Monday 16 November 2015

The Best Way to Squat

“Squats are the king of all exercises!” Statements like flood the internet and have been written countless times in magazines since the dawn of the fitness industry. Success with any training goal starts with picking amazing exercises like squats. However, once you have picked a fantastic exercise, the next big question is, “what is the best way to do that exercise?” Even a great exercise like squats can fail to deliver the results you want if done wrong. So, what is the best way to squat? If you ask 10 different experts from a variety of backgrounds, you could get 10 difference answers. Well, it’s time to get bottom of this. 

Below are five of the most impressive squat performances I’ve ever seen. If you have a careful look at each one, you will notice the unique differences of each style of squat.

Impressive Squat Example #1: Pat Mendez 800 pound Raw Full Squat
This first squat is done by the young Weightlifting star Pat Mendez. In this video Pat is completely raw (i.e. no supportive/assistance gear) and goes well below parallel into a full squat. 

Impressive Squat Example #2: Dmitry Klokov 550 pound Paused Front Squat
In this second impressible squat video, the great Weightlifter Dmitry Klokov does an insanely deep 550 pound front squat with a 5 second pause at the bottom.

Impressive Squat Example #3: Kirk Karwoski, 1000 pounds x2
In this video the legendary Captain Kirk Karwoski squats a double with 1000 pounds.  
Compared to the other squats above, there are few differences between his amazing squat and the others:
  • He is using some gear. Though nothing compared to the multiply gear of today the squat suit, belt and knee wraps help a bit.
  • His depth (which is still well below parallel – especially on the first rep) is a little higher than Olympic lifter squat videos above

Impressive Squat Example #4: Donnie Thompson 1300 Geared Squat
In this example the amazing Donnie Thompson who has the highest all-time total in powerlifting history squats an incredible 1300 pounds. Compared to the other squats above, there are several important differences between his amazing squat and the others:
  • Donnie is using multi-ply gear which provides a lot of assistance (in addition to the help of the belt and knee wraps). This gear also allows a much wider stance than what is commonly used in raw squatting.
  • The Monolift used for this squat removes the need to walk the weight out (which at elite squat levels is huge additional challenge)
  • The depth is shallower as Donnie competes in federation that passes squats that would be considered high in other federations (e.g. IPF).

Note: go to 2:50 min for the set with 1300

Impressive Squat Example #5: Tom Platz 525 pounds for 23 reps! 
In this last example, legendary bodybuilder Tom Platz (a.k.a. The Golden Eagle) does a mind-blowing 23 reps with 525lbs on his back. 

Squat Styles
Powerlifting Squat
If you want to compete in the sport of powerlifting, you need to learn to squat in the most efficient way to move the most amount of weight possible for the shortest legal distance. Squats are your sport and you need to hone your skill. The squat style you choose should be based on your structure, but also on the federation you choose to compete in and whether you are an equipped or raw lifter. Note: many top powerlifters and coaches will also include other types of squats (e.g. Olympic style squats) as accessory work to build up weak areas (e.g. quads).

Weightlifting/Olympic Squat
Weightlifters don’t complete in the squat, but they train the squat to have strong powerful legs to recover from a deep catch position in a snatch or clean. As a result, the Olympic-style squat with a very upright torso and a rock-bottom depth is vital for this sport. 

Bodybuilding Squat 
Bodybuilders don’t have to squat, but many have found this to be an effective exercise for building quad mass and stimulating overall gains in muscle size. Tom Platz (who you saw squat above) took the Olympic-style squat and did this for high reps – it worked for him to build the most impressive set of legs to walk onto a bodybuilding stage.

Paused Squat
If you have a tendency to bounce out of the bottom of your squats, try paused squats. They will build strength and stability at the bottom where most people are crazy weak. It helps tighten up form and builds incredible starting strength for athletes. It can also improve your deadlift form from the ground. I've done a lot of paused front squats over the past few months and I have also found them incredibly helpful for not leaning falling forward as I come up out of the hole.

The Athletic Squat 
Most athletes mistakenly squat too high. While this looks more sport-specific and is great for stroking the ego, it doesn’t transfer as well to improved performance. For athletic performance, I prefer a squat style somewhat similar to the Weightlifting/Olympic style of squat. This style reinforces good hip, knee and ankle mobility and builds impressive quad strength for vertical jumping and sprinting acceleration. 
Because most athletes are built differently than weightlifters, I usually don’t have them go as deep as a weightlifter would, I allow a little more “sitting back”.

For athletes, I often use the front squat. This squat variation is easier to get full depth, forces you to keep your spine extended and is self-correcting (i.e. if you lean forward to far, you dump the bar).

While the powerlifting squat allows more weight, it does not transfer as well to athletic performance. Athletes need strong quads for jumping and accelerating so choosing a squat variation that moves stress off the quads and onto the hips and low back is not usually the best option unless trying to work around knee pain. Also, while powerlifting squats do work the hips more (and athletes need strong hips), the posterior chain (backside of the body) is better trained with deadlift variations. 

Application: The Best Way to Squat – for YOU!
  • Have a crystal clear understanding of what your goals are and why you squat
  • Let your goal dictate how you squat
  • Let your structure and proportions dictate how you squat. Many people may not a hip structure that allows them to hit the insanely low depth that lifters like Dmitry Klokov can hit without injury. See this video on squatting right for your body type

  • Consider previous injuries and joint problems. For example, if you have a bad back, you may want an anterior loaded squat or even a lunge/split squat variation (for more info, check out this article I wrote for Watchfit: Squatting with Back Problems: Alternative Squat Exercises. If you have knee problems, you may need to keep the shin a bit more vertical to take stress off the knee.
  • Stay consistent with the style of squat that chose. For example, if you choose more of an Olympic style of squat (i.e. more vertical torso, below parallel), don’t let it morph into a geared powerlifting style of squat (i.e. sitting way back, stopping above parallel) as you progressively add weight.
  • Don’t blindly chase numbers. Unless you are a competitive lifter remember that there is only one reason to add weight to the bar – you got stronger and legitimately need more weight. 

Also, for more information on squatting, check out these posts:

How about you? Which of the four squats impressed you the most? Have I missed another great squat you have seen? What style of squat do you use for your training goals? I invite you to share your answers, comments or questions below or on my Facebook page.

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