Why Do We Squat Everyday? Muscle Fibers and Movement Patterns

Brooklyn Personal Trainer - Williamsburg, East Williamsburg, Clinton Hill

Introduction

Being the one who programs the workouts for Outbreak, I am bombarded daily with questions/complaints that sound like “Why are we squatting again today? We did 150 Wall Balls yesterday.” Well, the purpose of this blog is to tell you why – not only so you know the scientific reasons of why we do so, but also so that I don’t have to repeat myself daily about why we’re snatching for the third day in a row.

Before I do that though, let me stand atop my pedestal for a minute and rant. In today’s day and age, why are we complaining so much? If you don’t want to do deadlifts again, then why are you coming to class and complaining about it? Believe me, I’m not perfect either, I complain too. However, I shouldn’t have to be the one that deals with all of your complaints on a daily basis just because I’m trying to make you a more fit human being. Hopefully after reading this, you’ll understand that you’re not destroying your body like you probably think you are when you perform similar movements back to back days. Ok, moving on – Woosah.

Physiological Background

To begin to understand this topic, a brief lesson on muscle physiology is needed.

Muscle is made up of millions of bands of fibers that interlock with each other. When your muscles contract, these bands shorten. Every muscle you have is comprised of 3 distinct types of fibers, each with different characteristics related to their contraction speed, power, and endurance, among other things. Each of us has a very different proportion of muscle fiber types, hence why some people are naturally better at endurance training, power training, have an easier time adding muscle mass, leaning out, etc. With that being said, you can change the makeup of your fiber types with the right type of training, so if you are trying to become stronger or have better endurance, you can gradually get to where you want to be.

I could go on forever about physiology, but for your sanity and for the sake of not confusing the hell out of you, I’ll leave it at that for now.

Training Muscle Fiber Types

As we all know, training for strength vs. conditioning in our classes looks very different from a sets/reps and time standpoint. One of the reasons for this is that we are targeting the different muscle fiber types. Strength training in it’s most classical sense has low to moderate reps (1-15), longer rest periods (1-3 min), and higher weights.  This type of training will primarily target your fast twitch fibers. That is not to say your slow twitch muscle fibers aren’t activated at all, they are, but exponentially less than the fast twitch fibers. Same thing goes for endurance training. Training for that adaptation is typically comprised of workouts with lower intensity, higher reps, and longer duration. A quick plug for Crossfit training – we perform workouts with both of these concepts and ones with a combination of both, so you are getting the most well rounded fitness program in existence.

So you’re probably thinking “Ok that’s all great, but why are we squatting almost everyday?” Well it’s because I program the workouts so that one day we squat for strength, and the next we squat for endurance, and the next day we may be looking to target another type of adaptation (I won’t get into that here). So even though we did of bunch of thrusters yesterday and your legs are feeling pretty sore today, it’s mostly because of your slower twitch fibers being damaged and fatigued. We can still target the fast twitch fibers today and not have much of a detriment to our strength levels. So you see, performing a similar movement back to back days isn’t a bad thing, as long as it’s programmed correctly.

In the next section, I’ll describe why we perform full body exercises everyday, and not lower body/upper body splits.

Training Muscle Groups vs. Movement Patterns

From an outsider’s perspective, it looks as if we’re doing the same thing everyday (squatting then rowing then lunging), but when we examine more closely, these movements are very different from each other. This section is dedicated to the seemingly non-existent differences and why performing full body exercises every day is perfectly safe and effective.

Recently, it is becoming more and more standard practice to program movement patterns (squat, hinge, press, pull, etc.), rather than muscle groups (quads, biceps, shoulders, etc.) on a daily basis. One of the reasons for this stems back to my point about training the different muscle fiber types. We can successfully train the same movement pattern on back to back days if we target different sets/reps/time domains/intensity levels, etc. This will allow a stimulus to be applied to the different fibers, not to mention slightly different exercises will activate different muscles. For example: a back squat targets more posterior chain muscles while a front squat targets more anterior chain muscles. Both are squats, but they are very different in how they look and the muscles they activate.

Another reason why training movement patterns rather than muscle groups is beneficial is because doing so will allow a higher volume of work to be completed per week. In other words, training for power/strength/endurance/etc. on different days lets us train the same muscle groups more times per week than focusing on training a certain muscle group on a certain day. Long story short, we get fit faster.

Conclusion

Congratulations if you stayed with me that entire time, well done my friend. Hopefully this piece today laid a framework for you to think differently about how workouts are made. Of course, there are many other variables that come into play, but my goal was to give you some context as to why it seems like we are always squatting, or pressing, or pulling, or whatever I’m throwing your way on a given week. I urge you to ask me any questions that you have when you see me, as I’ll chat about this kind of stuff all day long. And lastly, just remember – stop complaining! 🙂