You Don't Know Squat

Here's some more fantastic wisdom from Bill Starr—this time on the squat. I learned A LOT about the squat by voraciously reading everything that Bill Starr wrote. (My best competition squat was 605 while weighing 173, although I have squatted more than that in the gym—so I think Starr was a pretty damn good teacher.)

One thing that Starr always emphasized—and the one thing that a lot of other so-called "coaches" don't understand— was the need to perform squats below parallel, because deep squats are BETTER on your knees than half-squats. Anyway, you'll learn about that and more if you read the entire article.

Only the Strong Shall Survive: You Don't Know Squat

By: Bill Starr

get a lot of questions from strength athletes regarding squatting. Some say they're stale after doing the same squat routine for a number of years. Others relate that they're unable to do conventional squats due to an injury or shoulder surgery. Still others want to know how they can build more variety into their squat routines.

While some authorities believe that there's but one way to perform full squats, they're wrong. This basic, core exercise has many variations'many more than most imagine. When I list them all, athletes are often amazed, but they're also happy because it means they have lots of choices. Building variety into your program is always a plus. Doing any new exercise boosts motivation, since the gains come faster, and even changing the way you perform an exercise helps to strengthen some neglected groups.

Here's my list of ways to do squats: Olympic-style, where the bar rests high on your traps; powerlifting-style, where the bar rests much lower on your back; front squats; Smith-machine squats; wide- and narrow-stance squats; jump squats; pause squat; squats performed inside a power rack; and dumbbell squats. They all serve different functions, and anyone seeking a new approach can benefit from using them.

There's one requirement: In all the styles listed, you must squat to below parallel to the ground. That's critical to building balanced strength in your back, hips and legs, and it's also much less stressful to your knees.

High-bar, or Olympic, squats are, in my opinion, the best of the lot because they work the muscles of the hips, legs and back more directly'and therefore more completely'than any other version. If you want to do full cleans or compete in Olympic weightlifting, it's imperative that you do this exercise.

High-bar squats are so named for the simple reason that you place the bar high on your traps, which helps to keep you from leaning forward and so forces the powerful muscles in your hips and legs to provide the power. You move up and down like a piston, and the strict upright stance carries over to racking cleans and recovering from the deep position.

Even so, many strength athletes aren't interested in doing full cleans and find that they can move more weight on squats if they lower the bar down their backs a bit. I've also had cases where athletes were unable to go deep enough with high-bar squats but didn't have that problem when they lowered the bar. How low? It depends on your structure, flexibility and ability to fix the bar firmly in place when you do the lift. You must not let the bar move at all. This powerlifting-style squat places a huge amount of stress on the shoulders, and if you set the bar excessively low and it slips further down, you can be injured in a heartbeat.

When you want to try moving the bar lower on your back, lower it only an inch or two and stay with that position for a couple of months. In other words, be cautious.

The first time you squat with the bar lower than usual, stay with a moderate weight to see how the new stress affects your shoulders. You won't learn that until the next morning'or later'so don't go for a personal record in your first session with the newer style, even if the weights feel really light.

When you position the bar low on your back, you lean forward out of necessity. Some lifters even try to place their chests on their thighs. That's fine, just as long as your lower- and middle-back areas are prepared for the more intense direct work. If you're planning on using the low-bar style, you must spend lots of time strengthening your lumbars and middle back. Otherwise, when the weights get heavy, you'll keep on going forward, and the bar will tumble over your head.

So a low-bar squatter's routine must include plenty of good mornings, almost-straight-legged deadlifts and bent-over rows. What I said above about going low applies here. It's much easier to cut these off than it is the high-bar version, but if you squat deep from the very beginning, you won't have any trouble doing it when the weights get heavy.

If you use this style of squatting, you must make sure your shoulder girdle is thoroughly warmed up before you do your first set. I've had athletes who were using the low-bar style complain of severe shoulder pain during or after their squat workouts. Sure enough, they weren't doing anything to warm up their shoulders before squatting. Once they started spending five to 10 minutes on light presses and dumbbell front and lateral raises, the problem went away.

After you warm up your shoulders, take a moment to stretch them well, and continue to stretch them between sets. I believe it's a good idea for trainees who prefer the low-bar style to do some Olympic-style sets periodically. They hit the squatting muscles differently and have a very positive effect on your low-bar squats as well.

Front squats are the purest form of the exercise. When European Olympic weightlifters want to know someone's leg strength, they always ask, 'How much can you front squat?' Back-squat numbers are inconsequential. Front squats are pure hip and leg strength, and there's no way to alter the form to make them easier. Anyone interested in doing full cleans or competing in Olympic contests must do them. Your ability to recover from a heavy clean is directly dependent on your front-squatting prowess.

To read the entire article, go here.


  1. Wow! This could be one of the most useful blogs we have ever come across on thesubject. Actually excellent info! I’m also an expert in this topic so I can understand your effort. Ironmaster Dumbbells


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