Improving Squats Exercise: Learn the Skill of Squatting for Muscular Legs

Improve Squats Exercise

Ultimate Squatting Power Can Be Realized!

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There are a lot of factors that will determine whether a person can squat successfully with heavy weights: genetic ability and a genetically gifted bone structure and muscular structure, or the lack of; natural strength, athletic ability and coordination, or a lack of; the size and number of muscle fibers, and the predominant type of muscle fibers (fast-twitch or slow-twitch); the person's bodytype or somatotype (ectomorph, mesomorph or endomorph); the amount of nerve force one can generate to the leg muscles and the neuromuscular pathways from the brain to the legs; superior leverages and tendon, ligament and connective tissue strength; confidence in one's ability and the desire and drive to train hard, heavy and intensely, as well as a never-give-up attitude so workouts are seldom missed and having the patience to realize it takes years to become an advanced and very strong bodybuilder, powerlifter or strength athlete; setting goals and striving for them, never satisfied with the status quo and always looking ahead for stronger muscles and heavier workouts; the power of one's mind to overcome mental blocks to continually lift heavier and heavier weights and to block out fear, negative thoughts and emotions; how long a person has trained and the type of training he has done; the state of his nutrition; avoiding overtraining and allowing the body to recover properly between workouts and avoiding injuries. All of these factors - and many more - will determine a person's ability to squat heavier and more effectively.

LEARNING THE SKILL OF SQUATTING

This might sound silly and obvious, but the only way to get good at squatting with a heavy barbell is to do a lot of heavy squatting. Don't laugh. There are a lot of factors that go into squatting with heavy weights. Squatting is a learned skill, no different from shooting foul shots in basketball, punting a football, throwing a curve ball, driving a golf ball, developing a good tennis serve, or shooting a hockey puck. It's a skill that takes many months - even yeas - to learn and if for any reason you stop doing barbell squats, whether because of injury, illness, burnout and/or boredom, a planned layoff from training or just from squatting itself, you soon lose the ability to do it well, as would happen if you stopped doing any learned skill. You also lose the confidence to do it well. Use it or lose it, as they say.

» ne of the reasons why beginners and intermediate have so many problems with squatting is that they haven't yet developed the skill for squatting. When beginners first do squats, they feel totally uncoordinated. With the bar across their traps and/or shoulders, their center of gravity is totally out of whack. They feel unbalanced, as if they're going to fall forward and take a nosedive to the floor with the weight still on their shoulders. They're also afraid of getting stuck at the bottom because they haven't yet developed the confidence in the strength of their legs to get them back to the standing position. This fear of falling forward and of getting stuck in the low squat position can be both unnerving and intimidating. That's the reason why so many people squat on a 2x4, or on a couple of barbell plates, or wear shoes with a one-or two-inch heel. It's the only way they can stop themselves from tilting forward.

Incorrect form and the lack of balance and muscular coordination are just two of many problems for the novice. The pain and strain they feel in the various areas of their body - their neck, shoulders and upper back where the bar digs into the skin, the pressure and strain on their spine, lower back and knees - is far worse for them than any muscular ache they feel in their thighs. They lack muscular endurance and aerobic capacity. They have the sensation of their body being squashed under the weight as they squat, so their lungs feel compressed and breathing between reps is difficult. At the end of a set they find themselves gasping for air. All these problems prevent them from getting much thigh-building and strength benefit from squatting for the first few months that they do it.

So many people get turned off squatting when they first take up bodybuilding because they can't feel their thighs when they squat. All they feel is pain -just about everywhere but their thighs. They get frustrated because they know that squats are supposedly this fantastic thigh-builder-the king of exercises - and yet when they do them they can't even feel their thighs working. They wonder if something is wrong with them. They wonder how squats can be considered the best thigh- builder when they can isolate their quads better and feel their thighs working more by doing leg extensions, hack squats and leg presses - and without all the discomfort in the shoulders, lower back, knees and joints.

They haven't yet realized that not only is time required to become a good squatter and learn the skills of squatting, but they also have to develop overall body strength - especially strength in their abdominals, obliques, spinal erectors and lumbar muscles, as well as the glutes, hips, hamstrings, calves and quadriceps - before squatting with a heavy barbell is possible. They have to develop tendon and connective-tissue strength and get used to the feel of heavy weights on their shoulders and traps. You need more than strong legs to squat heavy.

» ne of the major problems for beginners is that their lower-back muscles are too weak to maintain a flat back and erect torso as they descend to the deep squat and ascend to the standing position. This trouble often comes from trying to use too much weight, sacrificing correct form for the ego satisfaction of 'squatting' a heavy weight. Theft lower-back muscles and hips aren't yet strong enough for them to isolate the thigh muscles, and they lack muscular endurance as well, so their lungs and lower back give out long before the thighs get a decent workout. This is true even of many intermediates and some otherwise fairly advanced bodybuilders.

Nine times out of ten beginners' squats look more like the good-morning exercise than squats. While all the major muscle groups are needed to squat truly heavy weights, they use their lower backs, glutes and hips too much to lift the weight, and not enough thighs. They begin their ascent from the low squat position glutes first, with their head down between their legs, theft torso almost parallel to the floor and their lower back rounded over instead of arched. This style of "squatting" scarcely works the legs at all, and any development is only at the top portion of the thighs, creating ugly turnip-shaped thighs. The glutes and hips get overworked too. All this type of squatting does is wreck the lower back and give a person a big butt and hips, thick obliques and big upper thighs. So far I've mentioned only physical problems and mistakes people make when they squat. The mental factors and skills are just as important if one ever hopes to become a good squatter. Only overtime can one learn how to concentrate on the movement, shut out the pain of the bar biting into the shoulders, and ignore the pressure felt in the lower back and knees. You need time to develop the coordination and athletic ability to balance the baron the shoulders and to acquire enough confidence to overcome the fear of getting stuck in the low squat position or losing your balance. Or, to put it another way, you have to build confidence in your ability to squat and to trust your leg and lower-body strength - and your spotters if their help is needed - to get you up from a low squat position so that you can squat with a heavy weight.

It takes along time to develop the neuromuscular pathways to the legs, and to establish proper blood circulation to carry off fatigue products and bring in fresh oxygen-loaded blood. It takes many months of training to develop and generate a strong nerve force from the brain to the muscles for stronger muscular contractions and more powerful muscles. Most important of all, it takes time to learn the proper motion of the squat movement so that the optimal biomechanical groove can be established, allowing your body's muscles, levers, connective tissue and mind to work together to power up a heavy squat. Each person's optimal biomechanical groove is different. Factors such as bodytype, the length of the legs and the torso, height, leverages, natural coordination and athletic ability will determine the width of your stance, where the bar is placed on the shoulders/traps, whether you point your toes straight ahead or slightly out, and the angle of the upper body in relation to the legs as you descend and ascend.

If you hope to ever become a good squatter and to squat maximum heavy weights, you must utilize the power of all the major muscle groups of the lower body together in a synergistic fashion, like gears of a car meshing together. Not only do the hips, spinal erectors/lumbars, glutes, abdominals and thighs (both quadriceps and hamstrings) have to get stronger before squatting a heavy barbell is possible, and not only must there be a synergism between the legs and the large muscles of lower body so that the optimal biomechanical groove can be established, but the tendons, ligaments add connective tissue must be strengthened as well before you can increase your squatting max. You also have to increase your lung power, muscular endurance and ability to concentrate and use the power of your mind to believe you can succeed when squatting a heavy weight.

All of these skills take time to learn and Rome wasn't built in a day, but impatience, unfortunately, is a common trait among beginning bodybuilders. They want thighs like Tom Platz's and power like Anthony Clark's overnight. Ironically, most beginners don't really feel their thighs working at all when they begin to squat unless they come from an athletic background where they did a lot of running- say, track and field, cross-country, basketball, football, rugby, field hockey, lacrosse, soccer-or from a sport where the thighs are used a lot - hockey, speed skating, inline skating, roller derby, cycling, downhill skiing and cross-country skiing.

People with athletic backgrounds already have good cardiovascular and aerobic ability, as well as some leg strength, coordination and natural athletic ability. They've developed the neuro-muscular pathways from the brain to their legs, and already have increased blood circulation to their legs too. It's a proven fact that athletes formerly involved in sports that require muscular endurance and aerobic capacity make much faster gains when they get into weight training, bodybuilding, power lifting or weight lifting than do non-athletes. Initially they'll still encounter some of the problems of learning the skill of the squat as any beginner would, but because of their athletic background they've already laid the foundation for strength and endurance and have a huge head start over couch potatoes with no such background.

For example, I remember reading in an article - I believe it was published in Joe Weider old Muscle and Power magazine - about the time Franco Columbu invited one of Germany's top soccer players to come to the gym to watch him train. This elite soccer player had never touched a weight in his life, but during a lifetime of playing soccer he had done thousands of freehand (no weight) squats and run thousands of miles, so he had very strong, well-developed legs, plus incredible muscular endurance, great aerobic conditioning, and a super pair of lungs to go with a powerfully pumping heart. His first-ever weight exercise was a set of squats with 315 pounds, which he did for 10 reps! Even Franco was impressed with that because he had trained for several years to get to the point where he could squat that much weight for as many reps.

Another example of an experienced athlete who was very strong and well developed despite not having done any raining with weights is six-time Ms. Olympia Cory Everson, a highly successful pent-athlete in college. Her ex-husband, Jeff, told me that the first day he took Cory to the weight room at the University of Wisconsin she dead-lifted 300 pounds! Masters Olympia champion Robby Robinson, certainly one of the greatest bodybuilders ever, ran sub- 10-second 100-yard dashes while at college. Former IFBB Mr. Americas Ken Wailer and Mike Katz both played pro football, as did Paul Dillett. People who come from athletic backgrounds will naturally take to bodybuilding and weight training much faster than will couch potatoes. As well, you can't discount the genetic factor.

Some people are just naturally blessed with more strength, better leverages and larger muscles than others. Greg Kovacs, the Canadian superman, for example, was 6'2" and weighed 240 pounds at age 17 before he started lifting weights. Likewise Victor Richards during his teen years was huge (well over 200 pounds) and very strong before he ever touched a weight. Former hockey superstar Bobby Hull had anus over 17 inches with 9-inch wrists, and chest, shoulders and back development that many bodybuilders would envy, and he had never touched a weight. He got all his development from working on his farm in the off-season. John Henry recently called 'the strongest man in the world' in Ironman magazine, weighed 220 pounds when he was 10 years old and in the fifth grade! He was so big-a real-life Baby Huey, you might say - that this teacher wouldn't let him go outside to play during recess because she feared he might accidentally hurt one of the other children.

HOW TO SQUAT HEAVIER AND BETTER

So what have we learned so far? First, squatting is a skill that takes a long time to learn. Secondly, you don't use just your thighs when squatting heavy weights - you use almost the whole body. For a person to develop the skill and confidence to squat with heavy weights in maximum attempts, there must be a synergism of the large muscles of the lower body and the back - the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hips, calves, lower back (spinal erectors), lats, traps and abdominals. These large and powerful muscles must work together and mesh like the gears of a car. Only then can the body utilize the combined strength of these various muscle groups to squat a heavy weight. Obviously this presupposes that you are doing strength work for these individual muscle groups to increase their power, and then performing squats to create the synergism that employs that power.

"A chain is only as strong as its weakest link"

You've probably heard this well-worn cliché many times but it is true; a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If one of the important muscle groups necessary for heavy squatting is weaker than others, it will be your weak link. The heaviest weight you can squat will be as much as your weakest muscle will allow.

For most beginners and intermediates their weakest link is their lower back. Doing a heavy squat requires just as much lower-back and hip strength as leg strength. Many poor squatters have weak lower-back muscles, so they can't handle bean weights when they squat. Also, because their lower backs are so weak, they tend to bend forward and use too much glutes, hips and spinal erectors and not enough thighs when they do try to squat heavy. Spend time doing heavy deadlifts, good-mornings, and hyperextensions to strengthen your lower back. As your lower back gets stronger, you'll be amazed at how much more weight you'll be able to squat with.

Henderson Thorne told me that early in his career he didn't do any lower-back work at all, and for a long while he was stalled at 400 pounds for 10 reps in the squat. Only after he began doing heavy deadlifts did his squat go up and up. After a couple of years of heavy lower-back work, his lower back and hips became so strong that he was eventually able to squat 800 pounds for 3 reps and do 700 for 8 reps-and at a bodyweight of less than 230!

» n the other hand, you can do isolation exercises for all the important muscle groups that go into making a heavy squat possible but, unless you also squat, the synergism or working together of the various muscle groups will not be there. You can create very strong thighs by doing heavy leg presses, hack squats and Smith-machine squats; you can create very powerful spinal erector/lumbar muscles by doing heavy deadlifts, good- mornings and hyperextensions; you can create lat and mid-back strength by doing various heavy rowing exercises and chins; you can develop thick, powerful traps and upper-back muscles by doing heavy power cleans, barbell shrugs and upright rows; you can create powerful hamstrings by doing heavy leg curls, stiff-leg deadlifts, and "hamstring leg presses" (feet wider than shoulders, heels on top edge of foot platform, balls of the feet and toes completely off platform); you can create strong calves by doing standing and seated calf raises; and you can create strong abs by doing heavy weighted sit-ups, leg raises and crunches. But if you don't squat, the strength of these various muscle groups will not be utilized to its fullest, and the synergism is lost. The skill for squatting with a barbell is just not developed.

We know this for a fact because many advanced bodybuilders and other athletes are shocked to discover that their ability on squats quickly decreases as soon as they stop doing them, even if they continue to do exercises for all the major muscle groups used during squatting - the legs, abs, lower back, glutes and hips. Even if they greatly increase their strength in these areas, that improvement doesn't automatically translate into ability to squat heavier.

You would think that an athlete who's stopped barbell squatting but who has increased his strength in leg, back and ab exercises by 10 to 15 percent over a five-or six-month period would have developed much greater squatting strength too, but that's not the case. The ability to squat heavy has been temporarily lost. It doesn't matter if he's increased his leg-press poundages by 25 percent or added 100 pounds to his Smith-machine squat max. When he goes back to squatting with a barbell, his strength for barbell squats will initially be much lower than it was.

Why? He has temporarily lost the skill and athletic ability to do heavy squats. Even the confidence to squat heavy is gone. Despite the fact that the individual muscles of his legs, abs and back are indeed stronger than before, the various large muscles of the back and lower body no longer mesh like gears and work synergistically together to lift the weight. lie's also lost the balance and coordination to squat because when you do machine work you don't have to worry about balancing the weight. The machine does it for you. And he's lost the optimal biomechanical groove that is essential for heavy squatting. You don't need an optimal biomechanical groove when doing machine work. There is just the up and down motion of the machine.

No doubt once he's squatted again for a few months he will indeed be stronger on the barbell squats because of the newly developed strength of his legs and back from his other exercises. But this won't happen until he relearns the skill of squatting, rediscovers how to balance the bar, reestablishes the optimal biomechanical groove, and regains his confidence to squat heavy. Also some time will be required for the major muscle groups to start working together again synergistically so that he can utilize their combined strength to power the bar up. So the number one rule about heavy squatting - or any skill for that matter - is that you have to practice it a lot before you get good at it.

BACK PAIN AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

Many bodybuilders and power lifters complain that performing squats gives them a royal pain in the back - literally. This soreness is due mostly to the rocking-back-and-forth "good-morning" exercise action that so many people use as they descend into the full squat and return to the erect position. This is poor exercise form,, yet you see guys doing it all the time - betiding over at the waist so much that their torsos are almost parallel to the floor. Their "squats" look more like good- mornings. The good-morning is a good lower-back exercise (named the "good-morning" because you bow or bend over at the waist while keeping your legs straight as if greeting someone of royalty), but your squatting motion should not look like a good-morning exercise. If it does, you're just inviting a back injury.

This good-morning action kills the lower back even if you wear a lifting suit and use a heavy leather weight belt - especially with the heavy weights that are used for squatting, although it also gives the spinal erector muscles of the lower back one hell of a workout. Ironically, some body-builders and power lifters have amazingly strong lower backs as a result of their poor squatting style.

Hugh Cassidy, a top super heavyweight power-lifter from the l970s, related a very funny story in an article he wrote for Ironman magazine about how far some people take this type of good-morning motion when they do their squats, even at power lifting competitions. Hugh told of being at a meet where he and his fellow super heavyweights were sitting in the audience watching the lighter competitors since they were scheduled to lift last. In the 198-pound class was a young fellow with long (past shoulder length) "hippy-like" blond hair (Blondie, as he shall be called henceforth) who really took this good-morning style of squatting to the extreme.

When Blondie descended to the low squat position, he would immediately begin bending forward. As he started up, his torso was so bent over it was almost parallel to the floor! His squats were clearly done in two distinct parts. First he used his lower back, hip and glute muscles to get the bar moving from the low squat (below parallel) position up halfway just past the sticking point. To do this he must have had incredibly strong erector muscles. From there his thighs kicked in and his torso straightened up to finish the lift to lockout. As goofy and scary as his "squatting" style looked, he nevertheless actually made his first two attempts. When he came out to try his third and final attempt for the squat, there was over 600 pounds on the bar.

Blondie took the weight off the racks, stepped back, and then descended to below parallel. As before, his torso went into the classic parallel- to-the-floor good-morning position. This time, however, he stalled with the weight as he began his ascent. His lower back just wasn't strong enough to muscle the weight high enough to let his legs finish the lift as he had done before. Or, more likely, it was just too fatigued from the previous attempts. It appeared to Hugh, and to everyone in attendance, that he was going to have to ditch the weight and miss his third attempt. But Blondie had other ideas. He wasn't going to give up without a fight.

The trouble was, he was so bent over that gravity was slowly but surely pulling the bar down. The 600-plus-pound bar was no longer low on his traps. It was now on his neck. His back was so humped over that his spine bowed like a willow tree in a windstorm. Although Blondie pushed with all his might to get the bar moving upward, it was a lost cause. By now the bar was so high on his neck that his back gradually began to round over more and more until his head was down between his legs. Soon his chest was crushed against his thighs. In this position gravity started to pull the bar down even more. Before he could stop the weight, little by little it rolled over his neck and onto his head!

Blondie managed to keep his balance, and despite the enormous strain on his neck and head he stubbornly hung onto the bar. It continued to roll forward and downward - tearing out a few clumps of his hair on the way - until somehow it went completely over his head, down his forehead, past his nose, and wound upon his front shoulders. With what Cassidy called one of the most superhuman efforts he'd ever witnessed at a power lifting competition, a shocked and surprised Blondie proceeded to front squat the heavy weight while the crowd applauded wildly. As he stood erect with over 600 pounds on his front shoulders, some joker in the audience yelled, "Go ahead, jerk it out, jerk it out!" The whole audience roared with laughter.

Except for some skin scraped off his neck and face, and some hair torn out of his scalp, Blondie was okay. Cassidy said it was one of the funniest sights he'd ever witnessed. The story is hilarious, but Blondie could have seriously injured his neck and/or lower back. It shows why good style is so important when one is squatting heavy. And the best time to learn good style is from the beginning. Bad habits and old habits are hard to break. If you learn good form from the beginning, you'll definitely have a head start over those who never learn proper form. Beginners should always learn to do a movement properly using light weights, and add weight to the bar only as their strength and skill improves.

PROPER FORM

How to get less good-morning action and better squatting action to become a skilled squatter...

I have some helpful tips for anyone who feels his lower back more than his thighs when he squats. They won't turn an "athletically challenged" person into a top athlete and world-champion squatter, but they will improve your squatting ability, take a helluva lot of strain off your spine and lower back, and, most importantly, greatly reduce lower-back pain.

You can avoid this good-morning motion in your squats by following a couple of very simple rules. First and foremost, never ever allow your back to round over, especially your lower back. Always keep your back flat, your lower back arched, (buttocks thrusting outward slightly and the lower spine drawn inward), and your abs tight. Secondly - and this may run counter to what some experts have written about the performance of the squat - don't worry about trying to keep your upper body erect and your eyes looking up at all times as you squat.

Just about every expert over the years has stressed keeping the torso erect - and the more erect the better. Whether descending to the low squat position or ascending to the finish of the squat, experts tell you to keep your upper body nearly straight up and down. To facilitate this erect-torso position, they suggest looking up throughout the squatting motion at a high spot on the wall or where the ceiling and wall meet. The trouble is, such form is impossible to maintain, especially with heavy weights. Everybody tends to lean forward in descending to the full squat position. You can't help it with the barbell squat - that's just how the human body works. (It's a different story with Smith-machine squats.)

Even if the back is flat and properly arched as it should be, it will not be straight up and down. Here's what causes this painful good-morning motion as people squat. They think they have to keep their torso erect throughout the squatting motion. As they go down they feel themselves leaning forward. As I say, that's just how the human body is built. There's no way to avoid this tilting without using ridiculously light weights. Once in the low squat position they realize they're bent over at around 45 degrees to horizontal, but the voice in their brain is saying: "Hey, stupid, you're supposed to keep the back flat and the upper body straight up and down. What the hell are you doing, dummy?" So as they ascend they straighten their backs up to get to this position at the top.

This is why so many squatters look as if they are doing a combination of half good-morning exercise and half squatting motion. And this is the number one reason why so many people complain that squats hurt their lower backs. What's the solution to the problem? First of all, don't worry about looking up at the ceiling or at a high point on the wall in front of you. It's okay to look straight ahead or even down a little when you're in the full squat position.

Secondly, and this is the most critical part, don't try to maintain this impossible upright body position as you squat. When you take the bar off the squat racks, place it a little lower on the traps than normal (not high on the neck), step back one leg at a time, set your feet at the proper width, and preset the arch of your lower back and the angle of your back before you descend. By presetting your lower back, I mean get into a flat-back, arched-lower- back position with your torso already tilted at a 45- to 55-degree angle - give or take a few degrees, of course, depending on your height, somatotype, the length of your torso vs. the length of your legs, your leverages, and skeletal structure - while you're still at the top. Now lock into this position and maintain it throughout the entire set, when both descending and ascending. Never let it change. Your back should hold the same angle whether you're at the top, bottom or somewhere in between, and whether you're descending or ascending. Your last rep should look identical to your first.

If you follow these rules you'll discover you no longer do the good-morning motion as you start to ascend to the finish position. You'll greatly reduce the trauma to the spine and noticeably lessen strain and pain in the lower back. I guarantee it. You'll enjoy squatting more because your spine and knees will be in a mechanically better position to utilize the power of your legs, hips and glutes.

I find elevating the heels an inch or two is helpful, so either squat on a board or wear lifting shoes or shoes with a one or two-inch heel. Do not squat flatfooted or in running shoes. You'll use too much glutes in the squatting motion.

You can use this squatting style, by the way, whether squatting full, parallel, or doing half or partial squats. You may never grow to love squats, but you'll definitely find them less painful to the back by presetting it in an arched flat position before you squat. Try it. I know you'll notice the difference on your lower back almost immediately.

MAKING THE DISTINCTION

Squatting for power vs. Squatting for leg development...

Bodybuilding purists like Vince Gironda have vocally criticized barbell squats for more than 50 years. Vince says they can overdevelop the glutes and spread the hips while developing shape and symmetry. They can also develop too much of the upper legs, creating ugly turnip-shaped thighs - especially on endomorphs and mesomorphic somatotypes with endomorphic tendencies - thereby ruining the aesthetic quality of the physique.

Certainly heavy squatting with a barbell does develop the obliques, hips and glutes as well as the thighs. Bodybuilders should be aware of this fact and keep an eye on the effects squatting is having on their physique. People should also remember that there is definitely a difference between the style of squatting power lifters use to squat maximum weights and the type of squatting bodybuilders do for thigh development.

Bodybuilders tend to squat with a narrow stance - ranging from less than shoulder width to heels almost touching - and with the bar higher on their shoulders than power lifters do. They try to stay more upright and to isolate the quads more, keeping glutes and hips out of the lift as much as possible. This is why squatting in a Smith machine is so popular with many bodybuilders. They can place their feet ahead of their body, lean back into the bar, and isolate their thighs with little involvement of the hip, glute, lower back and oblique muscles.

A bodybuilder ultimately - except for ego and self-satisfaction - doesn't care how much weight he squats with; he wants size, mass, separation, outside sweep, cuts, striations, muscularity, and development of the teardrop muscle above the knee and the thigh rods at the top of the thighs. Furthermore, bodybuilders must always train to keep their lower quads in proportion to their upper quads, their quads in proportion to their hams, their thighs in proportion to their calves, and their legs in proportion to the rest of their physique.

Power lifters, on the other hand, normally squat with a wide stance - one to two feet outside their shoulders and hold the bar much lower on the traps. They're not concerned with thigh shape, size, separation, sweep, striations or muscularity as a bodybuilder is. They don't care if their lower quads aren't in proportion to their upper quads, their hamstrings are out of proportion to their quadriceps, their thighs are too big or small for their calves, or if their legs are Out of proportion to their arms and torso. They don't care if their hips and glutes are too big or their waist is thick and blocky. None of that matters. Their sole goal is to squat with as much weight as they can and to win power lifting competitions.

Some of the top power lifters who have squatted amazingly heavyweights, like Fred Hatfield, actually have lousy leg development by bodybuilding standards. In Fred's case, strong tendons and ligaments, and great levers, as well as very powerful spinal erectors, hips and glutes explain why he's been able to squat with over 1000 pounds. There have, of course, been some power- lifters who've had very good physiques and good leg development. Doug Young, Roger Estep and Dave Shaw come to mind. And there have been bodybuilders who've been very strong and who could do (or have done) well in power lifting contests: Marvin Eder, Reg Park, Bill Pearl, Chuck Sipes, Franco Columbu, Dave Johns, John Brown, Bertil Fox, Chris Cormier, Kevin Levrone, Dorian Yates, Mike Francois, Craig Titus and Greg Kovacs. Some people have the ability to develop pleasing muscle mass and incredible strength at the same time. Most, however, will be genetically geared and mentally inclined to either strength or physique, not both.

As far as squatting with heavy weight is concerned, people should be aware that the squatting style that isolates and develops their quadriceps best may not be the style that permits them to squat with the most weight. Conversely the squatting style that allows them to squat with the most weight may not be the best method for building and developing their thighs. Let your goals determine your method.

If a person is a power lifter, weightlifter, football player, wrestler or field athlete in one of the power events - the javelin, shot put, discus or hammer throw-looks are secondary to strength, and power in the abs, hips, glutes, lower back and legs is paramount. If you're a football lineman, a sumo wrestler or a super heavyweight power lifter or weightlifter, you don't care if you have a big gut (remember Vasily Alexeev's abs-he looked as if he was nine months pregnant) or a rear end like that of a hippopotamus (hey, it's a free country you can do as you please). Then you should train with power and strength in mind and squat accordingly.

If you're a bodybuilder, or a power lifter or power athlete who wants to be strong but look good at the same time, you may have to use a narrower stance and compromise a little on weight.

Naturally genetics come into play here, but most good squatters tend to be people with big hips and big butts. Jim Williams, the best bench presser in the world during the '70s (he did an official 675 bench and just missed 700, putting him 20 years ahead of his time) and one of the top power lifters of his era, found himself with this very dilemma at one point in his career. Jim wrote a very enlightening article about it for Ironman.

In this article Jim said he noticed that every great squatter in power lifting, no matter what his weight class, had big hips. He also had discovered that squatting with an extra wide stance (about two feet outside his shoulders) greatly increased his squat max - but at a cost. With the extra wide stance he could squat a lot more weight, but this style made his already overly large hips and glutes even bigger. Now Jim may have been a world-class power lifter, but he still had enough vanity to want to look good at the same time.

He had a decision to make: squat with the extra wide stance, develop even bigger hips and glutes, and win or place high at power lifting competitions or go back to the narrower stance, squat less and look better but place lower in competitions. For him the decision was easy. He was a power lifter, not a bodybuilder, so he squatted the way that allowed him to lift the most weight, looks be damned. If you're a bodybuilder more than a power lifter, however, you might have to make a different choice, especially if you have a natural propensity for big hips and glutes to begin with.

Not everyone widens his waistline or develops big hips from squatting. Genetics and bone structure play a major role. Sergio Oliva, Brian Buchanan and Frank Zane are three world-class bodybuilders who squatted very heavy at times during their career but retained amazingly small hips, glutes and waistlines because of their gifted bone structure and genetics. Sergio, in fact, was the weightlifting champion of Cuba before defecting to the United States. His small hips and waistline were actually a handicap when it came to cleaning, pressing, snatching and jerking heavy weights overhead. A genetic defect in one sport can be a blessing in another.

If you're interested in developing squatting power and possibly becoming a competitive power lifter, you should definitely experiment with wider stances and hold the bar lower on your traps. Many top power lifters use what is called a "sumo style" when either squatting or deadlifting - an ultrawide stance, a flat and erect torso, and the head up. The sumo squat style allows the lifter to bring the hips and other big muscles of the lower body into play to help lift heavier weights.

If your goal is to be a bodybuilder or you're a power lifter who wants to develop more leg power and better leg development, do some squatting using a narrow stance (less than shoulder width), hold the bar higher on the shoulders in the position sometimes referred to as Olympic style, and keep your back flat and your lower back arched. No matter what width of stance you use, or how high or low you place the baron your shoulders/upper back, remember never to allow your lower back to round. Rounding the back places it in a vulnerable position which could cause a serious injury.

Tom Platz, possessor of the greatest leg development in the history of bodybuilding, is one of the best squatters ever. He's like the HF. Hutton of squatting. When he speaks, people listen. Tom has that short, squatty (sorry for the pun) bodytype that is perfect for squatting. It accounts in part for his success with this exercise, but his knowledge and hard work are what made him such a great squatter. His leg-training manual is a must for anyone serious about improving his leg development and squatting power.

Tom recommends squatting on a one-inch board or with lifting shoes which have a one-inch heel. Here are some other tips that he suggests will help anyone become a better squatter:

» Always wear tight clothes, especially tight sweat pants. Wear high socks and use a lifting belt.

» Wear a lifting suitor a tight-fitting tank top over your jersey. "This" says Tom, "along with the other two items enhances the tight, secure feeling that you must have in order to squat properly and successfully."

» Eat plenty of carbs the day before a squat workout so that you have enough glycogen in the muscle to squat with power and endurance.

» Always approach the bar with total confidence, and when training to absolute failure - mean it! Don't allow negative thoughts to creep into your mind. In other words, don't be afraid of the weight.

If you think you might fail with a weight you probably will. You're defeated before you even try. But if you are confident, you have a much greater chance of success.

As far as routines go, I suggest a heavy-light squatting regimen used on an every-other-workout basis. For a heavy leg day do either 5 sets of 5, followed by some half-squats and high-rep leg presses (50 to 100 reps), or several triple-drop sets of leg presses. Do leg biceps on another day. A lighter leg day might see you squatting 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps and I x 25 to 30, followed by 2 triple-drop sets of back squats and one high-rep set of leg presses again, or a triple drop.

Every third or fourth heavy leg workout, work down to a double or a single. You might do I x 30 with no weight as a warmup. Follow that with I x 20 using an empty bar or a small amount of weight. Then pyramid down in the following fashion: lx8, 2x6, 2x3, 2x2 and 2x1.

Don't neglect nutrition, and get plenty of rest and recovery time between workouts. Train on a one-bodypart-a-day routine or on a two-day-on! one-day-off followed by a one-day-on/one-day-off routine. Use the one-day-on/one-day-off schedule for legs.

Keep a training diary and try to increase your weights whenever you can without sacrificing form. Make a practice of trying to heat what you did the previous workout, doing either more reps with the same weight or more weight for the same reps. If you do that, and eat enough protein and calories, your gains are a sure thing.




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