Wednesday, September 21, 2011

There’s More to Squats Than Just Bending the Knees - Clarence Ross

There’s More to Squats Than Just Bending the Knees
by Clarence Ross (1954)

With the current popularity of the bench press as the favorite bodybuilding movement, the squat, formerly known as the King of Exercises, has been neglected to some extent in training programs.

This does not mean that lifters ignore the squat today, for the majority of them practice some version of it in their workouts. It does mean, unfortunately, that trainers of the present are in many cases less squat-conscious than those before, and merely perform them because they are considered a ‘standard’ exercise, oftentimes treating them as a necessary evil.

In my opinion this approach is wrong, for while certain exercises my temporarily replace squats from a popularity standpoint, through the years squats have maintained an unbroken record as the “best” exercise, one which will do the most, in more ways, than any other exercise.

The correct use of squats can promote rapid bodyweight gains. Certain varieties can build enormous strength and power. Others build up endurance and the size of the chest, while many a sticking point in training has been broken by a concentrated squatting program.

Squats can be adapted to meet any training need or condition . . . are used by weightlifters to give them the basic power necessary for competition. They can be used by the fitness-seeking business man as a splendid body toner to keep him in shape, or by athletes in any sport seeking to improve endurance and muscular coordination.

Naturally, different variations of the squat bring about different results. One type cannot serve all requirements. That is why it is important that you learn exactly how to make the squat work for you, so that the time and energy you spend on them will give you the exact results you desire. That is the main purpose of this small article and full analysis of several squat variations will be included in its contents.

First, I believe that the reader might enjoy learning something about the background and development of the squat, and will consider that now.

While credit for real interest in the squat as an outstanding exercise must be rewarded to Mark Berry, who waged an out-and-out crusade in its favor some 20 years ago, there can be no doubt squats in some form were used by both professional and amateur athletes many years prior. In George Hackenschmidt’s book, “The Way To Live”, published in 1908 (the edition that I refer to bears that date, though there may have been earlier printings), he gives mention to Max Danthage, who on June 4, 1899 performed 6,000 deep knee bends without added weight other than that supplied by his body, within a period of three hours, which averages out to one squat every 1.8 seconds for three hours.

H. Sell, Saxony, is credited with 7 repetitions with 400 pounds on January 21, 1899.

Reference is also made to H.P. Hansen, Copenhagen, who performed 65 repetitions with 277 pounds on March 19, 1899.

Undoubtedly, Sandow, Maxick, Pandour and other of the oldtime greats used squats to some extent in their training, though not in the orderly arrangement of sets and reps we know and take for granted today. The old Milo Barbell Course, printed early in the 20th Century, contained deep knee bends as one of the exercises, so squats or knee bends of some sort have been practiced for many years.

It was not until the 1920’s that a real interest was shown in the squat as a test of strength. At that time Hermann Goerner and Henry Steinborn each succeeded with 500 pounds. Carl Moerke eclipsed that record; 2 repetitions with 550 and one with 565.

In the 1930’s, despite Mark Berry’s work in inspiring more bodybuilders to regularly practice the squat, strength performances remained substantially unchanged. The giant Strassberger had a success with 550 pounds; huge Canadian Chief Moquin equaled that performance, while Bert Assirati gave some idea of what the future held in store by making 10 repetitions with 550 pounds, which was the greatest squat feat up to that time (1930’s).

Authorities generally conceded that 600 pounds represented a maximum human limit, and for some period of time their views appeared accurate.

During the late 1940’s the pattern remained true. Weldon Bullock proved to be capable of 560 pounds, while Louis Abele made 540 for 3 reps.

Early in 1950, the great John Davis tested his strength in the squat and officially performed 565 pounds. Unofficial reports stated that he had made close to 600. He was generally considered to be the best man in the world in this feat.

Then – reports came from Canada about a new giant, Doug Hepburn, who was regularly breaking 600 pounds in training. In 1952, Doug had his chance to prove this to the world when he succeeded with 665. The feeling that prevailed was that no one could beat him.

But – as it turned out, some one could. At about this time stories were circulating, being told of another giant, Paul Anderson of the USA, who was boasting that he could beat Doug’s record, and beat it with ease. There were not idle boasts, for up to this time Anderson has made lifts of 685, 714, 740 and 760, all in front of reliable witnesses. In training, it is said that he made 800 pounds!

This brings the reader up to current date on the advances made in strength performances on the squat. While records have soared, bodybuilding knowledge has also gone forward, and many variations of the squat are now commonplace, which previously were not.

During the time of Mark Berry, the accepted way of performing the squat, for the most part, was one set, 20 repetitions, with as much weight as could be used. The style was the regular flat-footed version, still commonly used today.

John Grimek, Barton Horvath, Maurice Jones, Chick Deutsch, Lud Schusterich and other lifters of that time used the regular flat-footed squat extensively and reported sensational gains in strength, bodyweight and muscularity as a result.

In time, other bodybuilders developed certain preferences . . . Kimon Voyages found the parallel squat more to his liking, weightlifters such as Louis Abele discovered that the front squat helped him in lifting performance, while others practiced the squat with elevated heels or heels raised, light breathing squats and so on.

A number of varieties were developed in this way and with each, new discoveries were made about the benefits of the exercise.

Finally, the old-fashioned method of performing one set of 20 repetitions was replaced by the present system of performing less repetitions and more sets. This once again brought about new gains from the exercise for thousands.

Today, we possess a wealth of knowledge on the subject. We know what each type of squat can and will do if performed consistently with effort. There is no possibility of failure if the lifter knows what he wants and then trains accordingly. We know what high repetitions will accomplish and what low ones will do. We know when one variation is best or when another should be used. In other words, we have learned how to make squats work for us. Here are a few of the many possibilities.

1.) Regular Flat Footed Squat.
This variation of the squat has been performed more than any other. It is the type that Mark Berry first popularized and it embodies all the good features of the squat in a single variation. The bar is placed across the lower rear part of the shoulders. The lifter then squats down into a low position and immediately rises to a standing one again, using the strength of the legs, hips and low back combined. A deep breath is taken just prior to descent and the air is expelled from the lungs when returning to an erect stance. Regular practice of this style will encourage bodyweight gains and all-around power.

2.) Deep Breathing Squat.
This version is performed similar to the previous one, except that a comparatively lighter weight is employed and several deep breaths are taken between each repetition. The idea behind this method of squatting is that it encourages the building of a larger rib box and chest. This, added to the stimulating influence of the leg work often produces fast bodyweight gains in underweight individuals when combined with an increase in food consumption. Roger Eels was the first to popularize this style and it worked well for him, as it did for his followers. The one disadvantage of this type of squatting is that it does not build much strength. However, in cases of weak and underweight beginners it is definitely worth trying, particularly if after each set of deep-breathing squats a set of pullovers is performed. Usually, 3 sets of 20 to 30 repetitions each is recommended. example of this method of breathing is as follows: Repetitions 1 to 10: 3 breaths between each rep; repetitions 11 to 20: 4 breaths; repetitions 21 to 25: 5 breaths. Usually, 3 sets are recommended. I feel that this version of the squat, when combined with other exercises, is good for the man who wants an easy way of staying fit without following a lengthy program. It is also fine for athletes who need greater endurance in their sport.

3.) Heels Raised or Olympic Squat.
This version of the squat is performed with the bar behind the shoulders in a slightly higher position on the back. The descent is made to well below parallel and the back is kept flat and upright. Some bodybuilders feel that by raising their heels on a board, or using shoes with a slightly elevated heel, more effort is placed on the frontal thighs. In addition, they can maintain a more perfect balance. If the regular flat-footed “power” squat is not giving you the results you desire, I suggest trying this version for a time. Preferences seem pretty evenly split among lifters . . . some prefer the regular flat-footed power squat, others use the heels raised Olympic version. Only experience and a clear idea of what you desire will tell you which is for you.

4.) Wide Stance Squat.
When the legs are spread much further apart and the toes are turned out, the effects of the squat are felt more on the thigh biceps and the inner area of the upper thigh. If you have weaknesses in those areas, of a strength or physique nature, then the practice of the wide-stance squat will help. Higher reps, strict performance, and concentration on the task at hand are what is called for here.

5.) Parallel Squat.
Kimon Voyages, whose thighs were among the greatest in the world, advocates the parallel-depth squat. In a sense it can be called a “cheating” exercise, since the lifter descends only as far as parallel position. More weight can be used in this version than in the full squat, and great strength and thigh, hip and back muscle mass is built. In particular, heavy muscle is formed along the outer curve of the front thighs, giving a real “riding breeches” appearance. One other important point should be mentioned. Some lifers who tend to round their back when squatting below parallel and leave it open to strains and injury. The parallel squat can sometimes be used to overcome this problem. Because of its specific advantages of permitting the use of heavier weights and bulking up the thighs, the parallel squat is rapidly gaining in popularity. However, the one objection against it is that it does not seem to promote as much of a bodyweight increase as the regular flat footed variety. I suggest the that the beginner in training who is eager to gain weight fast practice the flat footed, regular-depth version first. Then, after he advances and gains most of the weight he wants, the parallel squat will help him too.

6.) Box or Bench Squat.
This is a real power builder. More actual squatting power and drive can be used in this version than in any other. The developmental advantages are similar to the parallel squat, but because the bodybuilder is partially supported under the thighs and buttocks by the bench when he reaches a depth of his choosing, he can command greater force in his recovery to standing position. Since this exercise is essentially a power movement, higher sets of lower reps are generally performed. If sets of 3 reps are followed, it is practical for an advanced lifter to go as high as 10 sets. It is also possible, by varying the height of the box, to strengthen a weak point in the regular squat.

7.) Quarter Squat.
Actually, this is not a squat at all, for the dip at the knees is so slight that few of the developmental features of the squat materialize. The quarter squat builds little muscle, but it does build support strength and accustom the lifter to holding very heavy weights across the shoulders, while the slight dip and straightening of the legs encourages the formation of ligament strength. A heavy enough weight should be used to ensure that drive and force will be put into the effort of straightening the knees, with the entire idea being one of building ligament strength and the ability to support greater weights, not increased muscle mass.

8.) Front Squat.
The weightlifter will find this version of the squat to be indispensable in developing a stronger squat-style clean, as well as snatch, ascent. The rack position at the shoulders is strengthened as well. The bodybuilder will find that the front squat will put him in the proper position to develop the frontal thigh muscles, especially those directly above the knee.

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