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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Variations of the Barbell Squat - Jim Duggan

The barbell Squat is one of the most important, and effective, exercises for making gains in strength, size, and power. If you've read "The Complete Keys to Progress," by John McCallum, or if you're fortunate enough to have access to the old "Hardgainer" magazines, then you don't have to be reminded of the importance of making Squats a big part of your training program. For those truly fortunate individuals who have access to the old "The Steel Tip" newsletters, hard work dedicated to Squats and Deadlifts are staples of any successful training program. We've all heard the stories of trainees making remarkable gains from heavy squatting. Peary Rader, Louis Abele, Reg Park are just a few examples of lifters who have literally built their bodies through a program of heavy squatting.

Now, there are many people who will claim that Deadlifts are just as important to building size and strength. These people have a valid point, to a certain extent. While Deadlifts will build tremendous overall body strength, nothing can really replace high-rep Squats when it comes to developing overall size and development.

There are many different forms of squatting: Back Squats, Front Squats, Overhead Squats, and while they each have their own merits, I will mainly concentrate on regular Squats, or Back Squats. I've noticed that Olympic lifters tend to refer to regular Squats as Back Squats. No doubt due to the fact that Olympic lifters do a large amount of Front Squats in their training. I guess it makes it easier to differentiate between the two movements. However you wish you label the movement, I will discuss different ways of incorporating Squats into your exercise program.

There are numerous rep schemes, and which one you decide to use is not as important as making sure you apply yourself and train hard and progressively. Try to add weight as often as possible. And, of course, there is no reason why you can't use several rep schemes throughout the year. Indeed, limiting yourself to one rep scheme to the exclusion of all others is a good way to become stale. Staleness, will lead to loss of interest, and the inevitable plateau. No lifter in their right mind wants to experience any of these issues. It's so much more productive to include different rep combinations in your training.

Just about every serious student of the Iron Game has heard of 20 Rep Squats. It's been around for years. Countless books and magazine articles have been devoted to the 20 Rep Squat Program. The concept is easy enough: Take a poundage that you can perform for ten reps, then force yourself to do twenty reps. The key, of course, is to work very hard. When you finish your set, you should be wiped out. Totally. It should be the hardest work you've ever done. And, of course, a few days later, after adequate recuperation and recovery, you get to do it all over again. If you stick with it, and push the poundages, you will make tremendous gains in size. An abbreviated program consisting of high-rep Squats and Deadlifts can put muscle on the hardest gainers out there.

For an even more intense experience, you can try doing a set of thirty Squats. That's right. 30. As in 3-0. The concept is similar, only this time you take a weight with which you can perform twenty Squats, and this time you fight your way to thirty reps. This is a special kind of torture, and I've only tried this a few times. But if you have the wherewithal to stick to it, you will make incredible gains in strength, stamina, and physical conditioning. Of course, you don't have to train to failure all the time. If you are a competitive lifter, you will have to utilize heavier weights with correspondingly lower reps from time to time. When I was competing in powerlifting, if I wasn't training specifically for a contest, I would usually do 5 sets of 5. A variation of this is doing 6 sets of 6. This is the routine we used at Bruno's Health Club for the three powerlifts. In fact, there were times when my entire workout consisted of only the three powerlifts. No Presses, Curls, or other "assistance" exercises.

Naturally, if you are training for a contest, you will have to perform heavy Squats with low reps. When you talk about high or low reps, everything is relative, of course. One person may consider ten to be a high number of reps, while another person may consider it to be low reps. If you ask the average powerlifter, he/she will probably tell you that anything over three is considered high reps. And while low reps with near maximal weight is crucial when preparing for a competition, it is not necessarily the most efficient way to actually build usable strength. You build your usable strength in the "off-season," and the last weeks before the meet are for preparing the body to lift maximal poundages. I'm not trying to start an argument as to how many reps is the best way to train. Rather, I think that if you incorporate different rep schems into your program, you will make better gains. For someone looking to increase their devlopment and make muscle-mass gains, various reps schemes will produce the results you're looking for. There will be few instances where very low reps would be useful. On the other hand, a powerlifter training for a meet, will have to use very low reps. Singles, doubles, or triples. Depending on what works for you. Personally, I always favored triples. I can still hear the voice of Larry "Bruno" Licandro when it came to the subject of triples vs. doubles. "A double is only a lucky single" was one of his favorite sayings (among many sayings.) Naturally, most of us at Bruno's favored triples when it came down to crunch time in preparing for a contest.

Just as there are variations in repetitions when it comes to squatting, there are variations in the Squat itself. I mentioned Front Squats earlier in this article. While Olympic lifters have used them for years, they are an excellent movment for all athletes. I've always enjoyed doing them. I would usually do them in a power rack, setting the pins at the bottom position so that there would be a pause at the bottom of the movement. Driving up from a motionless bottome position builds explosive power, at the same time it eliminates the temptation to bounce at the bottom.

Another variation of squatting that has been around for a while is performing them while utilizing a Hip-Belt. Hip-Belt Squats have been around for a long time. I remember reading about them years ago in the old Strength and Health magazines. During the heyday of the old Soviet Union, there would always appear articles in various magazines describing the various "secrets" that the Russians used in their training. I remember reading an article about it, claiming that the top Soviet lifters used Hip-Belt Squats as an adjunct to their regular squatting. The weight is distributed equally around the waist. There is no undue stress on the lower back, and the movement can be used whenever a back injury or soreness is present. While this is an excellent movement, do not be fooled into believing that it will catapult into the upper echelons of olympic weightlifting. If you are going to perform this exercise, sets of 15-20 would be an effective way of working your thighs without straining your back.

Yet another variation of squatting is probably the most technically difficult of all. Overhead Squats, doing the Squat with a Snatch-grip with the bar locked overhead, is extremely challenging to even the most flexible and athletic among us. I attempted them once, and found that I am not flexible enough, or athletic enough, to do them properly. If you are able to do them, and if you have access to a qualified coach to monitor your form while performing the movement, then by all means have at it. Personally, I felt that Back and Front Squats were more than enough to develop size and strength.

Whatever exercises you choose, and however many reps you decide to perform, you will not make progress unless you are willing to put in a lot of work. I remember reading about Louis Abele, and he was asked about his high-rep squatting. He stated that he was working so hard on his Squats, that his teeth hurt from all the heavy breathing that he was doing. Talk about hard work!

BODY • MIND • SPIRIT