by Bradley Steiner
The Competition Squat
The squat is definitely one of my favorite exercises – and although I’ve never myself competed with it, I’ve trained many men who have, and I respect a top squatter more than any six bench pressers you can bring around. The squat is truly the King of exercises, and in my opinion, the King of the powerlifts.
If there is one movement that both builds AND tests one’s overall rugged body power more than the others, it is the squat. And this fact is so evident to those who understand weight-training it is not even debatable.
If I were coaching you personally – whoever you are – I would, unless you simply refused to listen, persuade you to put the bulk of your efforts toward the attainment of power and powerlifting excellence in the squat. Yes, it is that good a lift.
You see, squatting does it all. Honest. It builds one’s capacity for strength in the bench press and deadlift. It builds muscle. It builds character. The squat has built more solid men than all the other bodybuilding exercises put together. It is a fabulous overall health builder and it will build an armor-clad heart, lungs like mighty engines, the all-round robust well-being of a lumberjack and it can turn empty beer cans into ascended beings who order the universe secretly while we sleep.
So, concentrate hard on squats.
While it is true that certain exercises assist squatting (like straddle lifts, front squats, etc.) and isometrics can be used sometimes to build power in weak areas of the lift, it is better, I’ve found, to simply GET GOOD AT SQUATTING BY SQUATTING. It produces more excellent results when one varies his sets, reps and poundages, rather than works on assistance exercises.
The squat hits the following areas heavily:
Back (lower especially).
Carry-over work is distributed throughout the body, and as I said before, squats when performed hard and heavy work everything.
The problem with using the squat in all-out limit training (as you will for powerlifting) – is that you must be extra-careful to avoid using near-maximum weights too often. The hip and leg muscles can take it, of course, but the lower back area cannot. If one trains to excess in heavy squatting (going to a limit attempt too often) he will experience almost perpetual low-back soreness. On the other hand, if training is properly done, taking care to only hit the heavy, limit lifting say, once every three weeks to a month, steady and often incredible gains can result. Not all people can reach stupendous squat poundages, but given a body free of serious structural defects and starting in reasonably good health and condition, three to four hundred pound squats and beyond are highly likely in time. I have never met anyone who, with training, would have been incapable of a 300 pound limit lift. Not even honest-to-goodness physical wrecks.
So there you have it. The squat should be your key exercise and lift, and it will reward you, providing you give it a 100% chance, with more power and muscularity than you ever hoped for.
How to Squat
To go all-out in heavy squatting you must have squat racks, and you will need either spotters or a power rack. Also, you will do well to obtain a stout lifting belt. Good lifting shoes will help, and you should find the ones that suit your style of squatting. Do not elevate the heels on a board.
Warming up is vital. Freehand squats are good, but the key thing to warm up is the lower back. I’d advise hyperextensions or light good mornings prior to squatting heavy weights. Get the back loose, limber and warmed up. Then, work on loosening up the legs. Spend five to ten minutes stretching and limbering before the real lifting.
The correct position for effective power squatting is one that will permit you to feel naturally solid, well-balanced, and strong throughout the movement. To a certain extent the correct position varies with individuals. Let me suggest, however . . .
Keep the head up when squatting.
Try to keep the back as flat as possible.
Let the bar ride as low as is comfortable. The lower, actually, the better for an all-out lift. Study the bar position of some successful squatters.
Keep the feet comfortably spaced, but wide enough to allow for maximum power.
Drive hard out of the bottom position. Never pause.
“Think” up when squatting, so your mind is psyched to drive you upward when you reach bottom.
Never simply drop or fall into a heavy squat.
Squat to at least the parallel position.
Let me dwell momentarily on the last point – the one about going to at least parallel. Actually, your mind must be “set” to stop when the body hits parallel, and you should have your concentration focused on that muscular rebound upward, just as the body reaches that parallel position. This will, in practice, more often than not result in you just breaking parallel position before starting to come up. Learn to feel and know instinctively when you have squatted to the proper depth. Don’t feel around for it. Know it.
Again, never drop and bounce out of the bottom position.
Squatting is extremely depleting when done for high reps. Therefore, I urge you never to exceed 6 reps, even for warming up when going for a limit lift. Power-output will be greatest when one drops quickly to low, low reps in one’s sets, and piles on the weight. Frequently, one can actually lift do five or ten pounds more in the squat – if he just tries, and puts the weight on the bar – than he thought he was capable of from prior training experience. Naturally, as you advance it becomes more and more difficult to continue adding weight to the bar.
There is much self-learning to be done in this art of powerlifting – make no mistake about it. The learning is just as important as the training, since the more you learn about yourself, the more intelligently you will be able to direct your workouts and tailor them to your own personality. The fundamentals are tools that can be given to you, but the use of those tools varies with each man.
Let me say again that as you progress you should listen increasingly less to others and more and more to that inner voice gained only from personal experience. Nothing will serve you better. Systems vary among weight-men, and this is because weight-men vary as people. Don’t make the mistake of following instructions or individuals dogmatically. in the beginning you will need help. Books and articles like this will give it to you. As you become more advanced you might need professional assistance, but be very careful who you attain it from. Better by far to work things out on your own after study than to follow the misinformation of a pseudo-instructor.
I say all these things to help you gain a clear and understandable view of the road ahead. It is not all that difficult, certainly not beyond your power to travel, and not in need of one-half the help some would have you believe absolutely necessary. Study, then think for yourself. If you do that, and are willing to work very, very hard, you will progress and succeed. Now, here is a good basic program for training on the squat . . .
Add considerable weight: 1x4 or 5
Add still more weight, enough to cause real fighting: 1x4
Do another set of 1x3-4 with the same weight.
Go close to maximum for 1x2.
Do not go for a limit lift too frequently. Every three or four weeks, when you wish to see how heavy you can go in your squat, try this . . .
1x1, near limit
Gradually add weight following each set. The last set should be the only one that sees you working brutally hard.
I shall now close this out by outlining a possible advanced squat schedule for those who believe themselves ready to handle it.
I knew a very good lifter who used this program twice a week and made outstanding gains in one 5-week period. But he was a “natural” and you cannot imagine how hard he was able to work and still recover from it. The low reps might not seem like much, but use heavy weights with each set and it is murder.
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