25 July 2012

Squatting Like You're The CEO of the Paper Street Soap Company #1

If there's one exercise on which I feel confident I can be a Tyler Durden to the assembled masses, it is unequivocally the squat.  At the moment, I'm 17 lbs off a world record that has stood since 1973, and my latest third attempt was easy as pie.  As such, I feel pretty confident acting as a vocal authority on the king of exercises.  Making my level of comfort even greater is the fact that I wasn't always a great squatter, and for years was a barely passable squatter.  That did not, however, deter me from breaking my ass on it.  Thus, you motherfuckers need to sit back, grab a fucking notepad, and forget every single thing you think you know about squatting, because it's highly likely all you have in your mental Rolodex for squatting is a pile of horseshit written by people who suck at squatting for people who've accepted they're always going to suck at squatting.  No woman worth her salt would seek advice on prepping for a hundred man gangbang from a Catholic nun, and no man is going to seek advice on changing his oil from an effete, coiffed Frenchman on a moped.

"You do the little job you're trained to do.  'Pull a lever.' 'Push a button.' You don't understand any of it, and then you just die."
From the emails and comments I've received on my squat form, there appears to be a pervasive and hilariously nonsensical opinion that one's squat stance must be moderate when squatting raw.  At best, the reasoning online appear to be "a wide stance will kill your hips eventually", and at worst, people posit some preposterous bullshit about power transfer in the hips versus the legs in a pathetic attempt to bolster their bullshit with officious wording.  Having squatted with a moderately to extremely wide stance for years, I can say that you're in no danger of "killing your hips", whatever the fuck that means, any more than you are of incurring any other injury squatting, and that this point is especially moot considering the downright embarrassing numbers most people put up on the squat.  As such, you should worry less about eventual injuries, since they only exist in the fantasyland where your squat is elite and you are still competing in 40 years, and worry more about what fucking works.  Instead of blindly accepting the conventional wisdom of a fuckload of people who know less about lifting than I did 15 years ago and lift less than a 14 year old kid with a pair of balls and some contempt for safety, you might want to try to absorb knowledge from those of us who actually know a thing or two about moving weight on the squat.  

Let's take a look at what works, shall we?

Tony Fratto- World record holder since 1974 at 198 with 688 squat.  Moderately wide stance, toes out, wide grip.

Jill Mills- World Record holder at 181 with 473 lbs.  Moderate stance, wide grip.

Stan Efferding- World record holder with 854 at 275.  EXTREMELY wide stance and grip.

Kirk Karwoski- World record holder at 242 with an 826 squat.  Moderate stance, toes out, wide grip.

Scot Weech- World record holder at 308 with an 826 squat.  Wide stance, toes forward, extremely wide grip.

Sam Byrd- World record holder with 782 lbs at 220.  Wide stance, toes out, extremely wide grip.

Dan Dumitrache- World record holder at 165, 672 lbs with wraps.  Crazy narrow stance and grip.  (Pictured at 181, before you shit yourself)

Don Reinhoudt- World record holder with a 934lb squat at SHW.  Wide stance, toes pretty much forward, extremely wide grip.

Me- 17 lbs off a 40 year old world record with a 633 squat.  I squat wide as shit, and have started pointing my toes more forward than this picture shows, with a moderate grip.

Jennifer Thompson- 314 at 132. Wide stance, toes pointed slightly out, super close grip.

Konstantin Pozdeev- World record holder at 220 with a wrapped 815.  Horrifyingly narrow Olympic stance and grip.  His squat is as awesome as it is unbelievably awkward looking.

Suzie Hartwig-Gary- World record holder at 114 with a 319 squat.  Moderate stance, close grip.  By the way, time to stop patting yourselves on the back for your 315 squat and get pissed that a 114lb chick makes you her punk bitch every day.

What did we learn from this?  The idiots on your internet message board, Reddit, and in your gym know exactly fuckall, for one.  For another, the best of the best seem to squat primarily with a wide stance, even when raw.  If anything, the close and moderate stance lifters appear to be the outliers, rather than the norm.

"I really wanted to put a bullet between the eyes of every endangered panda that wouldn't screw to save its species and every whale or dolphin that gave up and ran itself aground."

As always, what is needed here is not the blind faith in idiocy that most people seem to have, but rather an overwhelming contempt for the opinions of the majority and a burning desire to determine what works best for you.  No one will be able to tell you what your best form is without 1) the requisite experience in powerlifting that comes from a great deal of training and a great deal of successful competition, and 2) seeing you attempt squats with a wide variety of squat forms.  This should be the most basic, simple to understand element in this equation, but for some reason people seem to think that blindly asking people so stupid and ill-informed that chimpanzees seem sage-like by comparison is the best course of action for them.

It's fucking not.

Before you consult a single other person for advice on the squat, spend a week squatting every other day.  These don't need to be marathon, balls-out sessions.  The goal is, in fact, to see what feels most comfortable squatting.  After months of squatting close to Olympic-style, I opened up my stance as much as my flexibility would allow and dropped the bar as low on my back as I could, and I watched my squat jump up like I never thought possible.  What I discovered was that the strength was there- I simply was using the wrong form to maximize my leverages.  As such, your goal for the next couple of weeks should be to determine, through trial and error, what your best form is.  If possible, find an elite lifter whose body type most resembles your own and see what form they're using.  Try that first and foremost.  You might think that the new form would take some time to acclimatize yourself to, but that's not the case- I realized the benefit of my new form within a couple of sets.  Once you break through the mental wall of "this feels wrong", you'll determine what works the best for you.  Four variables with which to play:

  • foot placement.  Test different widths ranging from shoulder width, slightly outside shoulder width, and as wide as you can get your feet inside the rack.
  • foot angle.  Conventional wisdom dictates that your foot should be in line with your knee, but I've found that angling my feet more forward seems to reduce the amount of tendinitis pain I get in my knees.  
  • bar placement.  I've found that the lower the bar, the easier the movement, which would be exactly what one would expect with any knowledge of physics- Archimedes postulated this thousands of years ago, and it's correct.  The closer the bar is to the fulcrum, the less your effort force needs to be. Thus, if you squat with a high bar, you're making the lift harder than it needs to be.
  • hand placement.  This will be a combination of shoulder flexibility and what's comfortable.  

Go forth and squat.
Involuntary muscle spasms!  Enjoy the show!


  1. Son of a bitch this blog just gets better and better. after reading the series on the press I decided to work my shoulders harder than as if their name were kunta kinte and within a months span increased from singles with bodyweight to triples with bodyweight.

    I'm also going through a transition from the high bar close stance, olypmic style, but the tip Paul gave in the podcast about the wide grip position while squeezing the shit out of your back has helped me carry the bar really low now and feel much more comfortable. Also the increased use of the ab wheel seems to have helped. I just have to figure out my stance now.

    great work and look forward to the series!

  2. aside from any programming or adaptive arguments, the most unexpected benefit I found in training every day is that you really nail down your form and constantly reinforce it, and that is guaranteed to up your numbers regardless

  3. Hey Jamie, do you still utilize partials anymore in your training? You used to be a big advocate of doing partial squats, but I was wondering if you still are a fan of them after having switching to really competitive powerlifting.

  4. That highlighting thing is annoying as all hell. I'll just make it a point to highlight everything in black from now on.

    The chick is Stephanie Cane. Note that she uses a wide stance as well.

  5. Jamie, what type of shoes do you use when squatting? I recall you training in NB Minimus, but you look like you're competing with something else.

    Also, I started getting this crazy rice krispie/bag of gravel noise in my knees after a few weeks of some heavy partials and the occasional jumping squat. No pain, but it sounds absolutely terrible. Any thoughts on full depth squats vs partials for random knee shittiness?

    1. I squat in New Balance Minimus MB20s. http://www.amazon.com/New-Balance-MT20v1-Trail-Minimus/dp/B004KZP5AG

      As for your knee... sweet jesus. Are you running a shitload of prohormone tren products or just tren itself? If so, stop. If not, it might be that your IT band is too tight and pulling your knee out of alignment. Try foam rolling. It will hurt like a motherfucker.

    2. tk knee bands and a softball work wonders

    3. Ha, nope, never touched any prohormones or AAS.

      It actually never made a noise until I started using TK sleeves and doing some heavy partials and jump squats. After a few sessions of that, I felt fine, but was walking down the stairs one day and all of a sudden heard this loud terrible noise. It has persisted ever since (prob 6months now) despite who-knows-how-much foam rolling and lacrosse balling. I have no clue wtf is going on, but it's very annoying. I do know that I always tended to squat shallow and my outer quads are massive relative to my inner quads. Only thing I can think of is building up the inner leg as much as possible.

    4. Try squatting with toes more forward and focus on external rotation at the hip. Toes more forward hits the quads more evenly, and thus will work your inner quads more.

  6. I've been waiting for the squat series for awhile now and it's finally in motion! Fuck yeah. So far it does not disappoint. I am beyond fucking tired of listening to people who don't even lift tell me that i'll "kill me knees" and/or hips if I do form like this or that.

    This type of advice was a breath of fresh air. Thanks, Jamie.

  7. This is a perfect time to ask something that's been bugging me for a while. In your opinion, is there any benefit to be had at all in squatting Olympic style if you are interested in competing as a Powerlifting? Fred Hatfield recommended this, and Ed Coan did a lot of high bar squatting in his off-season, and given that these two men were pretty fucking good at squatting, it would seem that their opinion is worth a look. The theory behind this is that by doing high bar squats, and making the movement harder in training, it will be easier when you widen your stance and only have to go to parallel in competition. If you are doing your deadlifts on a regular basis, as you should, then the posterior chain, glutes, and hamstrings will get plenty of work on their own, and the quads will become stronger from high bar squatting than they would from low bar squatting; and so when you go to squat low bar in competition, there shouldn't be any problems.

    That at least is the theory. In practice, I can see some potential problems in training one way, and then competing another. This may not actually be as big a problem as it seems; Hatfield observed that a few weeks of practicing a wider stance leading into a meet would be sufficient. The crowd that says "practice how you play" also advocates wearing belts and wraps on a regular basis.


    1. I do high bar squatting when I jump squat, so it definitely has a place in training. I will cover that in upcoming posts.

  8. Jamie, will you talk about knee positioning in the squat? --> How Louie Simmons would advocate keeping the shins vertical, but Kirk or Efferding definitely do not. Louie's way makes the movement all hips. Great for geared lifting I guess, but tends to strain the groin. Your shins seem pretty upright... ever experimented with that?

    1. I have never given the angle of my shins any thought at all.

    2. Louie Simmons trains geared lifters. For raw lifters, the shin angle stuff is bullshit. Your knees will do what they do based on the length of your limbs.

  9. Idk if you've posted it anywhere else and I know you love your low rep work but whats your opinion on high rep? Where did most of your mass come from bec ur freakin huge.
    I ask bec ppl say to train high rep and eat a shit ton carbs to get huge but you train mostly low rep and eat on ur predator diet.

    1. High rep squatting is basically pointless for powerlifting.

  10. Jamie,
    A lot of people talk about the relation between weight gain/loss and the squat.
    Personally, whenever I start leaning out, mainly due to increased activity without upping calories, I can mantain my bench and my press, maintain/increase my DL but my squat goes to the shittery.

    Do you think there´s any specific reason for it or is it just decreased levels of glycogen, ATP, less calories, etc?

    1. I would posit that the problem is mental, rather than physical.

  11. You forgot Julia Ladewski who has a VERY wide stance.


    1. Didn't realize it mattered when it came to stance. Anyways,today is squat triples and doing a wide stance feet forward and loving the control. 10lb under my previous 1rm for 3 is easy.

  12. What's the point in women squatting if they aren't at least going to pee a little at the bottom?

  13. Off topic, but a suggestion for one of your 'baddest motherfuckers' series -


  14. What's the consensus on footwear? Besides giving a lifter the ability to squat deeper, is there a significant mechanical advantage to using lifting shoes?

    1. mr cnp ya need to go outside to grab rocks and spray paint cnp on them. follow the $$$ like mr tate,pendlay, or riptoe. or pay Chinese peeps to do the spray painting.

      "Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.

      Lisa: That's specious reasoning, Dad.

      Homer: Thank you, dear.

      Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.

      Homer: Oh, how does it work?

      Lisa: It doesn't work.

      Homer: Uh-huh.

      Lisa: It's just a stupid rock.

      Homer: Uh-huh.

      Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you?

      [Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]

      Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock."

    2. Only with a narrow, oly stance. Otherwise, you want your feet flat. Footwear should be a fairly minor concern when squatting. Get strong first, then worry about what you're wearing on your feet.

  15. Jamie,

    You mentioned in a post awhile back that you were using jump squats as a type of dynamic stretch to help with IT band mobility. I run too much and I am always struggling to keep my IT/hips loose. Could you post a video of yourself doing the jump squat at some point? I am wondering if you are pausing upon landing? at the bottom? or just moving fluidly through an entire set.

    Yet Another Great Post, thanks for all your hard work on CNP.

    "Note that she uses a wide stance as well." HAHAHAHAHA