Sunday, September 30, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 30) - Staying Healthy

If there are a few rules of thumb that I've accumulated over the years, these are the ones I'd give to a younger me.

*Finding the things that count is what it's all about
When I first started squatting, a high-bar position was all I knew. I stuck with it for years. When I figured out how to hold the bar lower on my back, I instantly added a comfortable 50 pounds to my squat and then stuck with it for  years. While sticking with those positions for years forced me to really work with them and learn them, I realize now that a single-minded drive for higher and higher loads in a single measure (unless you are a powerlifter) is misguided. When I start to get achey or a-holey, it's time kick back the load and try something new.
Don't misunderstand me here; I'm NOT saying that getting strong isn't important - I'm simply saying that "strong" isn't limited to what you can do on a single metric (be that an exercise or program) and that, in Albert Einstein's words "Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts." To make things more complicated, some things count sometimes, but not always... Finding the things that count is what it's all about.

*Frequent squatting makes it easier to gauge how you are feeling from one session to the next
I don't recommend people to squat daily, but when I was doing the "Squat To A Million Pounds" drive to raise money for Tsunami victims, I went a stretch of 70-something days, squatting over 10,000 pounds everyday. In retrospect, I should have done a better job of conditioning prior, but it was a sudden thing that I felt I needed to do.
The most enlightening parts of that experience were the daily feedback I would get from "yesterday's session", and figuring out how to include a thorough and proper warm-up every time even when under time constraints.

*Unilateral work is something to try to include in the mix
There are a lot of squat variants that most traditional squatters overlook. I like Bulgarian Split Squats, but there are other options. A single kettlebell front squat, for example, while not what most people think of when they think of "unilateral", is a great way to unevenly load the squat movement - I've been able to do them even with mild back strains when I could not do barbell squats. Lunges, while certainly not an exercise I'd recommend for everyone, are about as common as a squat below parallel with three wheels at the local fitness club. Turkish Get-Ups (most techniques anyway) include a lunge in its execution, so if you're struggling to get your unilateral fix, a good dose of TGUs can do the job.

*Switch things up before they mess you up
When I was a kid, we used to say "If you 'love it', why don't you marry it?". We'd say it dripping with heavy sarcasm and the thought of it still makes me laugh. Don't be married to any one squat variant or training program - it doesn't matter how much you 'love' it. As much as I love the idea of Smolov, Smolov has not been good to me. Beginning it, and then feeling compelled to continue until it's done, or I'm done, has left me broken more than once. In this post, Three Is a Magic Number, I talked about three weeks being about as long as the body will care to really, really push it. After that, even if you are still gaining (unless you are a beginner), it's probably going to be in your best interest to change things up. The change can come in load, volume, rest intervals, movement variation, training frequency, etc. - doesn't mean you have to throw out your current program, just that you be willing and able to change it when necessary.

*Stretching, mobility, working out the kinks - whatever you call it, do it
I've realized that I have a very different working definition of what "stretching" is than many other in the strength and conditioning, and fitness fields. That's fine - I don't like arguing about jargon, buzz-words, and phraseology. Most people can agree, I think, that moving well (mechanically sound and pain-free) is very important and that's what really matters.
In my opinion, stretching, mobility work, massage, electro-stim, ice, NSAIDs, compression, bands, roller, sticks, etc. are all tools for a job, and they all have their place in the recovery and movement prep arenas. Find what works. Experiment (safely and intelligently). Beware the hucksters that tell you that any of the above are horrible, because I've tried them all and they all work very well given the right conditions.
Squat-specifically, spend time working on your shoulder, thoracic, scapular, hip, hamstring, and ankle mobility and strength - if those are feeling good and strong, you're bound to squat more smoothly and with less issues.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 29) - 60 Ways To Cook A Squat

I posted this list a while back as "55 Ways To Cook A Squat". I've added a few more this time around. While I believe that most people should not be "married" to any one variation, or any one set-rep-intensity-volume-frequency plan, the last variant listed here should not be forgotten.

Squat (high bar)
Squat (low bar)
Squat (w. Manta-Ray)
Squat (w. Top Squat)
Squat (goblet)
Squat (Jefferson)
Squat (Hack)
Squat (Zercher)
Squat (trap bar)
Squat (cambered bar)
Squat (safety squat bar)
Squat (thick bar)
Squat (w. hip belt)
Squat (front)
Squat (front + push-press/"thruster"/"long press")
Squat (overhead)
Squat (full)
Squat (half/parallel)
Squat (quarter)
Squat (walk-outs)
Squat (regular stance)
Squat (narrow stance)
Squat (wide stance)
Squat (ultra-wide stance)
Squat (staggered stance)
Squat (w. chains)
Squat (w. bands)
Squat (w. weight releasers)
Squat (box)
Squat (low box)
Squat (high box)
Squat (pause)
Squat (eccentric-only)
Squat (concentric-only)
Squat (isometric)
Squat (oscillating)
Squat (breathing)
Squat (fast tempo)
Squat (slow tempo)
Squat (varied tempo)
Squat (bodyweight)
Squat (face wall)
Squat (Hindu)
Squat (one-legged)
Squat (pistol)
Squat (Bulgarian split)
Squat (split)
Squat (lunge)
Squat (side-lunge/"Cossacks")
Squat (bearhug w. sandbag)
Squat (shouldered sandbag)
Squat (front w. kettlebells)
Squat (front w. single kettlebell)
Squat (overhead w. kettlebells)
Squat (one-arm overhead)
Squat (drop to overhead)
Squat (arms outstretched in front, a.k.a. "JV Squats" or "Zombie Squats")
Squat (timed)
Squat (reverse - w. bands, inversion boots, or partner assisted)
Squat (HEAVY)

Friday, September 28, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 28) - Shoes

I've worn a lot of different shoes over the years when squatting.

My favorite shoes are my Adidas Adistar weightlifting shoes - they were expensive but I've been wearing them for over 10 years and I expect to be able to wear them for another decade. They will need to be re-soled, but that is a pretty small expense really.
I bought a pair just like these a couple of months ago - still ugly, but more shoe-like in appearance and feel

I like squatting moderate (but not heavy) weights in Vibrams. I've had a pair for about five years now and I hated them at first, but grew to appreciate them. Recently, I found a nice pair made of leather with laces for something like $60 on clearance. Some advice with the Vibrams: Get toed socks and wear them every time you put on the Vibrams unless you want everyone to smell you coming 10 feet away. Also, when purchasing them, make absolutely sure the sizing is right and take your time acclimating to them.

For what it's worth, I've never been a big fan of Chuck Taylors or squatting barefoot though I tried to like them. Chucks just never felt comfortable and I always felt like my feet would slip inside the shoe slightly - not something you want when squatting heavy. With bare feet, I always felt "naked" and worried that sweat and/or a lack of a grippy sole would not be the best means for grounding a solid base. I realize that both have their fans and that's fine - it's just an opinion.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 27) - JumpStretch Bands

Bands are truly the cat's meow. Rarely does a week or month go by that I don't thank Westside, Louie Simmons, and Dick Hartzell for popularizing their use in the strength and conditioning field.

I wrote the linked short article about stretches and drills I do with bands for lower back and squat positioning. Let me know what you think: Jumpstretch Band Drills and Stretches

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 26) - Dave Tate

These articles by Dave Tate are outstanding. Some of the information may not be completely up to date with current Westside philosophy, but it is still very solid information. Take your time with them and post up a comment or two if you'd like.

Squatting From Head to Toe: Introducing the Box Squat
Squat 900 Pounds: 10 surefire ways to help you squat BIG
Squat Training Westside Barbell Style


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 25) - Power Unlimited

The movie, Power Unlimited is an interesting look at the world of powerlifting and its personalities. This is the first ten minutes - enjoy!

Monday, September 24, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 24) - Tom Platz

The Incomparable Leg Development of Tom Platz

In the early 90s, bodybuilder Tom Platz and powerlifter Dr. Fred Hatfield had a "squat off" - a squat contest consisting of a one-rep maximum and a 500lb squat for maximum reps. Dr. Squat (Fred Hatfield) won the max single competition, and Tom Platz (aka "The Golden Eagle") won the 500lb squat for reps with this effort:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 23) - Thoughts on High-Rep Squats

Why would anyone want to do 20 reps of barbell squats? Because, high-rep barbell back squats... "wind"
I'm a big believer in people doing things they enjoy to improve general fitness. If you are a gym rat that hates traditional "cardio" options, then high-rep squats could be the answer for you. Is it sport-specific? Well, probably no, not really. Unless your sport is squatting a barbell for a lot of reps, then high-rep squats aren't what I'd call "sport-specific", but having legs and lungs that don't quit are a plus for most people and there are skaters, cyclists, and climbers that call high-rep squats "friend".

...develop mental toughness
A single high-rep session, let alone a string of them, isn't just unpleasant - it can be downright frightening! Managing the physical and mental stress of squatting a hundred kilograms or more for 20+ reps is a skill worth learning.

...develop work-capacity and focus
Maintaining proper form and grinding out another five reps when every cell of your body is telling you to re-rack the weight makes a single, double, or triple effort feel almost laughable  - "Is that it?". Now, please understand, I'm not saying that high-reps are going to improve your limit-strength - almost certainly they will NOT unless your 1-2-3 rep maxes are low to begin with. But, after a steady diet of high-reps, low-rep sets and sessions (which may be lower volume as well) will be easier to focus on and recover from.

...are a staple of many, many weight-gaining strength programs
It's pretty tough to find people that couldn't gain muscle on a high-rep squat routine. The problem is that most people either don't continue the practice beyond a single session, or they continue far beyond the point of diminishing returns. For the life of me, I don't know why anyone would WANT to continue a high-rep squat program beyond 3-5 weeks.

While I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for everyone in the gym, reps of 20 and beyond has a place in just about any competent squatter's training. It goes without saying that, unless you really have a thing for pain and potential injury, a high degree of technical competence and a short preparatory period are mandatory prerequisites to barbell squatting for long sets.

Thoughts? Comments? Personal Experiences? Please share them here, or send me an email. Look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, September 21, 2012

30 Days of Squat (Day 21) - Neoteny

Benoit Mandelbrot coined the term "fractals" to describe the kaleidoscope-like, self-similar, self-repeating geometric shapes that are visible everywhere in nature. With the squat, what are the essential components (the FRACTALS) that we see repeated in healthy, athletic movement?
In a strong and healthy squat, we see:- healthy, uninhibited extension-  solid posture- external rotation of the arms and hips- engagement of the glutes and lats- solid breathing patterns 
From Squat Talk by Boris Bachmann
Although, squatting is not always "fun", when done well, it has all the characteristics of playful movement. The squat is play... Just something to ponder...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 20) - "Sit Back"

I made the following video a while back because I kept hearing people giving the cue "sit back" to people who were squatting with a high-bar position. For most people, unless they have a relatively very short torso, this is going to make it very difficult to maintain posture (lumbar curve).

It should be obvious that, if you have an exaggerated hips-back squatting style, your upper body has to lean forward to compensate and keep the weight centered over your foot. Simple physics dictate that (unless you are on a Smith machine) you will not be able to maintain an upright upper body position without falling on your butt.

If you are going to squat with the hips back and (consequently) a lot of upper body lean, then lowering the barbell on the torso will be a much more advantageous position for almost everyone (mobility permitting).

So, what if I CAN'T handle a low-bar position? The options, as I see them, are to develop a more upright (sit-down) position which may necessitate more hip and hamstring mobility work, or continue to sit back and strengthen the crap out of your posterior chain to compensate for the position of weakened leverage.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 19) - Deadlift Stud, Squatting Dud

Almost every time someone asks me how to bring up his squat, he's surprised when I suggest he isn't squatting often enough. If squatting is a skill that has not been developed, practice is what is needed. Every training session does not have to be a high-intensity, high-volume Smolov hell, but more frequent sessions with greater focus on technique and tension can't hurt. 
For most beginner and intermediate lifters, it is a truism that squat training will help their deadlift numbers. The converse of this is not true, however; most people will NOT experience a commensurate rise in their squat numbers as their deadlift improves. I'm not saying anyone should slack in their deadlift training, but you have to work your weaknesses harder than your strengths if you want your weaknesses to become strengths. 
If you are doing both the squat and deadlift in the same session, do your squats first. If you are doing both squat and deadlift work during the week, make sure squats come early in the week and before deadliest. Prioritize your squat by doing squats and assistance exercises and drills early in the week. I call this 'front-loading' your work week; by putting your 'money sets' in early and getting them over with, you avoid the tendency to slack off as the week marches on.
- From Deadlift Stud, Squatting Dud by Boris Bachmann

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 18) - Paul Carter

Squatting is your man making exercise.
When my squat is in the shitter, without fail, the rest of my training usually is too.
If my squat is kicking ass, the rest of my training is too. Even if it's not, it feels like it is. You know why? Because my squat is. 
From: The Lifter Series - I Will Squat at Paul Carter's site, Lift-Run-Bang

Monday, September 17, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 17) - Supportive Equipment

I made the following two videos about the use of supportive equipment when squatting about five years ago. I think that, except for editing and video/sound quality issues, and the considerable lengthiness, they were done well.
When wearing a suit, especially for a low-bar sit-back style, it is easier to slip into a relaxed posture when squatting below parallel because, by doing so, you stretch the suit less. The problem, of course, is that by doing so, you are taking strain off the suit and very likely putting it square onto your lumbar and knees.
The biggest nugget of the video is this (and I don't remember if I stated it exactly this way or not): When it comes to supportive equipment, THE PATH OF MOST RESISTANCE IS THE PATH OF MOST ASSISTANCE. It should be hard (and painful) as all get out to lower into a deep and technically sound squat with tight fitting equipment - if it isn't hard, it isn't doing much for you.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 16) - Timed Squats

While I'm sure the timed squats had a positive influence on our aerobic conditioning, the unexpected plus from doing the routine was the way it affected our mental states. Prior to embarking on this program, we always took five or more minutes between our heavy sets. Timed squats taught us that we didn't need much rest. ...that understanding of what the body can withstand under dire stress gave us a tremendous boost of confidence on the lifting platform. If we got rushed between attempts, it no longer mattered. It also helped us move through our regular sessions at a much faster pace, which enabled us to do more work in less time. 
From Time To Squat by Bill Starr

A few years ago, I was training for a birthday goal of squatting 225 pounds x my age. As was the case with me frequently back then, I ended up hurting myself before the attempt because I couldn't back off even when I knew I had already done more than enough. Anywho, in preparation for the high-rep challenge, I tried a lot of things, including this timed squat session which was quite demanding.


This year, I'll be working toward a similar goal - bodyweight x my age. With my bodyweight being pretty low these days, it shouldn't be too bad, but I'm not getting any younger and anything much beyond 5 reps is "high reps" for me.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 15) - Easier Doesn't Work

Mark Rippetoe's writing is absolutely fantastic. In my opinion, the book Starting Strength is a must-have for all coaches and trainers who do basic barbell exercises. "Rip" has a way with words that is clear, entertaining, and informative.
Squatting high is easier, but easier doesn't work. You actually know this already, even if you keep the secret buried down below your brain stem. Easier has never worked, and you figured this out in about the fifth grade, provided you weren't in some remedial program mandated by your state. 
When you memorized all your multiplication tables, arithmetic was a lot easier, wasn't it? When you diagrammed all your sentences, the next semester's writing assignments were easier, right? When you actually did all your homework, the test was easier. That type of easier does work. 
Squats below parallel are your homework. The result of doing them is that you get stronger on all the other exercises, even the pressing movements, because squats make your whole body stronger - if you do them correctly. I know it's harder that way, and one of the ways you know it's wrong to do them high is that everybody else does them high. When was the last time that thing everybody else was doing turned out to be the right thing to do? 
Deep squats done with a weight that's a little heavier each time you train affect your body in a way that no other exercise can. And believe me when I say that "other methods" have been tried. They just don't work. And it's not that they don't work as well, they don't work at all. 
From When It Comes To Squats, Easier Doesn't Work by Mark Rippetoe


Friday, September 14, 2012


You'll hear a lot of foolishness on the internet about high-rep squats. Most of it is along the lines of "OH, That high-rep squatting stuff is for the birds! No one trains that way anymore - it's just old-school macho B.S.!", or the opposite of that "High-rep squats are the only way to display your manhood!" Errrr, okay... 
Look, if someone tells you that high-rep squatting might not be the only way to make good muscle gains in a relatively short amount of time AND they have a more moderate and intelligent plan for doing so, then they are probably worth a listen. If on the other hand, their first reaction is over the top, claiming that the only thing high-rep squats are good for are injuries or overtraining, then you need to get away from them - they have no idea what they are talking about.
There are legitimate criticisms of high-rep squats, but "not working" (as far as muscle growth is concerned) is NOT one of them. 

From: Super Squats: How to gain 30 pounds of muscle in 6 weeks by Randall J. Strossen, Ph.D.
The Abbreviated Program 
If you have problems gaining weight on the basic program, try this: 
Bench Press           2 x 12
Parallel Squat        1 x 20
Rader chest pull     1 x 20
Bent over rowing   2 x 15 
This program has worked some absolute miracles on people whose bodies defied development on countless other exercise programs, and these three exercises - the bench press, squat, and bent-over rowing - are Peary Rader's precise recommendation for "great results, both in the legs and the upper body" (Rader, 1964, p. 25). Just remember to work absolutely as hard as you possibly can on these exercises: Fight for every last rep and try to add weight to the benches and rows every workout, exactly as in the squats. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT (Day 13) - The Ugly

I think there is probably a place for the Smith machine in some people's training, but this video would not be an example of proper usage. It looks like a school weight room. I wonder if anyone was sued...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 12) - The Bad

Be willing and able to dump the weight if you aren't going to squat in a power rack. Please. Videos like this scare me.

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 11) - The Good

Powerlifting purists would balk at the depth, judging by hip-crease to top of the knee standard, but there's not a soul who could question the ease of these squats.

Monday, September 10, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 10) - Michael Boyle

Mike Boyle came under fire a couple of years ago because of his strong language speaking out against the cult of back squatting. I wrote about it a bit in this post, The Death of The Conventional Squat? While I don't completely agree and dislike hyperbole, I respect coaches that are thoughtful and not afraid to speak their minds even when their opinions won't win them any internet popularity contests...

Those in the hard-core crowd love to bang square pegs into round holes, one size fits all. If the squat is a great exercise, it must be great for every athlete in every situation. I was one of those guys for years, forcing my basketball players to squat, and searching endlessly for ways to help them learn the right technique.
Then I figured something out: There's a limiting factor in squatting we call segmental proportion. Athletes with long femurs relative to the length of the torso will be lousy squatters. These guys were always forwards or centers, six-feet-five or taller.
But it's not just about height - some tall basketball players are actually very good squatters.
The problem is an athlete with these proportions needs an extreme forward lean when squatting, making it look like he's doing a good morning. This athlete will generally be frustrated  with the inability to do the exercise correctly, and may even suffer back pain.
Eventually I could identify these athletes before we got anywhere near the squat rack. Basketball players with exceptionally long femurs always look short sitting down. I remember sitting next to a player and realizing that despite the fact he was eight inches taller than me, we were eye-to-eye when seated in chairs.
My advice to fellow coaches: If an athlete is built proportionately and can squat with good form, go for it. If the athlete is all legs, be careful: You're looking at a square peg... 
To offset leverage, try these options:
  • For strength, use front squats, belt squats, single-leg squats with the rear foot elevated (Bulgarian split squats) or trap bar deadlifts.
  • For power, try Olympic lifts from the hang position above the knees, along with Vertimax jumps.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 9) - Pulling Yourself Into The Squat

"The secret to breaking the parallel is pulling yourself down with your hip flexors. Here is how to learn this skill. Lie on your back with your legs straight. Place your hands on your hip flexors, right below your 'lower abs'. Have your training partner hold on to your ankles and provide some resistance. Arch your lower back - the opposite of a crunch - and press your tailbone into the deck. Slowly pull your knees all the way up to your chest against your buddy's resistance. Not the hip flexor contraction.
When you squat recreate the above sensation: actively pull yourself down and back with your hip flexors instead of passively yielding to the gravity. You will instantly go deeper, improve your control of the weight, and tighten up the arch in your lower back. This results in a bigger, deeper, and safer squat."
- from Beyond Bodybuilding by Pavel Tsatsouline
It's an interesting observation; that good squatters actively "pull" themselves into position. There are a lot of options to try this yourself. The first time I tried it was after seeing an older PLUSA video in which Bernie Gerard (I think) recommended "reverse squats" using inversion boots. It's pretty easy to accomplish with a "Power Wheel", bands, TRX, or even just hanging weights off the feet and using a chin-up bar though grip might be a limiting factor there.

I've spoken with a few people who just don't "get" the hips active role in squatting, and for those who, in spite of all  experimentation, can't "get it", I would suggest the following - wear a heavy ruck and go for a long march with a few hills thrown in. The next day, warm up well and then try a light-moderate squatting session - it should be all the "activation drill" needed to understand how involved the hip flexors are in a heavy squat.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 8) - John McCallum

We're only going to talk about one exercise this month. Just one exercise. But if you haven't got the size and strength you'd like, or if you aren't gaining like you think you should then read this carefully because it might be the most important thing you'll do in your weight career.
 The exercise we're going to talk about is the squat.
 And you've got to know one thing - the squats are THE exercise for gaining. They're so far out in front that second place doesn't even matter. If you want the absolute, utter maximum in power and shapely bulk, then you've got to specialize in squats and there's no sense stalling it off.
 About two years ago I had a kid training in my place. I gave him a squat program but he wouldn't go on it. Said he didn't like squats. I let him do what he wanted but he didn't gain much and then about three months ago something happened and I got racky with him.
 He was in the gym when I got there. He was lying back on an incline bench and waving two little dumbells around like he was leading the Boston Pops. I walked over and spoke to him.
 "Having fun?"
 "Not really," he said. "She's pretty rough."
 "That's too bad," I said. "Because I heard something else today that's pretty rough."
 "What's that?"
 "I heard a bunch of kids were going to start working out here, but they changed their minds because you haven't gained an ounce in the last six months."
 He didn't look too concerned.
 "Tell me," I said. "Why don't you do that squat program I gave you?"
 "I'm gonna," he said. "I'm gonna."
 "Pretty soon."
 "You know you won't gain without it."
 "That's O.K.," he said. "Don't worry."
 "Worry?" I snarled. "I don't care personally if you drop a weight on your Beatle haircut. But you're giving me a bad name."
 He looked up and blinked.
 "Now," I said. "I'll tell you what you're going to do. You're going to drag your fat tail off that bench and start squatting or you can go train someplace else."
 "There isn't any other place to train."
 "I know," I said. "It's a convincing argument, isn't it?"
 He was squatting ten minutes later and has gained more in the last three months than he did in the past year and a half.
- from The Complete Keys To Progress by John McCallum

Friday, September 7, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 7) - Morpheus

Morpheus Unloading A Squat Knowledge Bomb... (quoting Dan John)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 6) - Philosoraptor

Philosoraptor dropping a squat knowledge bomb (quote is from yours truly...)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 5)

There's a lot that's impressive about this squat besides the weight - the control, the form, and the depth are all impeccable. There's really nothing left to be desired here - absolutely beautiful.

Behdad Salimi's 320 Kilogram Squat

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 4)

I don't remember the first time I tried an overhead squat, and I don't do them regularly, but they are always a great squat learning tool. There are a few pointers that are critical:

#1. You must be willing and able to dump the weight if things go wrong. And, if you do them often enough, they WILL go wrong once in a while. Trying to save a bad position is a really bad idea.

#2. A lot of people are going to lack the requisite mobility to do these to depth well... "Load and go" is a very bad plan for those people. They will find themselves in a bad position almost immediately ON EVERY REP.

#3. Refer back to point #1.

(Seriously, what are some people thinking?)

Dan John. He has a way with words that comes from decades of experience, study, and practice. The following excerpt is from his classic article The Overhead Squat:
Monday found me in the weight room. I thought I would just “toss” in a few overheads, just to see what he was talking about. I knew I had to do a few warm ups, so I tossed a 45 on each side of the bar. I thought I would knock off a quick ten or so. I went to the rack, stepped back and let my hands slide out to the inside collars (at just over six feet tall, this is my usual snatch grip), then push jerked the weight up to arms length. Locking my elbows and really trying to pull the bar apart while holding it straight over my head, I sank between my knees, dropped to rock bottom and came back up.
I thought: “Huh? Most not be warmed up enough.” Rep two. “Woah.” Rep three. Aren’t my legs stronger than this? What I was discovering was that the overhead squat requires total concentration, total lockout and perfect positions. There is no cheating; one can’t squirm, roll the knees or hips, or let other body parts help kick in. It builds “Dad Strength.”
When my friends and I used to lift the old six foot bar with cement filled weights, we all thought we were pretty strong. Then, Dad would ask us to help him move a car engine or open a rusted jar of nuts and bolts, or put the ping pong table up on a rack for storage. Yes, I was the strongest kid in the four-house area, but every Dad had that scary kind of strength that allows one to pick an engine out of a Pontiac station wagon and carry it to the lawn.
Overhead squats build that kind of strength. For an athlete, it turns your body into “one piece.” Unfortunately, for the past few years, misguided athletes have been taught to do upper body one day, lower body another. Or worse, front of the thighs one day and back of the thighs another. One day soon, people will be asked to train the muscles that pull the left thigh in, then rest that overfatigued muscle for the next 21 days. Wait, you’re right. It is already happening.

Monday, September 3, 2012


Squat Rx #10: Set-Up and Breathing was another one of those I-see-people-giving-up-a-lot-of-weight-from-the-git-go-and-should-make-a-video videos.

I'm always amazed at how nonchalant people are while approaching a challenging weight. If you wait until you've stepped out of the racks to get serious, it's already waaaaay too late. Set-up and proper breathing are crucial to a solid squat with maximal or near maximal weights. Of course, these are skills that need to be practiced and automatized if you want them to be there "when it counts".

While shooting Squat Rx #10, I missed a squat with 405lbs - not something I'm proud of as it's not particularly heavy but I wasn't in great "squatting shape" at the time. I thought about editing it out, but decided to include it anyway - it didn't seem honest to leave it out completely.

I added the text to the video later while editing because I felt I hadn't explained the breathing properly. If I were to re-shoot this, I'd make sure to talk more about diaphragmatic breathing in detail.

I've talked about breathing a little over the years here on the blog and this post, Squat Rx: Posts on Breathing, has links to most of them. This article, Improving Squats With Diaphragmatic Breathing and Voodoo by Jim Laird, is a great resource as well. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

30 DAYS OF SQUAT! (Day 2)

I made the first Squat Rx video over five years ago now. At the time, I had not seen or read anything properly addressing what I consider to be a very, very common cause of/contributor to lower back pain when squatting - the lower back rounding out at the bottom of the movement.

Soon after I uploaded the video to YouTube, I noticed that there had been a few "butt wink" and "lumbar rounding" threads popping up on internet message forums at the time, and the "squat form police" bandwagon was soon to follow. For a lot of trainees, who don't like lifting heavy anyway, the video served as an excuse to "squat with just the bar until I nail down proper form". I don't know how many times I've had to say "You'll never learn to  squat heavy with proper form squatting only the empty bar", but it bears frequent repeating. Like those famous words from Iron Mike "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face." - you need weight to solidify your form under stress.

As far as the content is concerned, I think the video stands up pretty well - it's still an under-corrected problem among people who squat deeply. The first two or three minutes are very solid, and the advice to follow a "bottoms up" approach to correcting the movement is something I believe in very strongly. Overhead squats are a great drill and can do a lot to tighten up someone's form, even with lighter weights.

There are some drills presented in Squat Rx #1 that are probably of questionable value for correcting the problem - "wall walks", for example, while being a great drill for shoulder girdle mobility, may not be an exercise I'd recommend to someone without a modicum of motor control, and motor control/kinesthetic awareness is often exactly THE issue for people who just can't seem to figure out proper postures and positions within the squat. So, what I'm getting at is, if you have a lower back rounding issue, the wall walk ain't the answer...

If I were to reshoot the video, as far as content is concerned, I would start with a script (rather than simply scratching out notes). The addition of hip and thoracic mobility work, and a few proprioception drills to help the trainee find an "athletic posture" would make the video all the better. There are a number of great resources out there now in these areas, but having them all in one place and briefly introduced is the attraction of a instructional video zoning in on a specific issue like this. In addition, better camera, lighting, sound, and a good looking model like Jen Sinkler or Neghar Fonooni would make the series a thousand times easier to watch... Maybe someday!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

30 Days of Squat (Day 1)

In September, I'll be revisiting some of the Squat Rx videos - adding commentary, reflecting on what was done well, what was not, and what I'd do differently if I were to re-shoot them. I'm looking forward to sharing and talking about some great squat performances, instructional videos, and words of wisdom and inspiration.

If you have topics or questions you'd like me to cover, please don't hesitate to drop a line here, at Facebook, or Twitter. Thanks for joining the conversation!

Jen Sinkler of Experience Life Magazine wearing an awesome t-shirt!