James Splaine, of Aberdeen, Scotland who at 144 lbs. is the lightest man ever to lift together the two Dinnie Stones which have a combined weight of 785 lbs. Here, he has enough left over to give his seven-year old son Jim a lift.
The Deep Knee Bend
by Doug Hepburn
If I were given the choice of two exercises and two only to develop the basic power and muscular bulk of the body I would, without hesitation, choose the Bench Press and Deep Knee Bend. One of the reasons for this choice is that I feel that the combination of these two movements will influence the greatest amount of muscle as compared with any other two exercises.
The largest and most powerful muscles are situated in the lower body or the area from the waistline down. It is true that tremendous poundages can be lifting in the Deadlift, Backlift or Partial Squat. However, these exercises cannot promote either maximum muscular size or strength because of the restricted movement of the muscles involved.
For example, let us take the Half Squat. I have personally witnessed numerous lifters and bodybuilders exercising with five or even six hundred pounds in this movement and then fail with a poundage in the Regular Full Squat which was actually less than what they had done when regularly performing the full Deep Knee Bend.
You can be sure that when you see a pair of thighs that display a rounded sweep of muscle from the hips to the knees that the owner has at one time or another trained extensively on the Full Squat.
The Deep Knee Bend should be placed at the top of the list of exercises in your lower body routine whether you are bodybuilding or weightlifting as no other exercise will give you better results when compared to the time and effort involved.
In this course I have gone into detail regarding various styles and techniques of squatting so as to give the reader results quickly without wasting time and effort.
We well assume that the squatting apparatus has been correctly approached and that the loaded bar is resting on the supports. Before approaching the bar always concentrate on what you are about to do. Never attempt to lift whether in training or in competition until proper concentration is achieved. After this is done approach the bar and proceed to take the handgrip. The hands should be placed on the portion of the bar between the inside collars and the flanges as there is a danger of pinching them when returning the bar. I have found that this wide hand spacing will assist in maintaining a flat back when arising from the full squat. Closer hand spacing will cause the upper body to move forward when arising thus directing added strain on the entire back. In consequence the trainee’s limit squat decreased.
When the correct grip is attained inhale and fill the chest to capacity and at the same time place the head underneath the bar and position it on the shoulders. The bar should be seated well back on the shoulders as this will give the trainee greater squatting leverage. This is due to the fact that the bar is more favorably centered over the body. Don’t make the mistake of lifting the bar off the stands when it is in an unbalanced position on the shoulders. If this happens replace the bar back on the stands and make the necessary adjustment before removing it again. Squatting with an unbalanced bar can have serious consequences. The result is usually a wrenched or dislocated hip or knee. Sometimes the balance of the squatter is lost completely and the trainee finds himself on the floor, often underneath the bar. Enough said.
The correct position of the feet is also very important when taking the bar off the stands. There are two methods generally used: 1.) Keeping the feet in line and about fourteen inches apart, the legs are slightly bent as the bar is positioned on the shoulders. As soon as the bar is properly seated the legs are straightened thus lifting the bar clear of the stands. 2.) Place either the left or the right foot forward and then bend the knee as the bar is positioned on the shoulders. Then to lift the bar clear off the stands straighten this leg and then move it back in line with the other stationary foot. The leg that was not moved forward can be slightly bent at the knee when removing and replacing the bar on the stands. Either of these two methods can be used as both have been tried and proven. Personally I prefer the second method.
After the bar has been lifted from the stands step backwards until you are standing between the safety boxes. Use extreme caution when stepping backwards and be sure to take short steps, especially when a limit lift is attempted.
The breath should be maintained from the time that the bar is removed from the stands until the body is properly positioned between the safety boxes. Just before commencing to lower the body to the low squat position inhale as deeply as possible. The breath is then held throughout the complete squatting movement and is expelled just as the body attains the correct position at the last phase of the squat. Exhaling at any point of the low squat will detract from maximum efficiency as an inflated chest will prevent the upper body from buckling forward and directing excess and unnecessary strain on the lower back region.
The trainee will probably experience difficulty maintaining the breath during the low phase of the squat, especially when lifting a limit or near limit weight. This is a problem encountered by the advanced squatter as well as the beginner. There is no actual solution to this problem so all I can advise it to concentrate on holding the breath to the best of your ability. Your efficiency will improve as you advance.
When performing repetitions and because of the increased demand for oxygen it will become necessary to take more than one breath between repetitions. There is no definite rule to follow as to how many breaths are taken as this will depend on the individual. However, if too many deep breaths are taken the trainee will usually experience a slight dizziness which is due to an overdose of oxygen so let this serve as a guide to our breathing. When performing only single repetitions one breath will suffice. Never attempt to breathe through the nose as it is simply not equipped to handle a large volume of air in a short space of time.
Positioning the Feet
To attain the greatest squatting leverage the feet must be positioned in an extra wide stance. This will help the lower body to “lock” at the extreme low position. This locking is mainly due to the fronts of the thighs contacting the lower abdominal region. When the feet are spaced closer together this ability to lock is hampered. Another advantage of the wide foot position is that the large and powerful muscles on the insides of the thighs are brought into play thus increasing squatting strength and overall efficiency. Also, due to the wide leg spacing, it the important fact that the actual squatting distance is decreased, in much the same manner as in the wide grip Bench Press. Much of the strain is removed from the lower back as the wider leg position counteracts the tendency to bend forward when arising from the low squat position.
The width of the spacing of the feet will naturally vary with the individual. A person of normal proportion and height should space the 22 to 24 inches apart at the heels. Others, who do not fall into the above category must adjust the foot spacing accordingly. I would suggest having a person of normal height space their feet to he above mentioned distance so that you can actually see for yourself the position of the feet and legs as compared to the rest of the body. This will better enable you to arrive at your own adjustment.
The feet should also be turned outwards at a position slightly less than forty-five degrees. This will facilitate n keeping the heels in solid contact with the floor at all times. Some difficulty might be encountered in maintaining the feet flat on the floor when in the extreme low squat position. This is mainly due to the lack of flexibility of the large tendon situated on the backs of the heels. This is usually overcome in the first two or three training sessions. If this difficulty still persists turn the feet outwards to a greater degree. This, except in extremely rare cases, will overcome the problem.
Let us assume that the bar has been correctly loaded and has been removed from the stands, the trainee is standing between the two safety boxes with the feet properly spaced. The head should be held upwards. Strive to keep the head in this position throughout the complete squatting movement. Do not under any circumstances look down at the floor, especially when in the process of arising from the deep squat position. If you do it is very likely that the entire body will follow and overbalance forward. This occurrence, as I mentioned previously, impairs the squatting leverage and directs unnecessary strain on the lower back.
Once you have positioned yourself between the two safety boxes and correctly positioned the feet it is then important that the knees be forced back as much as possible. This practice tends to “lock” the legs thus giving the muscles of the thighs a temporary rest as the bulk of the strain is then supported by the body’s bone structure. It must always be kept in mind that energy must be conserved in every possible way, especially when standing and supporting a heavy poundage at the shoulders.
The Full Squat Movement
The trainee is now prepared to perform the actual and complete squat movement. Take a deep breath and AFTER you have done this commence unlocking and unbending the knees. The entire body should be lowered in a CONTROLLED manner and not too quickly as it must adjust to the graduations of the various positions in the lower squat stages. Assuming the low squat position too quickly exerts unnecessary strain on the muscles influenced, especially in the area of the knees. Also, correct body position is often lost completely, this in turn detracts from maximum squatting leverage.
Many lifters like to employ a style of squatting wherein they drop quickly to the extreme low position and then “bounce” upwards. This method of squatting might function with light poundages but never with one’s limit. I know from experience that you just don’t bounce up with five or six hundred pounds on the shoulders. I would hate to think of what would happen to me if I attempted a bounce full squat with 750 pounds. The knees can be severely injured when squatting in the above manner. In my opinion there is simply no point to this type of squatting and there is no advantage given in any way, shape or form.
As the body is lowered into the full squat the trainee must learn to “feel” his way into this position. I have found that arching the back during the low stages of the squat tends to relieve the strain from the lower back region and also helps to prevent the upper body from buckling forward and hindering leverage. A rounded back during ANY stage of the squatting movement is dangerous, both from the standpoint of efficiency and body injury.
At this point the reader is probably wondering how low one must go before it is considered a full squat. It has been generally accepted throughout the lifting world that when the upper thighs attain a point that is parallel with the floor that a full squat has be performed. As we are primarily concerned with squatting with maximum poundages we well henceforth assume that the extreme low squat position has been reached when the upper thighs are parallel with the floor. If the trainee wishes to lower the body beyond the accepted level he may do so to his discretion. However, it must be remembered that if this is done less weight will be handled.
Because of the fact that one cannot see oneself when squatting it is extremely difficult to know exactly where the parallel squat has been attained. To help overcome this problem I would recommend the trainee to shoulder a fairly heavy weight and then perform several full squats in front of a mirror. In this way the trainee will soon get the feel of the parallel squat position. This will prove an asset when squatting competitively or for that matter even when training as the trainee will instinctively know when to commence to arise to the erect position. This will eliminate wasting energy or being disqualified for not attaining a low enough squat position when in competition.
The trainee will also find that when the parallel squat position is reached that the upper portion of the front of the thighs will come in contact with the sides of the abdomen. This is brought about by the wide stance of the legs. When this is felt by the trainee it is a signal to halt the downward movement and commence rising to the erect position. Rising from the parallel position to slightly past the halfway point of the full squat is the most difficult phase. The trainee must strive to exert himself to the greatest possible extent both from the mental physical standpoint as it is here that will decide the success or failure of the squat. Concentrate on utilizing all the power in the back and legs to accelerate the upward progress of the squat as the faster you moving when the critical halfway point of the squat is attained then the greater the chance of succeeding. The point that is actually the most difficult to overcome in the complete squat movement is at the halfway mark (the exact point will vary slightly with the individual). It is here that the trainee must strive to keep the back and shoulders as erect as possible while forcing the head back and maintaining the breath. If the trainee exhales at this point the resultant deflated chest will cause the entire upper body to shift forward and away from the vertical position.
I don’t want the reader to think that the upper body must remain rigidly erect at all times as this would be impossible. It is natural for the upper body to move forward to a certain degree when arising from the parallel position. My point is that the trainee must not allow the upper body to exceed the normal amount of front lean.
When the body has passed through the halfway point of the squat the lift is very rarely failed. However, don’t get overconfident, concentrate on thrusting the back and shoulders to the erect position and at the same time complete the straightening of the legs.
When the back is almost erect it is then safe for the trainee to exhale. It is understood that the trainee inhales at the commencement of the squat just before preparing to assume the low position and that the breath is maintained throughout the complete squatting movement until the upper body is almost erect at the last stages of the completion of the squat.
As soon as the squat is completed (the single rep or the final rep in the set) step forward carefully (again taking short steps) and replace the bar on the stands. Make sure that the bar has been properly centered on the stands so as to facilitate removal for further squatting. The trainee can breath at will after the single or repetition squats have been completed and the bar is being returned to the stands.
I have found, especially when performing repetitions, that a good aid to recuperation between sets if to walk for a short while when breathing heavily just after the completion of the squatting. This can be done also between the heavy single reps, but not to such a great extent the breathing will not be so heavy. As soon as the breathing has returned to normal, or nearly so, it is advisable to sit or even lie supine on the floor or bench to aid the recuperation. Don’t remain on the feet any longer than necessary during the squat routine. I would suggest that the trainee remain off the feet even after the squat session is consummated, if possible for an hour or so.
I would also recommend that while specializing on this concentrated squat routine the trainee refrain as much as possible from indulging in any other activities that would tend to fatigue or overtire the muscles involved in squatting.
Your Training Routine
The trainee will note after reading the arrangement of the sets and repetitions that I favor a combination of heavy single repetitions with a series of sets of fairly low consecutive repetitions. I have found that this method of training builds great strength and exceptional muscular bulk which is of a very high quality. This is evidenced by the poundages eventually lifted.
I believe that much faster results are obtained by separating the upper and lower body exercises. By this I mean that the trainee should not perform both upper and lower body exercises in the same workout period. In this way both sections of the body receive more rest and time to rebuild, this in itself will help prevent staleness.
Certain additional exercises can be combined with this squat specialization routine. The Dead Lift and High Pull movements can be used as assistance exercises to increase squatting ability. However, these two movements should be secondary and done only when the trainee has completed the required amount of reps and sets in the squat portion of the training routine. Performing all these heavy movements in the same period can be highly fatiguing so the repetitions and sets must be reduced in the two assistance exercises. The Deadlift does not influence the thighs as much as it does the lower back, however, it does build exceptional strength in this region. Sufficient power in this area is of vital importance, especially when passing through the halfway point in the full squat.
Following my description of the squat portion of the routine I will give instructions on utilizing these two assistance exercises.
Sets and Repetitions
Warmup – load the bar to a poundage that the trainee can perform 5 reps with comfortably. Be sure you are not straining with this weight. Increase the poundage so the ONE SINGLE REPETITION can be done without straining (rest three to five minutes between all sets and single reps). Increase the weight again and perform another single rep. You should be working harder now but not overstraining. Increase the weight once more and then perform FIVE SINGLE REPETITIONS. If you are unable to do the complete five singles then you automatically know that the poundage is too high so reduce the weight until you can. The trainee must go through this process at first to find the correct starting poundages. When you have found the weight that you can handle for the required five singles stay with this poundage and strive to increase the singles each succeeding training period until EIGHT SINGLE REPETITIONS can be performed then increase the weight so that a maximum of five single reps can be done and again as explained above, work up to eight singles, then increase the poundage so that a minimum of five singles can be done etc., etc., etc.
Don’t work too close to your limit. Always hold something in reserve as this will prevent staleness. If the trainee can increase by one single repetition each workout he is doing very well so it is not necessary to expect to do more. If you can perform more than one single then by all means do so.
This completes the single rep portion of the squat routine. The second part of the routine consists of a series of sets of consecutive repetitions. This will stimulate muscular growth and increase the recuperative powers.
Decrease the poundage on the bar so that five sets of THREE CONSECUTIVE REPS can be done and stay with this weight until FIVE SETS OF FIVE REPS can be done. Then, increase the weight so that five sets of three reps can be performed again and again and again work up to five sets of five repetitions, etc., etc.
This completes the squat portion of the routine.
Assistance Exercises to the Squat
The High Pull Movement – place the bar on the floor or platform and load it to a poundage that TWO CONSECUTIVE REPS can be done with. Position the body exactly as when Deadlifting and then pull the bar to the region of the waist. Lower under control and repeat. Perform FOUR SETS OF TWO REPS with this poundage. When FOUR SETS OF THREE REPS can be done increase the weight and repeat.
The Two Hands Deadlift – after the high pulls have been completed increase the weight on the bar so that TWO CONSECUTIVE REPS can be performed in the Deadlift. Perform FOUR SETS OF TWO REPS with this poundage. When FOUR SETS OF THREE REPS can be done increase the weight and repeat.
This complete routine should be performed every third day. Don’t get overenthusiastic and try and do more than is required as you can go stale very quickly when performing these heavy exercises. Don’t do any more sets and reps than prescribed, don’t do them more often than prescribed and last but not least, don’t let others talk you into changing this routine.
Yours in Strength.
Manuscript courtesy of R. Weaver.