The Squat Frame
by Leslie W. Carson (1967)
My first inclination was to entitle this article, “God Save the Squat.” But God is asked to do many things, so let us save the squat ourselves. As I have said before in these pages, I have spent 50 of my 74 years hobnobbing with weightlifting. During that time I have found that it is universally accepted that you cannot be a good weightlifter, or even near good, unless you have exceptionally strong legs. It is also universally accepted that squatting properly done is essential to developing lifting legs, especially the thighs. You noticed, of course, that I said squat properly done. Squats improperly done have created critics of the squat. They claim the knee tendons cannot take it. They complain of hernias, damaged shin bones and injured groins. The critics have increased along with recent astronomical poundages achieved in the squat. Friends of weightlifting frequently ignore these criticisms. But the growing volume from high places makes it necessary that something be done about it. I have with little success admonished lifters to exercise judgment when performing the squat. A few seem unwilling to learn until they themselves have become injured. They foolishly bounce off their heels with big poundages. This bends their shinbones and strains their knees. They then take aspirin and the like to ease their aches and pains. They persist in squatting with humped backs, inviting injury and disc rupture. They continue to get down under weights they cannot lift and gain naught but injured knees. Please do not misunderstand. I am well aware that the lifter must work up to his limit if he expects to be a winner. I am certainly not opposed to the squat if properly done. On the contrary, I am using two methods to promote the squat. First, I am urging lifters to take certain precautions. Second, I am giving the lifting fraternity corrective equipment and suggesting remedial techniques. These combined should eliminate the dangers and objections mentioned.
What do I mean by ‘precautions?’ Let us list a few:
1. Do not bounce off the heels or calves when squatting.
2. When training for the three Olympic lifts do not go completely to the heels with a weight that is dangerously greater than your best jerk. As your jerk goes up increase your squat. If your thighs when squatting are level or parallel to the floor with a weight 1 ½ times your best jerk, you have gone low enough for training purposes.
3. When doing squats in the traditional method from the standards, have to conscientious helpers or spotters, one at either end of the bar to assist it the weight gives you undue strain.
4. Never, never squat low with more than 25% of your best clean without first limbering up the knee joints with several sets of four to six reps, each successive set being increased from a very low starting poundage until you reach the weight categories with which you wish to train.
5. Do not be ashamed to call for help if the weight is testing your knees too much. They are the only knees you will ever have. Wisdom outlives foolish pride.
What did I mean by remedial techniques and corrective equipment? First among the remedial techniques, let us consider the Hack squat. It is an excellent exercise and answers some of the objections to the traditional way of squatting. The Hack squat is, however, not suitable for maximum poundages due to the body position and its relation to knee stress. Second, the deadlift with back straight may be used as a substitute for the squat, but dragging the weight up the front of the thighs is objectionable, especially when several reps are used. This dragging sets up poor movement patterns for the clean. Third, objections to the traditional squat may be eliminated by alternately sitting on and rising from stools or benches of suitable heights, but this substitute, among other things, lacks training in the matter of balance and weight control. Fourth, the Jefferson lift, although liked by many, is not a good substitute for the squat because it forces the body into an undesirable twist and at the same time this twist is not a part of the clean.
What is needed, especially to safeguard the knees, is equipment which will be safe when used by either experienced or inexperienced squatters. Years of watching squatters has convinced me that the only proper solution for some is to use an apparatus other than the traditional squat standards. Such equipment should also include advantages in addition to those safeguarding the knees. With these aims in mind, I invented of designed the Squat Frame. It is designed not only to prevent knee injuries but also to promote pulling power in the shoulders, arms and hands for the clean. Three models of this frame are shown in the pictures. Pictures 1, 2, and 3 show in order models 1, 2, and 3 of the squat frame. Models 2 and 3 have pivoted suspension handholds. Model 3 is similar to model 2 but is made wholly of steel while model 2 is partly wood. The chief advantage of model 1 is the ease and simplicity of construction. It is partly wood and lacks the pivoted suspension handholds. The advantage of model 2 is that its pivoted suspension handholds make it easer to balance the loaded barbell. Model 3 has no advantage over model 2 except that weightlifters traditionally expect their equipment to be made of steel. However, model 3 costs more in material and workmanship than either of the other models.
We would like to offer some suggestions or explanations for using this equipment. Keep the back as straight as possible when lifting with any one of the models. To practice the full squat with model 1, place the squat frame under the barbell with the handhold rods on the top side of wood crosspieces. The feet and the barbell should be on he same floor level with blocks under neither as shown in the accompanying picture. To perform the half squat, place the barbell on four inch blocks as in the photo. For the three-quarter squat, place the barbell on eight inch blocks. If you want low squats, dispense with the blocks and turn the frame upside down. If you wish to squat still lower, stand with the feet on blocks four or more inches high.
To perform the full squat with model 2, place barbell on the floor and the feet on eight inch blocks with the hands grasping the pivoted, suspension handholds. In similar manner, by placing the feet on four inch blocks you may obtain half squats. Dispensing with the blocks altogether, you will be using the three-quarter squat. To perform lower than full squats, turn model 2 upside down and stand with the feet on the floor or on four inch or higher blocks, depending on the height of the lifter. Use either the pivoted suspension handholds or the bars on which they are suspended as handholds, as suits your needs when the frame is in the upside down position.
Yes, I know that there are those who will feel that I have failed to take into account a significant but heretofore little discussed fact. I refer to the opinion that knee trouble was little heard of until the squat method was widely substituted for the split in the Olympic lifts. It is true that a squatter can get under a heavier weight at a lower level than a splitter. This makes it certain that the squat method will not be given up easily even though it is much more likely to damage the knees than the split method. So, you ask, “How can the Squat Frame solve this dilemma?” My answer is that you should, when using the Squat Frame to develop squatting ability for the lifts, block the feet high enough so that the barbell handle will not prevent your going as low as you desire. Most important, do several sets of squats with light weights, going as low as you can and thus, without damage, make the knee tendons tough and flexible. Under no circumstances should you ever squat low with a heavy weight without first thoroughly warming up the knee joints with several low squat sets, graduated from a low starting weight. Squatting low without first warming up the knee joints is thoughtless. Those unaccustomed to low squats should not even attempt a low squat with a heavy weight until after several workouts with light weight low squats. The Squat Frame will make it easy and a pleasure to do a lot of warmup sets and give the arms and shoulders the needed pulling exercise at the same time. Correct squat training and assistance exercises are your best insurance against injury. Haphazard, careless squatting will only verify claims of the squat critics, giving lifting a black eye and you a pair of bad knees.
Editors Note – We have arranged to have a limited number of Mr. Carson’s squat frames made up for shipment. The price for this rack made of wood will be $14.50.