Monday, November 29, 2010

Squats are Magic

Just this last weekend I was at Raley's with my brother to get some packing tape for the big cooler of grass-fed beef he was going to check-in as luggage for the flight back to Denver. That's an interesting story in itself - we are meat people. But something happened at the store that I'd like to talk about.

While we were perusing the packing tape options an older gentleman who looked to be about seventy approached us. He needed some help getting envelopes. They were on the lowest shelf of the aisle, but he was afraid if he bent down to get them he would not be able to get up again. We helped him and he was very thankful.

We bought the tape and headed back to the car to go home. My brother isn't really convinced that lifting weights is worthwhile so I mentioned this gentleman as an example of what I was training to avoid.

Now, this may not surprise some people, but my family loves to argue. Not in an angry way, but in a lawyerly one. If you make a statement that is opinion and not fact you will be cross-examined. It's inevitable. Even if they agree with you. Devil's advocate and all that jive.

So my brother pointed out that the guy was about the same age as our father. He's never lifted weights in his life and can still load 120 pound hay bales into his pickup truck. He's certainly the strongest seventy year old man I personally know. But he can't squat. He tried, did one rep, and was exhausted by it. He's doing great, but he could be even better.

Now my brother thought this was just an arbitrary test. Just because he could only do one squat didn't mean anything in particular. The fact he could still handle a 120 pound hay bale meant he was still strong.

My brother is wrong.

Squatting is a fundamental human movement. That's why it works so well to build strength. Correct squatting (I mean full depth - hip joint going below the knee) works your legs through their full range of motion. It also works nearly every muscle in the body. Even though your legs are doing the work your upper body has to support the bar and hold it steady. When you start getting above 300 pounds in a squat (above 200 pounds for women) this is no small task.

Will your arms get bigger doing a squat? Surprisingly, yes. Squatting does something to your body to create an anabolic (muscle-building) environment. It just turns everything on.

Rippetoe's Starting Strength program is basically a squatting program. Sure, you press and bench press. You deadlift and power clean. But you do heavy squats first every workout because that's the most important thing. In novice lifters the results are amazing. Rippetoe has taken 140 pound teenagers and in six months transforms them into 200 pound monsters squatting 300 plus pounds for three sets of 5. The strength training establishment doesn't even think this is possible, but I've seen it happen more modestly in my own gym.

I put on 15 pounds of muscle in 6 months. My training partner, Myke, put on 20 pounds of muscle in 6 months. We aren't going to see the gains that an 18 year old kid can make, but for two guys in their early 40's it's pretty impressive. We are both stronger now than at any time in our lives.

Squatting is not easy. In fact it is damn hard. Getting under a bar that weighs considerably more than you do takes some balls. But if you aren't squatting then you are not training. It is the meat of any serious strength program. Yet almost nobody does them.

If you can only do one squat then you should be working toward getting two. If you can do two, then work to three. When you can do three sets of five, add weight until you can squat your body weight. When you can do that, then work toward 300 pounds for 5 reps, and so on.

So get off your treadmill, your eliptical, your bosu ball. Find someone who can teach you how to squat. Squat heavy and squat often. Become strong.

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