Do You Really Need to Back Squat?

Happy New Years everybody!

We have find ourselves on the cusp of a new decade, and I have a very sense that whatever comes next, it will be unprecedented.

The world from 2010-2019 has shifted so dramatically and irreversibly, that the only certain prediction that can be made is that the future will NOT be like the present or the past.

There are no set paths, nothing can be relied on to remain fixated and the same.

You can always rely upon yourself and your health however.

Physical fitness is genetic robustness. Master yourself, master everything else. It is not my belief that anyone should make fitness a central aspect of their life.

Fitness should enable freedom to live, not be a reason for living.

All this said, I did want to share my most major mindset shift of the past 10 years.

It is controversial to say the least…

SQUATTING IS OVERRATED

Before I fully launch into this, I need to do A LOT of prefacing to lay out the context for this;

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I’ve had many powerlifting friends, strongmen friends, bodybuilder friends. For those that compete in strength sports, for those that compete in ANY sport…

You do what it takes to win.

There is no “safe” approach to becoming elite and competing at a champion level. You will sacrifice your body for this, and it is necessary. Very very few people walk away from a world class career with their health intact.

If that requires you to perform certain exercises as part of your sport, then you do those things. Good for you.

If someone desires to be champion at something, to be elite, all power to them. Take that to the edge and then beyond.

Athletes will always have my respect of this reason.

This said

I work with regular people, and I don’t bullshit people…

If you were destined to be a PRO level athlete, you’d already be that.

As it is, most people are not pro athletes, and while everyone can train LIKE an athlete, you’re not getting paid to train, and you’re not being compensated for working out in the gym.

As such, training in such a way that you get injured and lose functionality, this is simply stupid.

Fitness is a foundation for an energetic and free life, NOT the sole focus.

I find it incomprehensible when people engage in activities that fuck them up, they don’t paid for them, they don’t get acclaim for them, they’re not even terribly GOOD at them, yet they persist on doing them.

If you are to devote yourself to something, it should be something you can become WORLD CLASS in. Especially for men, the satisfaction of a world-class skillset/knowledge set in immensely gratifying.

Consequently, when it comes to training, I have no attachment to Dogma.

“Its always been done this way”…”what about science and evidence huh huh huh?”…”but so-and-so always did such and such exercise”

I do not give a fuck about any of it. I look at outcomes, and I look at outcomes on a very long time scale.

If something works for a long time, I’ll use it. If something seems to work for awhile and then it starts fucking people up with injuries, I am going to question it.

Like the Squat.

If you get online right now and type in anything about squatting into the search bar, you will find millions of articles describing it as the most important, essential, crucial, critical, mandatory exercise you can do.

It would seem impossible that anyone would say otherwise.

Indeed, people who have questioned the orthodoxy have had their reputations attacked and been made the laughing stock of the fitness industry.

That finally takes us to the Squat, particularly the BACK SQUAT

–>I have to fully credit Functional Patterns for crystallizing years of frustration and questions with this subject.

For years I was taught that training and assessing people was ALL ABOUT THE SQUAT.

Back in 2015, I started having issues with this. The squat was so engrained as an foundational movement that practically no one question it. Having people do a squat assessment was mandatory part of being a personal trainer.

The squat is the FOUNDATION. It is THE movement that everyone MUST DO.

Yet I saw people get injured squatting ALL THE FUCKING TIME.

If this movement is SO important and so essential and so restorative, why does it hurt people so often?

No one had a real answer, and no one was willing to admit that maybe it was the squatting itself causing the injuries.

The rise of “mobility” training I consider to be a smokescreen to the dirty truth that you CAN in fact get hurt lifting weights, not all movements are automatically GOOD, and that heavy lifting improperly implied can and does have consequences.

Going further, I also began question why the squat was used an assessment…

“Why am I assessing people using a movement they NEVER do, and I know they will fail at? Is that a reasonable assessment?”

And further…

Why is squatting so important even though its a bodily position thats hardly ever done outside of defecating?

Is it REALLY wise to load this position up with heavy weight?

Why is it that every heavy squatter I know has suffered egregious injuries and the longer they try to squat heavy the more FUBAR their body becomes?

Almost 10 years ago, there was only TWO trainers that dared to speak out “against” squatting.

The first was Mike Boyle.

And when I say against, I don’t mean they acted like brotarded 20 somethings who got online said “squatting dumb lol”.

Mike Boyle has written hundreds of articles and done as many interviews as to why he does NOT have his athletes back squat.

Long story short, he is a FORMER powerlifter, who noticed decades ago that the injury rate from heavy squatting was 100%, and he begin questioning whether athletes needed to back squat when every sport is played with two legs going through the gait cycle and at no point in time does an athlete ever perform a movement that is a perfectly loaded squat.

So he stopped having his athletes do heavy squats.

And everyone stopped getting injured from it. And their performance improved. And they became more injury resistant.

Mike is the reason that Bulgarian Split Squats are a popular movement today. HE is the guy that made them popular online over 10 years ago.

The Second was Naudi Aguilar

Naudi is a personal trainer who tried a conventional lifting approach, and he found he became less athletic and trained himself into pain.

He began deeply studying the integral structures of the body and how they translate to movement, and began changing his training accordingly.

Naudi took an objectivist approach: exercise should enhance natural human functions that are done in daily life and athletic performance.

Which is running and sprinting.

As Naudi says “you don’t squat from point A to point B, you use the gait cycle”

Naudi is a polarizing individual, but his perspectives on resistance training, in particular “heavy” maximal strength training done with barbells, they have been proven to be CORRECT over time.

His methodology, Functional Patterns, it is the BEST IN THE WORLD at fixing broken bodies, taking people out of pain, and improving athleticism while reducing myo-fascial muscular issues.

When I say the best, I mean that. Ive followed the FP social media accounts for some time, and their results are quite truly impossible to fake.

Their outcomes prove the methods.

Naudi is VERY anti heavy squatting, and is quite blunt in saying so.

Watch Naudi’s Video on the Back Squat HERE

Watch Naudis Video On how he suggests How to Deadlift

While Mike and Naudi have different training methods, their overall perspective on the barbell squat is largely the same

-The squat pattern as its trained (ass to grass, bar on the spine)…this movements run completely counter to ANY athletic/functional/natural movement human beings do

Plain speaking, there is NO sport outside of weight lifting itself where you are sinking into a deep squat position under extreme load that puts direct pressure on the spine

further Contrary to popular opinion, heavy squatting does NOT have direct positive transference to athletics.

What has transfer is improving General Strength In Hip and Knee Extension–Meaning anytime you take a weak individual, and get their legs stronger on literally ANY kind of knee flexion exercise (leg press, single leg press, squats, lunges, smith machine squats, jump squats, etc), their athletic performance will improve.

Also contrary to popular opinion

Heavy maximal training is NOT a sustainable way to train all the time. It is a very American thing to want to lift as heavy as possible all the time.

Yet again, powerlifters that attempt to train this way have an injury rate of 100%. The same also applies to Strongmen. The most elite athletes in the world that specialize in maximal lifting all get injured doing it.

Maximal strength training is useful for athletes, but past a threshold of competency, the risk outweighs the reward.

Submaximal training is the way to train for maximal strength (but thats a topic of its own discussion)

But, But, But….Squatting means Barbell squat heavy otherwise you’re a pussy faggot bitch boi loser fairy queef

This attitude is still pervasive online, and I always know its young guys who don’t know any better, or fitness pros who have invested their entire career on marketing the Big 3 as the greatest thing since Jesus Christ himself.

I’ll at least give props to them if they make money, but the level of machismo that gets attached to lifting weights is absurd. You’re not a man because you do a particular exercise.

Its an exercise where you load weights on a metal pole. Lets not take our bullshit too seriously. Have some level of self-awareness here.

About 8-9 years ago when powerlifting became popular online, there were 10,000 articles espousing how great squatting was, and if you didn’t squat heavy you weren’t a man, and if you did more than 5 reps it was cardio, and everyone laughed and laughed and laughed.

Fast forward to 2020, and that sentiment in the fitness world is mostly gone because all the personal trainer that lifted that way injured themselves to the point of not being able to back squat much at all, all the powerlifters who trained that way flamed out and and fucked themselves up and can’t compete,

and the only people still beating the “Back Squat Heavy or DIE” drum are largely novice trainers that don’t know any better and find the old articles,

or novice trainees who get exposed to Starting Strength or StrongLifts, make progress for a few months because they’re finally following progressive overload…and then they drink the Kool-aid that the barbell lifts are all that matter and doing anything more than 5 reps is pointless.

I don’t take either of these attitudes seriously at all.

The first one is a willful commitment to ignorance and an unwillingness to acknowledge one’s ego investment in dogma in place of evidence to the contrary.

The second is simply not knowing what the fuck you are talking about.

Or maybe its both

Should we NOT train the squat at all?

No, the point to all this is NOT that squatting as a movement is worthless. The point is that how it is trained can be incorrect and detrimental.

–>What has transference and should be prioritized is functional LEG STRENGTH. Hip extension + knee flexion+gait cycle,

Meaning if an exercise is NOT improving your ability to sprint and jump and move athletically, then it’s NOT a useful or necessary movement.

—>META Principle. Strength absolutely does improve athleticism, but increasing strength is not solely contingent on a specific exercise, but improving the foundational movement of knee flexion+hip extension using a generally appropriate movement.

What the fuck does that mean Alexander?

It means basically that A LOT of different exercises can be used to strengthen the legs, and the belief that heavy barbell back squats are the absolute best is incorrect.

Great Coaches have Figured this Out for awhile…

There are various examples across multiple sports of coaches that figured out that heavy back squats became unnecessary and alternative movements could be used that more positive transference to sporting performance

During the 1980s and 1990s, the best Sprint Coach in the world was Charlie Francis.

Charlie trained Ben Johnson (the sprinter who set the world record in 1988 and was stripped for steroids)

-If you think steroids discredits a coach, you’re a bloody idiot. Steroids are used in EVERY professional sport, by far more athletes than any general public person imagines (aside from maybe golf), and steroids don’t coach an elite athlete to greatness alone.

Charlie never had his athletes do ass to grass squats.

His sprinters did 1/2 Squats.

I’ll say that again…they did HALF SQUATS.

They never went lower than 45 degrees in the squat, ever.

Charlie and Naudi in fact did a very similar movement. Although Charlie had his athletes squat heavy, they both arrived at training the same range of motion.

Charlie realized that full squats didnt do anything beneficial for sprinters. The deep squat had no transference to sprinting.

The half squat did. His best athletes would half squat 500-600lbs, for reps.

Charlie realized also that sprinting was a GLUTE and HAMSTRING dominant activity.

His athletes would do “glute kickbacks”, or what he called reverse leg extensions.

His goal was to develop their hip extension strength, and his methods achieved exactly that.

Even after he was banned from the Olympics, he spent all of the 1990s training pro athletes, and to this day he is still considered the foremost coaching authority on Sprinting to have ever lived (he died in 2010). His books and writings on the subject are referenced world wide, and his methods replicated over and over again for amazing results.

What My Philosophy Now after all this….

I divide this situation into two camps.

If you compete in powerlifting, strongman, or bodybuilding, then you NEED to prioritise bilateral training. That means movements that use both legs.

Unilateral training will be supplemental.

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If you DONT compete in those things, than bilateral squats are supplemental, and unilateral work should comprise the majority of your training.

Said simple, you don’t need to care about squatting heavy. Getting very strong at single leg movements will be your focus.

Okay, You’ve Convinced Me to Think About This Differently, But How Should I be Train my Legs Then…

Follow all the links, because I really want you to understand this shit. This could change your training for the rest of your life.

Im obviously not there to assess you and determine what your needs are. This is the next best thing

1. Figure out your hip structure

You may be genetically predisposed to be GOOD at squatting, and fully capable of achieving a deep squat. If you can, good for you. If that is the case, then a “back squat” may work very well for you.

For those people who DO excel at back squatting, I suggest using specialized barbells like the Duffalo Bar or Safety Squat Bars (zero affiliate links, I simply believe in the equipment

These bars spare the stress on the shoulders of the conventional barbell, and if you want to compete in powerlifting, its easy to make the switch to the straight bar during your training cycles

2. If You’re under 40, and injury free, and WANT to barbell squat, and the movement is not contraindicated for you, then GO AHEAD, but…

But be very patient and don’t rush the loading.

And also make sure to use single leg movements for the majority of your training.

Understand that you will get stronger to a point, and then strength gains will slow down, and then getting stronger still will require active management of your body, and injury risk will increase with time.

If that is alright with you, have at it.

3. if you’re 40+, and have had injuries to hips, knees, spine, etc

Back squats are NOT advisable. Maybe doing box squats, maybe, But I’d prefer that someone use movements that don’t put stress on the spine and hips.

4. If you’d prefer to avoid all potential and simply NOT back squat, feel FREE to do so….And Do SPLIT SQUATS INSTEAD

Im very practical in how I view training

-I believe everyone should be strong

-I believe everyone should be muscular

-I believe everyone can benefit from training

But I do NOT believe that any exercise is mandatory, I don’t believe people should obsess over their strength levels when they are not competitive athletes, and I do not believe that training should INJURE someone.

If you’re not getting paid to train and put your body on the line, why are you fucking yourself up in the gym.

To pretend you’re a gym warrior? You’re Hardcore?

There is nothing impressive about being HURT and INJURED.

You know what more impressive? Not missing a workout for 40 years because you trained smart and aren’t a broken mess from doing stupid shit in the gym.

What Are the Alternatives to Back Squats Though?

Here’s a big long list of movements

Bilateral Exercises

1. Goblet Squats

2. DB Sumo Squats

3. Pendulum Squats

Unilateral Exercises

4. Bulgarian Split Squats

5. Split Squats

6. Single leg squats

7. Step-Ups

8. Single Leg press

9. Lunges

10. Reverse Lunges

EN Summa,

If you need to squat for your sport, load the barbell squat up heavy.

If you DONT need to do that, then don’t. They are better movements that will make you bigger stronger faster and more athletic.

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