A Judoka's Neglected Best Friend
If there's one thing I've learned about judo, I haven't learned enough. Thankfully I've learned more than one thing, one of which is this; judo is a sport requiring strength in the whole body, particulary the legs and back. To get that strength I'm sure you work like crazy with your leg presses, situps, bench press, pullups, rows, pushups, bicep curls and so on ad infintum. Good for you, you're dedicated and I'm sure you can go far.
But, what if you could go further with less? Less exercises? Instead of doing an exercise for each muscle group, work the whole body in one movement! You could build strength even if you had a mere five minutes to spare in a day. What's more, it would be functional strength — judo strength. So what is this exercise? None other than the full squat.
Woah! Wait! Before you get your holy water out and call upon the holy spirit to cast out the demonic spirit that has possessed me, let me explain a few things. Squats are not a dangerous exercise if done correctly. They are just like all exercises in that sense. Squats will not damage your back or knees, they will actually strengthen them. It is my firm belief that if more judoka did full squats with proper technique on a regular basis, we wouldn't be having so many veterans complaining of bad backs and bad knees. Not only do squats make your knees LESS prone to injuury, they strengthen the entire body (which is more than I can say for the leg press). Also, many judo technqiues use a squat (or at least a slight bend in one or both legs).
So, how do you do a proper squat? Well, there are many types of squat, but if you master the back squat then the rest are much easier to learn, so I'll cover the back squat. Strap on the weightlifting belt. Get the bar prepared in the squat rack, have your spotter ready and let out any gas NOW! Seriously if you need to release gas while squatting the whole gym will hear it and you want your spotter standing behind you, not dying behind you! Now, step under the bar and get it on your upper back (to test where you want to have it, what I like to do is raise an arm to my side and then bring it back as far as I can. Feel along your back. The weight wants to rest across the muscle that sticks out. Take two steps back, a couple of deep breaths and you're ready for the descent.
A myth about squatting (which is the reason why many people cannot squat) is "To squat, just bend your knees and go down". I cringe when I hear this. Squatting is a technique that you must learn even to do it at a basic level. When you descend, concentrate on pushing your hips back rather than bending your knees (imagining you are sitting on the toilet) and keep your chin up. Stare at a spot just above you on the wall. You must keep the concave arch in your lower back and you must NOT lift your heels off the floor. Don't worry about your gluteus going over your heels or your knees going over your toes. This isn't bad for you and it helps you maintain balance. Do not internally or externally rotate your knees. A good trick is to imagine you're on the ceiling, upside down and are trying to bring your ass to touch the ceiling (but your feet are going to get in the way) . When you are at the bottom, (i.e hamstrings touching calves) hold your breath and (without relaxing) push your fat belly out (it's fat, mate, admit it) and rise up. To lift, concentrate on your head and back moving up rather than straightening your legs. When you are past the hardest part of the lift, then breathe out (keep pushing your abs out, though) and when you are standing up straight with knees locked and torso upright, you have done one successful squat. Well done. Pat yourself on the back…Put the weight back on the rack first, you muppet!
Full squats will also increase functional leg flexibility greatly! More so than conventional stretching. Don't believe me? Find a guy with poor lower body flexibility and get them to do a proper full squat. They won't be able to. Weight lifting, through a full range of motion is more effective than stretching for flexibility enhancement and the full squat has a helluva range of motion.
Learn to squat, get some strength, win more matches.
Here are some web pages with more information regarding squatting, including research and evidence explaining why the myth of "the squat is bad for you" sprung to life and studies and experiments supporting the theory that the squat is good for you: Squat Analysis, Dork vs Diva Squats, Squat Resources, Squatting Exercises.