“Nothing tests your will more than a heavy barbell across your back” – Jim Wendler.
I don’t like getting people’s juices flowing but I love the squat. It’s one of my favourite exercises. For me it’s bad ass. Nothing gets me fired up more than to pile on some plates and squat. People are however divided on the exact usefulness of the barbell squat. Even former Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates, a mass monster of note in his heyday, avoided the move like the plague and built tree trunk legs by using leg presses and hack squats.
Maybe I am biased and unconditionally devoted when it comes to squats – I used to do them religiously to build up power for the scrum in rugby and even up until this day there is not a week that’ll go by that I don’t include some form of squatting in my routine. We all are however products of our experiences…
It is my belief that the squat is brilliant for strength, mobility as well as improving your health. It improves power in the legs but also strengthen the entire abdominal and lower back region.I am the last person however to tell people to blindly follow a certain dogma or philosophy. If you have long legs, bad knees or a weak lower back you might not like the squat and struggle to perform it with the best of technique. In that case, I would recommend looking for alternatives that are better suited for your individual structure. Just remember before you drop all squatting from you routine that your body will adapt to a specific exercise if you are doing it over and over again for weeks and months. You get stronger as you get more familiar with a lift.
Going against everything we have been told
A few years ago, strength coach Mike Boyle caused controversy by announcing the death of the barbell squat. He opted to train his athletes with split squats and step ups making an interesting argument against bilateral training in favour of unilateral training.
Boyle said the back is always the weakest link when you do squats and the main reason athletes cannot develop proper leg strength. According to him both torque and compression are present in higher degrees when you do a back squat and that the front squat is far superior.
Other coaches such as Mark Rippetoe argued that squats were all you needed as long as you were running, jumping and doing other agility work as part of your training.
The way of the wise
The squat teaches you how to use the strength of your entire body. They develop the strength of your spine and by not doing them you will effectively reduce the risk of a back injury but at the cost of a weaker back.Leg strength can be developed by doing other less riskier movements – not all of us are rugby players or weightlifters.
If you have had some back issues the split squat is an excellent alternative because the load on your spine is cut in half. Split squats are safer than traditional back squats which is important for long-term health.If you have any knee or back issues it makes sense then to avoid repeated spinal loading with heavy weights.
In the end it is wise to use both bilateral (squats) and unilateral (split squats) movements as part of your training to develop strength, balance and stabilization.Don’t follow any dogma that says it is the only way to get results. Work on your weaknesses and you will become better in the long run and improve your overall power.