Back to Weight Training Basics: Squats - The Forgotten Exercise

Squat Basics

Free Weight Squat Exercise

Someone recently asked how decide what to write about each month. I don't know how other people work, but for rue it often comes clown to what I'm feeling strongest about when it comes time to face the word processor. I'm always taking notes on what I think people want to read about and especially about what hasn't been said about a particular topic that I feel really needs to he said.

I'm constantly being reminded that everything that has to be said about bodybuilding has already been said-over and over. From my perspective, however, that's flat-out wrong. You'd be surprised at how much new information I read or learn about every day. So it comes down to a new way to reinforce or add to what we already know.

Unfortunately, the fact that we already have the information doesn't mean we make use of it. So often we forget what we have learned in favor of something new that comes along. That brings me to the subject of this month's column, the squat. One day not long ago I was in Gold's Gym in Venice, and a group of power lifters were in the power racks doing squats. They were loud, and it reminded me of the old days when everyone yelled and psyched up his training partners. Nowadays if you make noise in the gym, you're considered a nut. So there were these guys, squatting up to 800 pounds, and everyone else was just standing around watching them as if they'd never seen anyone do it before. Now, remember that this was Gold's, Venice. If anyone wanted proof of the theory that no one squats anymore, this was it.

It had gotten to the point where a bunch of guys yelling and squatting in the gym was a rarity even in the mecca of bodybuilding. As I've said many times, the average weight trainee is lazy-and that includes bodybuilders. It's not entirely their fault though. The fact that there are so many different machines around-and that they're a lot more fun to use-has helped people rationalize the move away from squats. Add to that the huge push by supplement companies to convince you that the secret to gaining that much sought after size is some supplement, and you can see the pattern. The one thing that!

See most of all, however, especially among people who have been around for a while, is the safety issue. And I'm no different than any other typical 45-year-old, saying, "How can I squat with my bad back? My bad knees?" Well, around the dine I paid that particular visit to Gold's, I was setting up to begin a new phase of my own training. So I thought about it, and I realized that I'd been doing leg presses for years, and it never seemed to give me the same look as squats. In analyzing the pros of squatting, I could see the obvious difference: Unlike what happens when you squat, the leg press doesn't fully contract your glutes and hamstrings. When you squat, your body finds its own natural groove, so the muscles work the way your individual body is designed to work.

It's like having an exercise tailor-made for your body. Because the leg press is on a sled, you're forced to follow the movement of the machine. The fact that the leg press takes your lower back out of the action, is both good and bad. When you perform squats, all the balancing muscles in your hips work at their maximum, something that's particularly important in sports. The more I thought about it, the more I found myself arguing with myself. 'Squats are so hard," I said. "And besides, I can never squat as much weight as I once did." Boy, I was beginning to be the typical crybaby.

John's tip was like a challenge to me. I wanted bigger legs, and he'd seen all the top bodybuilders in history get them by doing squats-so what the heck? The first thing I had to do was get the equipment together. I'd worked with the Safety Squat bar before and knew that it was the tool for me. It had all of the advantages of squatting with considerably fewer disadvantages [see page 741. Then I had to decide what form to use, so I called up my favorite exercise design specialist, Bob Bom, and we had a to rig talk about squatting.

The best way to squat is with your toes pointed outward and your knees far apart, he said, like a power lifter squats. This is the safest position for the knees and-something I hadn't heard before-it positions your leg muscles in a straight line to the hip joint during the movement. So not only does it provide the best angles for your knees but also your lower back. So the best form is also the one that develops the most strength.

Of course, I had to ask the question that may be coming to your mind. What about squatting with my heels on a board? "Not good," he said, explaining that the original reason for this practice was the lack of flexibility in men's ankles, When you squat with your heels raised on a board-or a couple of 45-pound plates or whatever you're using-it tends to position your knees in front of your ankles, which shifts much of the emphasis to your knees from your hips. What's more, you still have a tendency to bend over, which puts more pressure on your lower back. Speaking of the lower back, what happens if yours is not the strongest bodypart in your collection? The answer is, you'll have to eat crow for a while-and I know how hard that is. Sure, you can leg-press 800 pounds, but there's no lower-back involved in the movement. While it feels good to do it, knew, as I said, that something was missing.

If my lower back was the weak link in my squatting motion, I'd have to take that into consideration when I took my first maximum test for the movement. I felt like a wimp when all t could do for 10 reps was 135. I knew, however, that my goal was to start at point A and strive for point B. I wanted to see how much strength and size I could gain-without worrying about how much weight I squatted today or how much I used to be able to squat. Not to make a bad pun, but that was a heavy transition for me. Fortunately, I had foreseen the problem, so I pressed on (another unfortunate pun).

By the way, if you're one of those guys whose legs get too big when you squat, just do a maintenance program with the movement. Three sets of five reps once a week should be enough to keep your legs and butt the best that they can be.

The old-timers were right: If you don't squat, you won't develop your body's full size and strength potential. Even if you begin with 95 pounds on the bar and work up, you'll see results like never before. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you're only as strong in the movement as your weakest link, if you just take your time to build up your weak links, your sore lower back or knee problems will go away-unless it's something serious, in which case you should see a doctor and avoid stressing the area.

So how did I make out with my squat program? I gained 10 pounds over the next three months and got a lot of comments from the ladies on how nice my ass looked. My training partner's bodyweight went above 200 for the first time in his life, and he can't wear his old jeans anymore. Thanks, John, for not letting rue forget the basics.

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