Gracyanne Barbosa. Sweet jesus christ.
The conclusion to this series has been a long time in coming, but as a greatly expanded version of this series is included in Destroy The Opposition, I didn't think it prudent to post this while the book was still in its infancy. Given that the majority of the books sold months ago, those of you who bought the book could likely use a refresher, and the rest of you can get the gist of the information contained in the conclusion of the series.
Before I jump into the meat and potatoes of my squatting strategies, I recently heard some interesting tidbits about the guys who set all of the records in the early 1970s and 1980 I thought prudent to pass along. It seemed odd to me, with the improvements in sports nutrition, alleged improvements in training methods, and the advent of a variety of new pharmacological and ergogenic aids. As such, I've started to pick the brains of guys who trained in the 70s and 80s to see what, if anything was the primary driver behind the insane success of the lifters in the 70s and the 80s. You guys might want to run and grab some duct tape and slap that shit on your asses, because what I discovered is pretty much going to blow your butt cheeks directly off your fucking bodies. For one, they were remarkably inventive in creating new ways to win. I'm not talking about coming up with crazy training routines or wacky diets- I'm talking about straight up, good, old fashioned cheating. Had they spent half the time they spent on coming up with ridiculous methods for artificially boosting their numbers in the gym lifting weights, their records would still be unbroken.
If you've not read DTO (buy it on the right!), you likely don't know that powerlifting is a remarkably new sport- it only came into official existence in the early 1970s. It evolved out of odd lift competitions that had a three or four lift format, but those lifts could be any of 42 offical odd lifts. During the 1950s and 1960s, these meets actually outstripped Olympic weightlifting in terms of popularity in the US, and typically consisted of the bench press, squat, deadlift and/or strict curl. Eventually, these morphed into "powerlifting" meets, a name that became popular after it started being used in Muscular Development, which was apparently far more devoted to strength sport sin the past than it is now. In any event, powerlifting was very much a catch-as-catch-can sort of affair until the mid to late 70s, from the rules to the equipment and even the order of the lifts. At the outset, the meets used the order of bench-squat-deadlift/curl, and the order in which the attempts were taken was by weight. As such, the strongest guys had to do some or all of their attempts in a given lift back to back. Likewise, there was no real standard for equipment, so most of the racks and benches were actually made out of lumber until the 1970s, as the standard gym racks would just fucking collapse under the weights in competition. Thus, when shit started getting standardized in the 1970s, people seemed confused by the simplicity of the meets and decided to fuck shit up. Thus, you had guys wearing ultra-tight denim shorts under their singlets as makeshift briefs and using shitloads of ace bandages as knee wraps. Lest you think that's the least of it, there was apparently some dispute on what constuted legal wrap length, so the British lifters wraps that were at least in one case, 18 feet long. Shenanigans went even further than that, however, as lifters like former multiple record holder and alleged Mafia hitman Tony Fratto would wrap tennis balls behind his knees to give him more drive out of the hole. That would explain why his wrapped record stood until the last couple of years, I think.
Tony Fratto. If that isn't the most godawful looking squat I've ever seen, I've no idea what it, but he was probably hiding a gun in his pants.
Their desire to get their numbers higher at any cost is what led to the death of raw powerlifting, I think, during the 1980s and 1990s. As I posted previously, Ricky Dale Crain Pretty much summed up the feelings of lifters of that period with this:
"RAW IS A PHENOMA OF THE PAST 5-10 YEARS....IT DID NOT EXIST BEFORE THAT.....
I AM NOT SURE WHAT HAS PROPAGATGED IT OTHER THNA GIVE SOME VERY AVERAGE OR BELOW AVERAGE LIFTERS A CHANCE TO WIN A TROPHY OR BREAK SOME RECORD THAT REALLY MEANS NOTHING.....
MOST LIFTERS THAT LIFTED IN THE 60'S AND 70'S WHO USED WHATEVER THEY COULD DREAM UP TO LIFT IN TO HELP THEIR NUMBERS AS WELL AS A SAFETY FACTOR......LIFTED WAY MORE THAN 99% OF TODAY'S SO CALLED RAW LIFTERS SO WHAT HAVE THEY ACCOMPLISHED??????
I SQUATTED 575 IN A SINGLET IN 1976 AT 147 POUNDS AT AGE 22....
I DARE SAY PROBABLY NO 148'ER TODAY COULD DO THAT......AND WITH IPF JUDGES LOOKING AT IT...BUT I WOULD BE FOOLISH INDEED NOT TO BELIEVE THAT IF I CONTINUED LIFTING IN THAT SINGLET FOR 35 PLUS YEARS I WOULD BE CRIPPLED FROM INJURIES BY THIS TIME..." (PL Watch)
Given what I've learned of late, the above seems pretty spot-on. It would also explain why raw lifters generally suck- they're using training methods designed for geared lifters, which is an entirely different sport. As I'm a fucking awesome raw squatter, I'll clue you fuckers in on how to get awesome at the squat so I can get a little competition at a meet sometime before I die.
My Method For Building a Badass Squat
First and foremost, I’m of the opinion that your one rep max on the squat represents the sum total of all of the training you’ve done over your life. More so than any other lift, it is evidence of your unrelenting dedication to the development of physical strength and your continued efforts thereto. Thus, there is no quick fix for the squat. Certainly, tweaks to your form can help get your squat to change quickly, but those changes will be static without continued effort. Thus, there are three factors that I believe play heavily into building a squat that Milo of Croton would respect: persistence, frequency, and intensity.
Unless you are mentally retarded, you should have a pretty clear understanding of what persistence is. Squatting is not something that comes easily to most, and it is grueling, taxing, and generally a bastard. As such, you really have to tap into your inner masochist, wrap your brain in a latex gimp suit, and whip your own ass to get it into the gym from time to time. This is not something to which elite lifters are immune, either— the more you train, the harder it’s going to be to fill yourself with the kind of ferocity you need for a successful workout. Thus, you’re going to have to accept that some of your squat workouts are just going to be washes— you’re not going to be Billy bad-ass in every workout, and some of your lifts are going to downright suck. It’s how the game goes. Your duty, in this case, is to look past it, take it as it comes, and just attack the next one. If that one sucks, attack the next one. I have had mental slumps that have last months, and I’ve had nagging injuries that dogged me for over a year. Around 2000, I attempted to do a one legged squat as a goof and lost my balance, pulling some muscles in my groin as I hopped around one-footed trying not to bust my ass. A couple of hours later, I squatted heavy, and suffered felt like the ghost of Albert Fish was haunting me by jamming red hot, 12” needles up through my groin and into my lower back for about a year after that every time I squatted or deadlifted. I continued performing those lifts, however, week in and week out, tweaking my form and my workouts as I went to minimize the discomfort as much as possible. That’s what I’m referring to when I state that persistence is key.
- If you’re not masochistically enjoying squatting for some reason, tinker with your rep ranges until you find one that’s tolerable. I personally despise doing more than 5 reps on squat, and would rather simply not squat than do six reps. Sam Byrd is the polar opposite.
- If squatting hurts your knees, try squatting with a significantly wider stance to reduce the strain.
- If your lower back hurts, try moving your stance in and working high bar Olympic style squats to minimize lower back loading.
- If you’re bored with full rep squats in the same rep range, alter the rep scheme or the exercise itself— there are plenty of alternatives with which to tinker, like front squats, jump squats, box jumps, low box squats, high box squats, Zercher squats… The list goes on and on. You’re only limited by your imagination here.
- Though it might seem like I’m joking about mentally donning a gimp suit, I’m not. Squatting is fucking brutal. Accept it and move on— it’s not a reason to avoid squatting, but rather a reason to attack and conquer squatting.
Frequency and Intensity
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but unless you’re Kirk Karwoski, you’re likely not going to possess an elite squat unless you hammer that lift more than once a week. If you’ve chosen to make the deadlift your specialty, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to one squat day a week to increase the number of days you pull, but frankly you might be better served by adding some light squats on a pulling day than avoiding them. Pavel Tsatsouline’s theory of “greasing the groove”, also known as the Hebbian Rule, has become rather famous of late, and refers to the phenomenon wherein successful performance of an action will create and strengthen the neural pathways associated with that action (Tsatsouline 17). The key to harnessing the benefit of Hebbian Theory is the completion of the reps, however, as failed efforts don’t reinforce the neural pathway. This is why I rarely max out in the gym- I’ll do singles with near-max weights, or triples with my 4 or 5 rep max, but I rarely train to failure. The “intensity multiplier” techniques of bodybuilders are focused on one thing- failure. In case you’re unaware, failure rarely leads to victory. Thus, you train for victory to achieve it.
“Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”
– Bill Belichek, head coach of the New England Patriots
Beyond the “greasing the groove” of my sub-max poundages, there’s another biochemical reason you should avoid frequently training to failure- the utilization of intensity multipliers when working out increases one's levels of cortisol significantly, which reduces one's ability to recover for future workouts, protein synthesis, and one’s overall health. Additionally, training to failure reduces production of IGF-1, which has a negative impact on your ability to grow and retain skeletal muscle reduces your strength and power (Izquierdo et al). So, essentially, by training to failure, you're creating a metabolic shitshow from which you're not likely to recover prior to your next session. This means you cannot train as much, which means you’re limiting your subsequent workouts for no reason.
This does not in any way mean you should not push yourself in your workouts, however. This means you’re going to need to be cognizant of the speed of execution of your lifts and gauge your ability to continue utilizing that. If a weight is flying up for triples in your first couple sets and it’s a grinder for a single after a few sets, it’s time to move on to something else. That’s the beauty of high-frequency workouts- you can always make up for a shitty workout in the next. If you’re limiting your squat workouts to once a week or once every ten days, you lose that ability, and every workout becomes do-or-die. Fuck all that- I’d rather have the ability to cut a subsequent workout short because I went for broke earlier in the week and dominated than feel like there is an axe hanging over my head every time I enter the gym to do a single lift infrequently. This does not necessarily mean, however, that you need to drag your ass into the gym twice a day and lift near-maximal weights until your eyes pop out and you shit blood. As much fun as that might sound, it's time to temper your enthusiasm with a modicum of sense- if you're fucking dead, your squat's not likely to increase much, is it? Thus, don't get stuck on stupid- approach this as you would a growling wild dog. That wild dog might tear a new hole in your ass, or it might wander up and lick your fingers, depending on how you approach it. Ju
st as you would that dog, move slowly, keep calm, and don’t do anything painfully stupid.
Probably best not to approach wild dogs. Or if you live in Pittsburgh, maybe don't throw them into the African Wild Dog enclosure at the zoo.
If you’re wondering how frequently you should train the squat, there is unfortunately no easy answer to this question- strength training demigod Vladimir Zatsiorsky himself states at the beginning of his seminal work that "it is absolutely unclear which criteria one should use for selecting proper intervals between consecutive workouts" (Zatsiorsky 13). As I've stated before, training capacity is a wildly shifting target, due to the massive number of individual factors, both biological and environmental, that play into its determination. For this reason, you're going to have to feel this one out like a blind man at an orgy. The most common frequency for squat training appears to be twice a week. I personally vacillate between two and four squat sessions a week, as a general rule, and I vary the rep scheme and exercise at every session. Thus, I rotate between full squats, weighted jump squats, front squats, partial back and front squats at a variety of ranges, and zercher squats at a variety of ranges of motion.
I made a poopie.
If You Don’t Know Squat,You Need These Routines
Running the Ladder
Like I stated in the deadlifting blogs, I did this program a great deal in my early years after picking it up from an Iron Man magazine and used it for both the squat and the deadlift. I never used this routine more than once a week for either lift, though I did use it for both lifts in the same week. For instance, I might use this set/rep scheme for the squat on Tuesday and the deadlift on Friday. This was due more to the fact that at the time I’d not considered using a full-body routine, and my lifts suffered as I adhered to a bodypart routine. I spread back and legs as far from one another as I could, however, to maximize recovery from one to another and ensure that my deadlift and squat didn’t adversely affect each other. Yeah, I labored under the misapprehension that I had the recovery ability of a burn victim with cancer and AIDS for years as well. Assuming a 405 max, this is what running the ladder would look like.
1 x 10 x 135
1 x 8 x 225
1 x 6 x 275
1 x 4 x 315
1 x 2 x 355
1 x 2 x 365-375
1 x 4 x 315
1 x 6 x 285
1 x 8 x 265
1 x 10 x 225
The key in this routine is to make sure that your second half of the ladder is noticeably heavier than the first half. It’s great for breaking plateaus and ruts, and also for getting your comfortable with your form on the deadlift.
Might As Well Jump
This program grew out of a short writeup in Muscular Development magazine that stated that the use of an explosive movement prior to a grinding strength movement would lead to greater strength and hypertrophy gains. I was never able to hunt down the article on which that was based, but I’ve used it pretty much continuously since I started competing two years ago to keep my IT bands loose (dropping into the hole of a very deep squat acts as an explosive stretch for me), and it seems to have kept my squat numbers on the rise.
Weighted Jump Squats (Assuming my current max jump squat of 500)
1 x 3 x 135, 225, 315, 405
6-10 x 2 x 455
Partial Back or Front Squat (I vary between just above bottom-position, half, and quarter squats)
Work up to 3RM
6-10 x 3 x 3RM (This is one of the few exercises on which I go to failure, and I extend my rest periods to allow me to keep getting 2-3 reps. Hold each rep for 10 seconds at the top)
Squat Variants You Should Be Doing
It’s not enough to simply back squat, quite frankly, if you want to be an awesome squatter. I don’t mean that you should head for the nearest hack squat machine and start slamming out some super sweet reps on that utterly fantastic machine (this is called sarcasm, in case you’re confused), but rather that there is more to the squat than meets the eye. Thus, allow me to introduce you to a couple of the best friends a squatter could have:
The Jump Squat. The jump squat is to the competition back squat what liquid Viagra is to porn stars— it enables you to perform at the highest levels without fear that you’re going to go limp in the middle of the competition and make a total ass of yourself. The jump squat makes getting out of the hole (the bottom of the squat) a simple affair, because you’ve conditioned your body to literally explode out of that position. The powerlifting back squat is a fundamentally slow affair, and could easily be conducted to the slower parts of a Wagnerian opera in a Viking helmet. Slowly grinding through the squat sucks, though, and the very worst part is that second at the bottom wherein you pause for a moment to wonder “is it really possible to get the fuck out of here with my life?” For this reason, I despise pause squats, because it makes sitting in the hole an even more protracted affair. If you regularly include jump squats in your program and go heavy on them, that moment of indecision will be lost in a thoughtless explosion of muscular force the likes of which the world hasn’t seen since JFK first got Marilyn Monroe naked in the White House. Additionally, a long term study in Russia in the 1980s showed that the utilization of different tempos in a training cycle produced far greater strength gains and hypertrophy than did a single tempo (Verkhoshanskii). Thus, it makes sense to include these regularly in your workouts.
Suggested Set and Rep Scheme: I don’t recommend high reps for these due to the fact that your speed drops precipitously as your reps increase. Thus, 4-10 x 1-5 would be best.
Form Tips: Vary your stance on these. You will have to keep the bar higher on your shoulders to prevent it from slipping, but you can still change your stance to alter the loading on your quadriceps and hips.
The Front Squat
No matter your sport, the front squat can have a profound positive effect on your lower body strength. The front squat places the primary emphasis on the quads, so it’s a great companion exercise if you’re a low bar, wide stance squatter, as wide stance squatting focuses the bulk of the load on your hips.
Suggested Set and Rep Scheme: 4-10 x 1-5, once again. There’s really no point in doing higher rep sets if you’re interested in improving your competition squat, as taming the beast that is fear and getting used to a heavy, uncomfortable weight driving you downward is key to mastering the squat.
Form Tips: You have three options in terms of the way you grip the bar on the front squat. No matter which you choose, however, the bar will essentially rest on your neck, as it’s your front delts that hold the bar in place. As such, you can squat hands-free if you wish, because your hands are more or less redundant. If you cannot take your hands off the bar without it slipping off your delts, the bar is in the wrong position. As for where to put your hands, you can either hold the bar in an Olympic-style clean catch position, cross your arms like a bodybuilder and hold the bar in place with your thumb and forefinger, or you can hook your straps around the bar and hold onto those. If you choose the form I do (bodybuilder style) I would recommend against hooking your thumb all the way around the bar, as it generally hurt and can pinch nerves and reduce circulation to your thumbs. Regardless, vary your stance as in the jump squat.
The Partial Squat (for advanced lifters only)
The partial squat is one of my favorite movements, although I wouldn’t really recommend it for neophytes, as they really need to get the basics down before messing with the formula too much. Thus, if you’ve not lifted for at least three years, stick to the back squat, the front squat, and the jump squat. Tony Fratto was a really big fan of doing these as I do them- from the pins a couple of inches above parallel. He managed a set of three with 750 at a bodyweight of 198 when he wasn't whacking people out for the Mafia, so you should probably throw some fucking weight on that bar and get after it if you're not some pasty-faced noob (Seno). If you are a noob, just stick to the basics until you're strong enough to wear your big boy underpants and move decent weight in the gym.
Suggested Set and Rep Scheme: 6-10 x 1-3, with the inclusion of the occasional death set. This movement is really about moving heavy-ass weight, not getting in a ton of work. Frankly, this is something you can do a lot of if you’re not doing bottom-position squats every time.
Form Tips: My favorite method for performing these is at or just above the bottom position of your squat. It’s godawful the first time you try it, but if you work it hard, it is the easiest way to get your squat up quickly- the more weight you can move from a dead stop at the bottom of your squat, the more weight you can squat in general. I use this as an indicator of what my competition squat is going to be- if I can bottom position squat 600, for instance, I am 100% certain I am good for 635, and have a pretty good shot at 660. On the other end of the spectrum you have lockouts and top half squats, which are useful for feeling out weight and strengthening your abs and lower back. If you’re doing the former, there’s no real reason to hold the weight at the top of the movement, but if you’re doing the latter, a 5 to 10 second hold makes the most of the movement. At the end of an ultra-heavy festival of half squats, you will literally feel like a human bulldozer- not terribly agile, but fucking unstoppable.
Basic Tips on the Squat Itself
This will probably be a fairly unpopular opinion, but I believe there’s not that much to the squat, other than training it. Clearly, I’ve done a lot of tweaking with my form over the years to arrive at what works for me, but the sum total of my knowledge there will help exactly one person on Earth squat better- me. With that in mind, here are a couple of things that I believe are pretty much universal.
- Show me your tits. When I show chicks in particular how to squat, I tell them to show me how a slut stands. They always stick their tits and ass way out, which is basically the position in which you should be in when you squat. A less interesting way to say it would be “chest full, head up, ass back” which is what you should be repeating to yourself every time you get into the squat rack. Eyes looking straight ahead at the top of your head if you’re looking in the mirror, chest as full as you can back it, and reaching your ass as far back as you possibly can as you descend. One fascinating trend on the internet currently is a preoccupation with “butt wink”. For those of you living in blissful ignorance, “butt wink” occurs when you tuck your ass at the bottom of a squat. If you do it, you’re squatting incorrectly. When you squat, you should be reaching your ass back like you’re trying to find a chair you know is somewhere behind you in a dark room. Rather than bust your ass on the ground, you force it behind you like it’s a spear you’re using to fend off a particularly ugly stalker at a really cool bar. You know, the kind of bar that allows you to bring in a spear. If you’re reaching your ass that far back, tucking it is a physical impossibility.
- Do not deload to the bar, EVER. Even the weakest asshole on Earth can squat more than 45 lbs, and using nothing but the bar does not give you an accurate picture of what your squat looks like. In order to determine how to squat, you’ll need to have some weight on the bar to ensure your leverages are correct.
- If your squat is stuck, have someone look at it from the front or back, rather than the side. Nearly every time I’ve seen someone with a squat that is truly stuck, it’s the result of one thing- their weight is improperly distributed between their legs. You can see this from the front because their ass will gravitate toward one side or the other. There’s a very simple way to fix this- make a conscious effort to force your ass to the other side as you squat. It will feel incredibly unnatural at first, but if you feel like you’re forcing your ass so far to the other side that you’re in danger of falling over like a drunk chick at the aforementioned spear bar, your ass is probably dead center. Keep working that for a couple of weeks and then have someone recheck it. Within a month, your squat will be up and you won’t have to worry about your weight distribution again. This is usually a problem with new trainees and people who’ve had a lower back or lower body injury.
- Fear makes you strong. If you’re not afraid of a weight you’re using for your top weight sets, you’re definitely not going heavy enough. You should be so piss-scared of the weight you use for doubles that you consider skipping the gym altogether. If you’re not, you’re definitely stronger than you think, and need to raise the weight. We’re talking Manchurian peasant fear of the Japanese Army circa 1940 kind of fright- this is not a mild discomfort sort of fear, but a fill-your-pants-with-liquid-shit-because-100,000-armed-Mongols-are-bearing-down-on-you sort of fear. Master it and you’ll master the squat. Succumb to it and your squat will forever suck.
In my opinion, the squat gives you the exact measure of a man or woman. If you’re a great squatter, you’re damn near fearless and possibly indestructible. If you’re a shit squatter, you have no work ethic and you’re likely to piss yourself at the sight of a dwarf clown holding a bouquet of posies. No matter whether or not you choose to become a squat specialist, you need to make the squat a cornerstone of your workout. Failure to do so will invariably lead to mockery from friends and family and dismal showings at meets, and will prevent you from becoming as awesome as you know you can be.
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