Squat thoughts

One of the readers in the comments posted the link to Maxwell's blog post on squat: here. While some Maxwell's comments may be right, some points of his critique of this exercise are wrong.

The first video of his post demonstrates supposedly technically good squat. Maxwell especially fond of the curvature of the lower back by this trainee. while admiring the lordosis though, he misses the fact that this squat is done above parallel. We can start arguing if it was above or just at, however if there is any doubt it means this squat is too high.

The second video demonstrates the loss of lordosis as the trainee goes deeper. This is true, the guy is a nice example of this problem. However, this does not denigrates squat. Developing flexibility necessary for good squatting is not that difficult, especially for a young and slender guy on the video. This is especially strange that the critique comes from Steve Maxwell, the coach who knows a thing or two about stretching.

As alternatives Maxwell proposes pistol, goblet and other variations of the squat. Once again, some statements are outright wrong.

Take pistol, for example. Done the way it is demonstrated on the video it loads lower back quite significantly. How fo I know that? Because when I had problems with my lower back I tried doing loaded pistols. To my surprise even doing them with 5 kg caused considerable lumbar pain. I am not good at physics, but someone who is interested can estimate the load on the spine when the weight is held by the arms outstretched far forward. Pistols also encourage the loss of lordosis, far more than barbell squats, and in combination with the weight held in fromt of the body lumbar flexion can lead to problems.

Goblet squat is not a bad lift, but not as a substitute for barbell squat. it is actually a great exercise for the development of sufficient flexibility and technique for doing heavier squats. It teaches you to push the knees out, helps keep the back concave and encourages to go to the very bottom.

As Maxwell's blog is devoted mostly to martial arts I can see the point that lighter variations of the squat may be more useful for fighters and grapplers. I don't have a problem with that. Wrestlers probably don't need huge absolut strength, and that is Maxwell's area expertise.

I, on the other hand, squat for the sake of squatting. My goal is to squat more. You can argue about functionality of this goal, but I don't really care about it. I am sure though that it is impossible to look weak if your squat numbers are decent. I have never seen a squatter with thin arms, and while all squat variations are useful and in many instances safer than the conventional one, none of them with give you the satisfaction of being very strong. The first video on Maxwell's blog post has to be watched on Youtube. Incidentally, that page has the link to the video embedded below.

I don't think goblet squats or weighted pistols can produce strength similar to this. Somehow this guy manages to squat right down without loosing lumbar lordosis. Could be the result of right coaching: get flexible instead of bitching about how dangerous squats are. While I probably never be able to squat with this amount of plates on the bar, I understand the feeling it gives you.


Anonymous said...

Dear Eugene,
I'm the guy that posted that link you mentioned - in doing so i was merely drawing your attention to the fact that there are other options out there. I agree with respect to the pistol, unless ones form is perfect it can be problematic. There seems to be a contradiction in your intentions; on the one hand you write that your goal is to train so that that you can maintain health and fitness into old age, yet by your own admission:
"Even though I am very careful and attentive, the damage becomes obvious only after the fact. The same this time: On the second rung of the last ladder I felt sharpish pain in the back, and it was clear that this is it. Never mind, I still finished the last tripple, so not to violate the completeness of the workout. It's not bad now, but not good enough to get under the bar again.

Back pain or not, I am still fopcused on my goal of squatting 1.5 times my bodyweight by the middle of December."

So you get ongoing back pain and yet you want to max your squat and even when you do injure yourself you push thru anyway; for a smart guy you really are missing the point!

Eugene said...

Anon, you might guess that I know about other options. I just choose barbell squat for reasons mentioned in my post. I don't think other options necessarily guarantee the absence of injury. I got injured while doing all kind of stuff, including bodyweight exercises.

As far as me pushing through pain - it's not black and white. You sort of know which pain is serious and which is not. That one wasn't serious and went away in a few days. That's how it works: you learn about your body by making hits and misses. There was an article about that woman judge who defeated serious chronic back pain by taking up powerlifting. She is a role model now, so why can't I try follow similar path? Is it possible to train without ever getting injured?

I feel good squatting with the barbell. That's what I want to do, as simple as that. And the goal of 1.5 times bodyweight is not overly ambitious. FYI, yesterday I taught myself another lesson: I didn't warm up enough before squatting 92.5 kg, and my back is sore again. So much for being a smart guy!

Anonymous said...

Dear Eugene,
I was just thinking about ways to increase strength but not overload your spine - perhaps something like the 40 day program would work - by only keeping the at the 40-60%iRm range 5*2/3*3/5,3,2 etc you could take some of the pressure out of the back - although, you would be squatting more often and not likely to add any muscle- perhaps you could cycle between a more neural program like this and more muscle based approach? Infact, i think have talked myself into giving it a try upto x-mas.

Dr S said...

Can you explain what your numbers mean? I am planning to switch to another program after I reach my elusive goal. I was thinking along the lines of Russian volume routines.