, I still encourage you to learn to squat and drop the leg press in favor of the squat because the leg press really doesn’t have any carryover to athletic activities.