Nooo… it’s not a squat while eating paella (as that would obviously be your first assumption). The Spanish squat is an exercise used for targeting the quadriceps and paella… ehem patella tendon in the absence of a leg extension machine.
Quads need love and attention too
In the CrossFit world there’s an enormous emphasis placed on the “posterior chain” i.e. glutes/hamstrings. However while these muscles are indeed important and often undeveloped, putting the spotlight on them can mean that we neglect our other muscles. The quads are one such muscle group where weakness can spell disaster if the stress they’re placed under exceeds their capacity to cope with it. Nobody wants to develop the dreaded “Jumper’s Knee” aka patella tendinopathy aka flared up painful patella tendon. But this can commonly occur in the lead up to competition when training volume spikes and your quads/patella tendon have to absorb a lot of loading forces.
Is there a place for isolated exercises?
Uttering the term “isolation exercises” is comparable to blasphemy in the CrossFit world where multi-joint functional movements rule. But there is definitely a place for incorporating these into your routine to help prevent injury and improve performance. Isolated muscle weaknesses can hide within compound movements (such as a squat) because other muscle groups involved can take over and mask it. When you perform an isolation exercise though, there’s nowhere for that muscle to hide and you can get a true reflection of its strength.
Rio et al (2016) investigated the effects of heavy isometric quadricep contractions on quad strength and found that performing 5 sets of 45 sec holds immediately increased their maximal quad strength output by just shy of 20%. Now this was performed on a piece of apparatus much like a leg extension machine (which isn’t typically found in a CrossFit box) but that’s where the Spanish squat comes in. It’s a nice alternative to use with minimal equipment to get that same affect on your quads.
If you’re in the lead up to a competition (be it the CrossFit Open or Rainhill Trials) you’ll already be loading your legs a fair amount in preparation. We don’t want to overload your quads / patella tendon so much that we risk causing an injury, which could happen if we piled on a bunch of decline squats for example. But, using this isometric style exercise at a moderate load can really help boost strength for your session without overloading them.
When should I do this?
Start of session (as part of warm up)
3-5x45secs @ 70% MVIC (maximal voluntary isometric contraction)
2 mins between sets
So why not give these a try in your next session and see how you go!
Rio, E., Kidgell, D., Moseley, G. L., & Cook, J. (2016). Elevated corticospinal excitability in patellar tendinopathy compared with other anterior knee pain or no pain. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 26(9), 1072-1079.