Friday, April 13, 2012

More on Squatting

If you are not yet convinced that squatting is good for you, you should take some time to read more about squatting in order to convince yourself.  It IS good for you. Strength coach Mark Rippetoe thinks our society would be improved if everyone could squat 185 pounds (this level of strength only takes a few weeks of training for 90% of the male population and a few months for the females). Dan John, a widely respected strength and track and field coach, thinks even a few sets of 10 body weight squats would do the world good. This sentiment again comes from the idea of "use or lose it."

Taken from on 13 April 2012

Here is a great quote from Mark Rippetoe's book Practical Programming for Strength Training:
"Humans are built to move. We evolved under conditions that required daily intense physical activity, and that hard-earned genotype is still ours today. The modern sedentary lifestyle leads to the inactivation of the genes related to fitness and performance, attributes that were once critical for survival and are still critical for the correct, healthy expression of the genotype. The genes are still there, they just aren't doing anything because the body is not stressed enough to cause a physiological adaptation requiring their activation. Heart, lungs, muscles, bones, brain, all operate far below the level at which they are still intended to function, and at which they function best. Those among us who are sedentary suffer the consequences."

We are meant to do things that are hard and we are at our best when we do so. This is why athletes are in much better shape than non-athletes. They are living (training) in a way that maximizes the expression of their genotype. It is perfectly natural to train hard, it is utterly unnatural not to do so. A bare minimum training routine in which only one exercise is utilized should choose that exercise wisley The squat is the intelligent choice because it uses the most musculature and many joints. If your joins are never stressed they will never be stimulated to become stronger (muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones included) and able to withstand more stress that life will inevitably throw at them. Injury and debilitation are just a waiting game at that point. 

Now, if we are supposed to do things that are hard, squatting is top of the list. I have done several sports that are very satisfying and I enjoyed them because they are intense. Snowboarding is intense but only when you ride fast and push yourself. Rock climbing is even more intense because you put yourself in danger of falling and push your limits of balance and grip strength. Squatting tops them all. Willingly placing a heavy bar (preferably greater than your body's weight) on your back, walking it out of the rack, and taking it through the full range of motion is challenging. Every muscle is called on to keep everything in balance. You can feel the knurling of the bar dig through your t-shirt and into your skin reminding you to not screw up. The only thing that bar cares about is going straight down according to the force of gravity. You must defy gravity. You must keep everything tight. You must be focused. Most of all, you must be committed to each rep or you don't come back up.

One particular powerlifter named Kirk Karwoski was always committed to every rep. In a powerlifting competition he squatted 1000 pounds twice. Not two different attempts, but two reps one after another. you'll notice in the video there is much grunting, yelling, chest beating, and a variety of other caveman behavior going on. In order to call on you body to produce maximum muscle contractions and therefore maximum force production you must focus its attention completely on the physical task at hand. The fight or flight response produced when you realize you are alone in the woods with a bear (or a lion or any other large unfriendly toothy critter) helps you focus your energy on whatever you need to do to survive. The fight or flight response can manifest itself as fear (flight) or aggression (fight). If you run from the bar the training session will never get done but if you get angry with the bar you'll git-r-dun. It may sound strange to psych yourself up and use aggression to get the job done, because after all anger and aggression are straight up bad things right? Well maybe. The truth is we live in a high stress society. The stresses we carry around are not good for us (mentally or physically) unless we can do some sort of physical activity that normally accompanies stress (like running from the bear). Lifting heavy weights can be a healthy and productive output for the stresses we carry around (certainly more healthy and productive than punching your stupid boss in the face).

There is a difference between going lazily into a heavy set and committing to knock its teeth out. Recently I tried squatting 250 in the morning. Kids were running around and I couldn't really focus. I got under that bar and the first two reps felt horrible but I went for the third anyway and it pinned my to the ground. I was stuck at the bottom and had to let that @#$% bar roll down my back and smash into my bench (which was protecting the couch thank goodness). I changed clothes and went into work quite......unhappy. I came home got the kids fed and in bed (I really just helped and little) and warmed up again. With 250 pounds on my back I descended into the bottom thinking up up up. As soon as my hamstrings tightened to their breaking point I fired everything I had. If their was a pack of wolves after me they were in trouble because I was committed and focused. I got the 5 reps up with a real struggle on the last one. Here is the vid.

I am not setting any records or anything (even personal ones) but this illustrates the importance of your mental state when squatting. When distracted the weight will drag you down, when focused you win. The End.

For a more colorful and possibly more entertaining take on this topic click here


  1. Have you heard about doing squats with the bar in front of you, criss-crossed by your arms to keep your upper body in alignment? By the way, nice job! I could tell you were really focused.

    1. You describe a front squat with a California grip. Few good things come from California besides Dillmans so I think a rack grip that Olympic lifters use is better. Look for the youtube video Jon North doing a front squat and you;ll see what I mean.

      More to the point the front squat requires more forward knee positioning than back squatting does. This means greater ankle dorsiflexion which I cannot do, so I don't.

      I don't think anyone "needs" to front squat unless they are doing the Olympic lifts

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