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.