Squats - The King of Lifts and muscle mass

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Going back a generation famous bodybuilding guys like Reg Park, Bill Pearl, Arnold and Franco all built their huge physiques with hard work on basic compound movements. Of those compound movements the squat was considered the keystone, the focal point of the routine. Powerlifters too recognised that the squat was the barometer of their power, a gauge by which they could accurately calculate their peaking cycle. Yes, it was no secret that the squat, when worked sensibly but hard, produced phenomenal gains - it was considered the King of Lifts

A generation later and in many gyms, not all, but in many, the full squat is a forgotten movement. Many who do squat do not squat at all, they curtsy with the weight doing quarter squats for the pose. The squat rack is shunned in favour of the 45 degree angle leg press - why - because it’s easier to look good with all those 45 pound plates on each side.

Is the King of Lifts - the Squat - losing it’s crown?
To answer that for oneself, simply look at the top bodybuilders and powerlifters. One will note that the top men in either drug-free associations or others exhibit a thickness that can only be achieved from years of work on the heavy compound movements, the key of those movements being the squat. Yes, the top men in either bodybuilding or powerlifting recognised the squat for the truly great growth builder it is. Why, then, is the squat not a popular movement in many gyms? Two main reasons is the answer: 1. Laziness 2. Incorrect technique.

Let’s address the first reason - laziness. Squatting is hard work - it can be uncomfortable, it requires full concentration on the job in hand. Squatting works nearly the whole body - calves, quads, hamstrings, lower back, glutes, abdominals, heart and lungs etc. Because you, the lifter have to balance the weight, the body’s stabilising muscles are also brought into play

Compare that with the leg press machine. No stabilising muscles are brought into play because the lifter is pushing the weight stack in a groove dictated by the machine. The lower bark muscles are not worked as the back is fully braced by the leg press seat. A lifter/bodybuilder who exclusively works the leg press and shuns the squat will not have built the power to squat with serious weight. Conversely, the lifter who squats regularly can cross over to the leg press effectively and use plenty of weight.

Judge yourself by the weight you are shifting in the compound movements. It is true that the top bodybuilders use exercises such as the leg press, leg extensions, lunges, etc but they have built their size and these exercises are movements for finishing and striating. A beginner or intermediate would do far better to shun these finishing exercises in favour of the squat. By the way, don’t judge yourself as an advanced bodybuilder/powerlifter by the number of years you’ve been in the game, judge yourself honestly by the weight you are shifting in the compound movements.

Regardless of how many years you have been in the game if you have never squatted 500lbs you are still an intermediate. Yes that statement will anger some and hurt their pride but if it gets them in the squat rack it’s worth it.

Lets move on to the 2nd point; Incorrect technique. If you’ve been in the game a while I’m sure you will have seen the lifter I am now going to describe. He will pack 45 pound plates on the squat rack, make lots of noise so that he has everyone’s attention and then proceed to do quarter squats and thinks he’s doing well.

Funny though, because he’ll keep his legs covered up all the time with tracksuit bottoms. Why? because from his quarter squats, he still has little or no development of the legs. Get the picture? When you squat, squat at least to parallel. Full range movements are the movements that will give you the best results. Remember though, that when you do squat, concentrate fully on the DESCENT. In-depth research has proved that the beginner / intermediate often has a descent speed 3 times that of a world class lifter. In short, the world class lifter has learned to control the descent speed and thus can lift more. When you squat, focus fully on the descent and the ascent will be a lot easier.

There is so much that can be said about this great movement, but, in summary if you don’t squat then make a decision to incorporate this exercise into your daily routine. Train the squat sensibly and supplement your diet wisely. Plan your squat routine over a 4 to 6 month period setting achievable short term goals along the way. After working hard for 4 to 6 months, assess your gains and then you will agree, that yes, the squat, is still the King of the Lifts.

When you’ve got the squat mastered, the next best thing is to add in a powerfull high calorie weight gainer, like Progain from Maximuscle. This contains high quality whey protein, complex carbs and special fats such as MCT’s and EFA’s, that promote health and provide calorie dense energy. With the added calories or extra protein (like Promax - if you’re not into bulking) you’ll find your legs grow like never before and your body takes on a thicker more mature kind of muscle.

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Joel   |.
This is a damn good article, and any trainees reading this who don't squat would
be amazed by the effect this fantastic excercise would have on their bodies. In
response the the other poster I would say it will only cause knee problems if
you use poor form. If you sit back correctly the stress on the knees is hugely
reduced and is certainly no greater than on the leg press.
rcprice   |.
The squat is disfavored because of the stress it puts on the kneees of an aging
population of lifters. Plain and simple. . . .
Ade   |.
Started weight training again about 1 year ago. Had been running marathions
doing triathlons but developed patalar tendonitis and was advise to do squats by
my physio.

As someone who did weightlifting as a kid I have migrated to doing
a lot of squats romanian dead lifts + olympic moves -i.e. lots of compund

Well I'm 45 and full squats and my knees' better and they ain't a
problem - I reckon the trick is doing them right and slowly and a gradula build
up. Also definatley no bouncing at the bottom so v slow down pause and
accelerate up- I have gradually built up to 135kg for reps and even with this
relatively light load I'm convinced they're helping to add bulk - 5' 7" and
about 78kg up about 10kg from when I started. :-)
Dave   |.
what a load of rubbish, a correctly done squat doesn't overly stress the knees.
In fact quarter squats put more stress on the knees than a properly done squat.
Phil R   |.
I've always used the squat in my routines at least one good work out a week. I
have a torn acl and it assists surrounding muscle groups strengthen to stabilise
the joint. I use other leg exercises as well for the same purpose as well as
unilateral muscle development. I've always felt that a lot of gym users - mine
included - don't squat purely because its bloody hard work!
Mike   |.
In response to rcprice (and a question to the experts): surely doing squats
helps to build strength in the knees - as long as you start with a low enough
weight and build up from there?
Luc   |.
Good to see an article highlighting the legs. The squat and lower body exercises
in general are tough but probably one of the most valuable exercise one can do
for total mental and physical development. The legs are designed to work very
hard for long periods of time when compared to say arms, so it takes a lot to
force extra development.
And remember the calves as well!
As for knee
stability, the muscles that promote knee stability come into action mostly in
the final 15 degrees of motion when extending the leg, so the leg extention
exercises are the most useful for that; hold for an extra second when fully
extended. This is especially good for those missing an ACL. And that's not
instead of the squat, but in addition to it.
LE   |.
Good article. I've been training squat for about six-eight months and use it as
my main leg workout. For me it's the most exhausting workout of the week, it
knackers me out more than any other exercise. I've had no problems with knee
trouble doing squat, especially since changing my stance slightly to point my
feet out a touch and using a slightly wider stance. It is amazing how many
people I see doing pretend reps (quarter) on this exercise.
David Gardiner   |.
Hi there,
Great article I have been training for many years and its good to be
reminded of some of the things you let slip, I have forwarded this article to my
trainig partner with the comment "we have to work on the descent" I
have slipped into a routine where little or no progress is being made and
spending time working on the descent will be a refreshing thing to do.
paudie cusack   |.
what if sqats are uncomfortable and you get back pain ie strained hamstring?
Dan   |.
'Regardless of how many years you have been in the game if you have never
squatted 500lbs you are still an intermediate'.

I can't see why you'd include
such a statement in the article?
I am able to squat over 500lbs, but I feel
this pays no relevance
to a lifters status; the weight used is simply the means
an end.
Good read otherwise.
Rich   |.
in my experience its only those who want to add weight before they're ready
that let their form suffer and therefore can pressure the wrong places
needlessly. Squatting is surely king :-)
Vince Tarling   |.
I have started doing squats in my training and have noticed a differnce quit
quickly. I have found it harder to gain because i am i vegetarain but doing
squats has made it easier. I am 5 10 tall and now weigh 92k. Good
Regarsd Vince
Ryan   |.
Good article by the way. When I first started training, the only thing I
instinctively knew what to do was to squat. That’s because one of my
heroes were Tom Platz who reported did 50 reps with more than 400lbs on his
back!! I must also stress, Tom Platz and the mentioned bodybuilders in the
article were not drug free and are genetically gifted more than your average or
even advanced trainers.

Now, eight years down the line, I can say I’m
part of the 500lb squat club. And believe me, it took six years to get there and
it wasn’t easy. However, the statement of “….if you have
never squatted 500lbs you are still an intermediate…..” I
don’t agree with. Like with all power lifting and bodybuilding, you need
to address the balance. For most beginners and intermediates, you should look at
the 3:4:5 ratio…. 300lb bench press, 400lb squat and 500lb dead lift. Or a
Ajay Gulur   |.
I finally did this correctly. After years of doing squats with adequate but not
great form, I started all over with just a bar to learn the form correctly this
time. Took me 3 months to get to a decent weight, but a few days I did 20 reps
going way below parallel and my whole body already looks totally different. Now
I have this whole new thickly muscled look. Plus, I feel great! This is so
worth it.
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