There has been much internet brouhaha over the last week following this article about barbell squats by Anthony Johnson. He describes the squat as “the worst exercise in existence” due to it’s potential for injury.I’ve never actually squatted with a barbell on my back so can’t really comment on the exercise, but I do think the article raises an interesting point about safety in exercise.
I try to follow a health first approach to fitness where I develop myself physically, but not to the detriment of my health. To me this means staying well rounded and pushing myself enough to make my training rewarding but not so far as to be injurious.
That said, assessing exercises based on safety alone would very quickly take the enjoyment out of them. An element of risk makes training fun and more vital.One of the criticisms of barbell squats was that the legs get stronger faster than the spinal muscles, allowing you to squat a weight above what your spine can handle. This makes sense, but why not just chill out on the weight instead if piling it on? Isn’t that more an issue of ego than the exercise itself and could be applied to almost any exercise in the gym? Coach Sommer’s steady state cycle for gymnastic static holds has you stick with a given progression for some time after it starts to feel easy. The idea is to allow the strength of connective tissue to catch up with the muscles. Surely similar principles can be applied elsewhere. We all need progressive overload to get stronger, but the load should be appropriate for the whole system not simply as much as you can stand. The Gymnastic Bodies forum is littered with people who have ignored this and got injured in the process – especially with the planche. I currently have long term goals of being able to do a handstand, press handstand, planche and one arm chin up. All of these have potential for injury, but as I plan on continuing training into old age I have around 40 years to get there. I hope to have them nailed before that, but with that much time available I’m in no rush. Some exercises are inherently more dangerous than others, but the problem is not necessarily with the exercise but the mindset. I’d rather focus on health first, make slow, steady progress and avoid injury.