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Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2000, 14(4), 379–382

q 2000 National Strength & Conditioning Association

A Comparison of Quadriceps Electromyographic

Activity With the Position of the Foot During the
Parallel Squat
Centre for Sports Sciences, University College Chichester, Chichester, West Sussex, United Kingdom.

ABSTRACT vastus lateralis activity did during open-chain leg ex-

Six experienced lifters performed 3 squats in each of 4 foot
tension exercises. They suggested that resistive hip ad-
positions: 2108 inward, 08, 108 outward, and 208 outward. duction exercises might be advisable in treatment of
These were performed at 2 weight conditions: 65 and 75% patients with lateral malalignment of the patella. Con-
of 1 repetition maximum. Surface electromyographic activity sidering the advantages of closed-chain kinetic exer-
of the vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and rectus femoris on cises, it is of interest whether selective strengthening
the right leg was analyzed in terms of the activity duration of the vastus medialis could occur, with reduced or
and peak levels of activity. Results and analysis of variance minimal vastus lateralis involvement, as part of a
indicated that the foot rotation position did not influence the closed-chain kinetic exercise routine.
mean peak activity or mean duration of activity of vastus Superficial electromyography (EMG) of the quad-
medialis, vastus lateralis, or rectus femoris. The practice of riceps muscles has been used to assess the benefits of
adopting foot rotation to selectively strengthen individual
open- and closed-chain kinetic exercises on the vastus
muscles of the quadriceps group was not supported by this
study, which involved smaller, more readily adopted, and
medialis, vastus lateralis, and rectus femoris muscles.
comfortable levels of foot rotation than did those previously Signorile et al. (5) reported a comparison of muscle
investigated. activity during open-chain knee extension and closed-
chain squat exercises. In the 2 exercises, no significant
differences occurred between the vastus medialis and
Key Words: leg, muscle, rotation, strength, vastus me- vastus lateralis root-mean-squared EMG activity. A
dialis further study by Signorile et al. (6) investigated inter-
nal and external rotation of the foot during parallel
Reference Data: Boyden, G., J. Kingman, and R. Dyson.
A comparison of quadriceps electromyographic activ- squatting. EMG studies of the vastus lateralis, vastus
ity with the position of the foot during the parallel medialis, and rectus femoris showed no significant ef-
squat. J. Strength Cond. Res. 14(4):379–382. 2000. fect of foot rotation on activation of specific quadriceps
muscles during the squat. A recommendation was that
in the parallel squat, weight trainers and therapists
should choose the foot position that provides the
Introduction greatest stability, safety, and comfort for the lift. How-
ever, in this study, the foot rotation procedures adopt-
T he role and benefits of closed-chain kinetic exercis-
es, such as the parallel squat, in aiding rehabilita-
tion of the knee was reviewed by Palmitier et al. (3).
ed involved comparing maximal internal rotation (ap-
proximately 308 inside parallel and involved medial
Schaub and Worrell (4) reviewed the advantages of tibial or hip rotation), neutral (parallel with toes for-
closed kinetic chain exercises, which included reduced ward and no hip or tibial rotation), and external ro-
anterior cruciate ligament strain and reduced tibial- tation (approximately 808 outside parallel and involved
femoral shear. Graham et al. (1) supported the value lateral tibial or hip rotation). The adoption of these
of such closed kinetic chain exercises for anterior cru- maximal internal and external rotation positions
ciate ligament rehabilitation. In cases of malalignment meant that subjects had to adapt their technique to
of the patella, with accompanying pain or instability, perform the squat. As Signorile et al. (6) stated, ‘‘Ex-
the selective strengthening of the vastus medialis or treme outward toe point greatly reduces stability, it
vastus lateralis may be of value. Hanten and Schulthies does not allow the proper drift of the hips as the lifter
(2) provided evidence that maximal isometric hip ad- descends. . . . Extreme inward toe points are equally
duction increased vastus medialis activity more than dangerous, coupling the same problems of stability,

380 Boyden, Kingman, and Dyson

base size and lower body drift with the added danger Data Analysis
of bringing the knees together. . . this movement Muscular involvement was quantified by consideration
would place high stress on all connective tissue.’’ of the duration of EMG activity and the level of peak
The purpose of the following research was to in- EMG activity. For each muscle, the duration of muscle
vestigate the effect of smaller degrees of foot rotation, activity was expressed as a percentage of the overall
which were likely to be more readily and comfortably duration of the squat. Peak activity levels were deter-
adopted by subjects, on the EMG activity of quadri- mined from the linear enveloped EMG. Within Myodat
ceps femoris muscles. During execution of the parallel 3.0, the calculation of the linear enveloped EMG was
squat, the EMG activity of the vastus lateralis, vastus based on a 6-Hz first-order Butterworth high-pass fil-
medialis, and rectus femoris were recorded during 208 ter. Data were processed with a 1% threshold level, the
and 108 lateral rotation (toes outward), neutral (toes minimal value. In order to assess the possibility of
forward), and 108 medial rotation (toes inward). training of individual quadriceps muscles by altering
foot positions, 2 forms of analysis were performed on
Methods the 65 and 75% 1RM data based on 3 squats by each
subject. In the first case, within each foot position, a
Six male college students volunteered for the study comparison of the relative EMG activity in the 3 mus-
(mean 6 SD; age, 23 6 4.1 years; height, 1.80 6 0.03 cles was undertaken and an overall mean for all 3 mus-
m; mass, 80.95 6 1.47 kg). All subjects were experi- cles calculated. In the second case, each muscle’s activ-
enced in the performance of the parallel squat tech- ity was compared between alternative foot positions.
nique and gave written consent to participation in the At 75 and 65% 1RM levels for each muscle, an analysis
study. The rectus femoris, vastus medialis, and vastus of variance was performed with foot rotation as the
lateralis were located on the subject’s right leg by eye factor. Differences in levels of muscular activity were
and by use of palpation. The skin was shaven, cleaned assessed for statistical significance (p # 0.05) and then,
with an isopropyl alcohol medical swab, and gently if appropriate, a Bonferroni multiple comparison pro-
rasped (Medicotest, Cambridge, UK). A Dracard cedure performed because of the relatively small sam-
(Maidstone, UK) electrode gel was left on the electrode ple size.
site for 2 minutes. The skin was then cleaned and
dried, and 2 Medicotest N-50-E disposable electrodes Results
were applied, with an electrode separation of 0.05 m,
For all 3 muscles in all foot positions, the overall mean
to the skin over the belly of each muscle in line with EMG peak activity was greater at 75% 1RM than it
muscle fiber direction. A patella reference electrode was at the 65% 1RM level (Table 1). More consistent
was used for all muscles. The EMG activity of the 3 muscle activity patterns were evident at the 75% 1RM
muscles was recorded using a MTR8 radiotelemetry level than they were at the 65% 1RM level, as indicated
system (MIE Medical Research Ltd., Leeds, UK) con- in Tables 1 and 2 by reduced variability (SE). At the
nected to an Amplicon PC26AT analogue to digital 65% 1RM level in the 208 outward rotation position,
converter (Brighton, UK). Muscle signals were sam- higher overall mean EMG activity level occurred, com-
pled at 500 Hz and stored to disk using Orthodata pared with other foot positions, developing from small
Myodat 3.0 software (Ludenscheid, Germany) running increases in the activity recorded in all 3 muscles. At
on a Viglen Genie 4DX33 computer (Alperton, UK). 75% 1RM 208 outward rotation position, increasing
Following a warm-up, each subject’s 1 repetition vastus medialis activity was the primary source of the
maximum (1RM) was established using an Olympic- raised overall mean compared with other foot posi-
style barbell and weights in a squatting cage. The 1RM tions. However, this result was not statistically signif-
was determined using each subject’s preferred foot po- icant.
sition, by increasing the weight with each lift until the For each muscle, no statistically significant differ-
subject could no longer perform the squat with good ences existed (p . 0.05) in the level of peak activity
technique. For both the left and the right foot, posi- with foot rotation at either the 75 or 65% 1RM level.
tions were marked on the floor of the squatting cage It was notable that at the maximal 75% 1RM level, vas-
at 108 medial rotation, neutral (08), 108 lateral rotation, tus medialis showed the least activity (1,515 V) at 2108
and 208 lateral rotation. EMG activity was recorded as inward rotation and the most activity (1,618 V) at 208
the subjects performed 3 squats sequentially, squatting outward rotation. However, analysis of variance indi-
as low as they felt comfortable (approximately 808 to cated that the differences in levels of activity between
908 of knee flexion). Each subject performed the squat the 4-foot positions were not statistically significant (p
3 times in each of the 4 foot positions at the 65 and 5 0.235). Even when considering the extreme (2108 to
75% 1RM. The order in which the 8 conditions were 1208) positions, the results were not significantly dif-
performed was randomized, and a 3- to 4-minute rest ferent when a Bonferroni multiple comparison adjust-
was allowed between these 8 sets of 3 squats. ment was applied (p 5 0.15).
Foot Position Effect on Quadriceps Activity 381

When all 3 muscles were considered, the overall

mean duration of activity was similar for all foot po-
sitions and both repetition levels (Table 2). Generally,


the mean duration of activity of vastus medialis was
greater than it was for vastus lateralis, though the dif-
ference was small, that is, between 1 and 4% of the
duration of a squat. In all squats, rectus femoris was

65% 1 repetition maximum active for less time during each squat cycle than were
vastus medialis or vastus lateralis. Further analysis on

the onset and offset of electrical activity revealed that
the rectus femoris was activated later than were the
vastus medialis and lateralis muscles and ceased activ-
ity earlier, suggesting that the rectus femoris was not
28.86 used through the full range of motion.
The issue of selectively strengthening the individ-

ual quadriceps muscles has been supported by Hanten


and Schulthies (2) ‘‘to reduce pull on the patella the

medial components of the quadriceps (specifically the
vastus medialis) must be strengthened selectively.

Whereas the lateral component (specifically the vastus

lateralis) must be significantly less active.’’ Signorile et


al. (6) reported that no evidence of selective activity


existed in vastus medialis or vastus lateralis with foot

positions of 308 medial rotation, neutral, and 808 lateral
rotation during the parallel squat, though they did re-
port that the high levels of lateral and medial rotation
Table 1. Peak electromyographic activity for different foot positions (mean 6 SE; mV).

caused the lifters to modify their technique consider-


During the selective strengthening exercise, wheth-


er for training or rehabilitation purposes, emphasis is

placed on the level and duration of muscle activity.
The selected indicators of these measures in this study

were the peak level of each muscle’s EMG activity and

75% 1 repetition maximum

the duration of each muscle’s EMG activity as a per-


centage of overall squat duration.


In this parallel squat study, results and analysis of

variance indicated that rotation of foot position did not
influence the mean peak activity or mean duration of

activity of vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, or rectus

femoris. The practice of adopting specific foot rotation

to selectively strengthen individual muscles of the


quadriceps group was not supported by this study,

which involved smaller, more readily adopted, and
comfortable levels of foot rotation than did those pre-

viously investigated.
The lifters in this study were all experienced at


both the 65 and 75% 1RM levels, but were not accus-

tomed to lifting with their feet in the 2108 inward

rotation position. It is possible that training status may
influence muscle recruitment patterns. Further work
Vastus medialis
Vastus lateralis

Rectus femoris

could investigate the reproducibility of this small-scale

Overall mean

study within a larger group as subjects train to lift in

a number of alternative foot positions. This research
would help clarify the importance of the training fac-
tor to the generation of increased muscular strength.
382 Boyden, Kingman, and Dyson

Table 2. Durations of electromyographic activity for different foot positions expressed as a percentage of the overall duration
of the squat (mean 6 SE).

75% 1 repetition maximum 65% 1 repetition maximum

Position 2108 08 108 208 2108 08 108 208

Vastus lateralis 95.84 6 1.16 95.24 6 1.04 96.24 6 1.03 97.13 6 0.75 95.26 6 1.23 94.19 6 1.23 93.80 6 0.98 94.64 6 2.00
Vastus medialis 96.92 6 1.15 97.67 6 0.66 97.85 6 0.77 96.88 6 1.22 98.12 6 0.66 98.61 6 0.53 97.63 6 0.72 96.48 6 1.11
Rectus femoris 92.22 6 1.47 89.46 6 2.18 93.16 6 1.20 92.13 6 1.68 88.83 6 2.40 83.83 6 2.38 89.04 6 2.26 86.93 6 3.84
Overall mean 93.27 6 0.77 94.12 6 0.95 95.75 6 0.63 95.38 6 0.79 94.07 6 1.05 92.21 6 1.23 93.50 6 0.97 92.68 6 1.57

Practical Applications References

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tivity patterns were evident at the 75% 1RM level than ographical evaluation of closed and open kinetic chain knee
they were at the 65% 1RM level. At the more ergonom- rehabilitation exercises. J. Athletic Training 28:23–30. 1993.
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(2108 to 1208) from the 08 (neutral) position used in myographical activity of the vastus medialis oblique and vastus
this study, compared with other research Signorile (6), lateralis muscles. Phys. Therapy. 70:561–565. 1990.
there was no statistically significant selective involve-
Kinetic chain exercise in knee rehabilitation. Sports Med. 11:402–
ment of the vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, or rectus 413. 1991.
femoris muscle related to foot position (assessed by 4. SCHAUB, T.A., AND T.W. WORRELL. EMG activity of six muscles
level of superficial EMG activity, duration of activity, and VMO:VLL ratio determination during a maximal squat ex-
or both). The rectus femoris muscle was active for less ercise. J. Sport Rehabil. 4:195–202. 1995.
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