Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Squats and Variations - Clarence Ross

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Squats and Variations 
Clarence Ross (1951)

I remember when I was a little boy, not yet 10, how I was taken to the theater to see the acts. This was in the waning days of vaudeville, with talking pictures replacing both musician and live performer, most houses converting over entirely to this form of entertainment.

There were some theaters, however, who either because of sentiment or previous commitments, still featured live acts. I remember little of what I saw, except one part, when a troupe of tumblers literally bounced out onto the stage, bounding through the air like so many rubber balls with such speed that my eyes could hardly follow the action.

Dressed in flowing satin blouses and snug-fitting leg tights, they were colorful, skillful and impressive. I will never forget the way their thigh muscles rippled and bulged under the lights, and while I knew nothing of bodybuilding at the time, I sensed in their acts a buoyancy of spirit and good feeling none of the other entertainers possessed. I felt sure that if I could ever meet them, that I too could capture some of this infectious energy, and the impression they created on me still remains to this day. It was my first lesson in the importance of leg training!

Much has been written in the past about the physiological and developmental necessities of strenuous leg training for the bodybuilder. We know that we must do squats and other essential leg exercises to gain the most from our training programs and that such heavy exercises create a growth consciousness in the body which extends to every live tissue. But little has been written about the psychological aspect of leg training, how it makes you feel better, full of pep, sparks your training sessions with enthusiasm and how a man with powerful springy legs will impress others, just like the tumblers impressed me.

A man can have strong arms, wide shoulders, a deep chest and a muscle-ridged waistline, and when others look at him they will comment, "Here is a strong man." But - let him stride past with a smooth, energetic step, let him walk with a lightness and grace, each step being a harmonious flow of rhythmic action, then all eyes will turn towards him, and people will say, "Boy! That fellow has a lot of energy and pep. He looks charged with well being. He must be mighty fit and healthy."

This is the impression the bodybuilder should give others . . . muscle size is important, but often not well understood by the average person. On the other hand, everybody recognizes and appreciates the alert step of a vigorous person. Their impression of him is formed by this.

This is easily understood. Each of us has at some time or other had something really nice happen to us, something so important and pleasant that we felt we must share the news with others. Maybe it was a raise in salary, a promotion, or honors in school. Can't you just remember how you could hardly keep your feet on the ground, how you practically sailed from one step to the next and couldn't slow down your speed until you had reached your destination, all because you were so excited and enthused. Right then, you could have licked the world, though you felt as though you didn't have a single enemy because of your joy.

Analyze the reaction a bit. Where was the buoyancy most felt? In the arms? Shoulders? Back? No! None of them felt much different, but the LEGS . . . here the reaction was startling. Here a charge of dynamic energy practically exploded and made you feel like shouting from joy.

While all this may appear to have little to do with an article on squats, in reality the connection is apparent. For in the pep of your legs rests the energy of the full body. With well trained legs you will always possess an abundance of enthusiasm and each workout will be a joy. You will impress others with your zeal, strangers, friends, housepets and adoring mice alike. But most of all, you personally will benefit from it in every exercise you do.

Have you ever gone to the gym, or tried to take a workout at home feeling all dragged out and lifeless? Where did you feel this the most? In toe legs, of course, as the steps dragged, making your feel down in the dumps. At such a time the thought of squats was particularly distasteful, and you probably took whatever workout you did lying down or seated, lacking the energy for the standing movements. On the other hand, you may have done as I have done more than once when a particularly tiring day found me lacking a bit in my usual pep, and refused to pass up the squats, making them the very first exercise. Immediately a change took place. A new feeling of enthusiasm entered the body after the squats, and the workout turned out to be as good as any, possibly even a bit better.

This is the psychology of squats. If they did nothing more for you, they would still be a wonder exercise. And they do so much in every physical way for the bodybuilder that it is hard to believe that anyone would ever neglect them. Still, many do. Often those who need their help the most.

I have tried to satisfy the reason why. Why is it that so many dislike the squats. The are hard work, it is true, but bodybuilders are not as a group afraid of hard work, so this can't be the only reason. I believe I have discovered the reason . . . the answer lies in one word --


No one enjoys following the same exercise or group of exercises for a long time, year after year. Everyone needs a change and some change now and then is good for a person. Yet, while there are hundreds of good exercises for the rest of the body, that old standard, the squat, seems to be the only one that can be considered a staple diet for the legs. But you DO NOT have to practice the same type of squat. There are many varieties . . . some are better for some purposes than others, but all are good and each brings a slightly different muscular reaction. Over a period of time all should be practiced. In this way your squat workout will never be dull or uninteresting. You will develop your thighs completely and from every angle. You will get power, size and separation. And you will get that psychological lift which will keep your enthusiasm high and make each workout a pleasure. You will develop that springy walk, that easy glide, and you will be amazed at how quick you are and how much endurance you have built up.

In this article I am going to explain many versions of the squat. I am going to illustrate a number of them and tell you how they all should be done. Do not try to put them all into any single workout. Select a few varieties for a month or so, then switch over to another few and so on. You will be able to change your routine regularly. It will never grow monotonous and you will make great gains.

Before listing the actual exercises, I would like to go over some important points, concerning sets, repetitions, and so on. These are necessary for you to know if you are to gain the best from your training.

The beginner will do best to follow the standard flat footed squat and the leg press, 1 set of 20 reps for each for the first several months. The actual point he places these two exercises in his program is not too important for he will not be able to use enough weight in either at the start to work himself too much. This elementary training is very important to build up a knowledge of the muscular action involved and to cause better endurance.

After two months or so, even in one month in the case of the beginner who is in fair physical shape, he will do well to change over to the set system, using these same two exercises for 3 sets of 10 repetitions each. This he can continue for some time, several months at least. At that point he will have advanced far enough in his entire training to make several changes.

The first will be to put the squats FIRST in his routine, while he possesses full energy. There are some who feel that the squats are best done later on in the program, but I do not agree with this. I feel that they, and other heavy leg work, should be done first when the energy is high, and also to assure that they are indeed done and not skipped over when time is short, as they might be if included later on in the routine. If the bodybuilder is anxious for great power and bulk he should do more sets, up to five, and reduce the reps to as low as five each set. If he is interested more in shapeliness he should stick to three sets and about 10 reps each set. If he is just interested in keeping his legs in shape and not anxious to improve them further, then he can use a moderate poundage and perform several sets of 20 repetitions each. In this instance only, he can perform his leg exercises later on in his routine, even last if he wants to because he won't be extending himself too much. this is the only time I recommend them being done other than at the beginning of the program.

Regardless what result you are squatting for, it is a good idea to warm up the first set with a rather light weight, increasing the weight by 20 pounds or so each additional set until you have reached your maximum in sets and weight. This will avoid any pulled or stiff muscles. This is also true of the leg press or any other of the exercises I will list in this article. I do not believe that anyone should include more than three squat exercises in his program. More would be too much for even the most experienced bodybuilder. He can however include some iron boot exercises, calf raises, and other leg exercises if he wishes, but these will not be considered in this article. From the list here, do not take more than three for any single workout.

The number of sets, reps, and placement of the exer5cises in your routine will of course depend upon yourself. I have given you the basic principles to follow. From this point on I will only list the various exercises.

First of all, there is the regular squat, all the way down, or full squat as it is known. The weight is held across the back of the neck, heels kept flat on the ground as you squat down by bending the knees and keeping the back quite straight. Most often the feet are held about hip width apart and the toes pointed out just a bit. The breathing in this, as well as all the variations of the regular standing squat, is IN as you go down and OUT as you rise. When you become more advanced and use heavy weights you will find that just one breath each repetition will not be enough as you reach the last few reps. At that point, take as many breaths as you need, taking them when in the standing position, before making the next squat. You may have to breathe though your mouth. If so, do it. Get all the air you need. If your back is a bit bony still and the bar feels very uncomfortable on it at this stage in your lifting, use a pad under where it rests across the upper back. Have safety catchers handy to hold the bar should you get stuck, as you might with limit poundages and repetitions.

Variations of the regular squat include pointing the toes directly ahead, far out to the sides, and in towards each other. Each has a different effect on the calf, thighs, and leverage factors. You can vary this as well by placing the feet far apart, almost touching, and all spacings between.

You can also perform all of the above variations with blocks of various heights under the heels, raising them off the ground and once again throwing the action on another section of the legs.

You can perform all of the above variations while holding the weight across the front of the shoulders.

Also holding the bar at arms' length overhead, or with a dumbbell in one hand held at arm's length overhead.

Repetition cleaning of the weight to the chest from the hang, to the squat clean position is a variation of the squat, as are repetition snatches also from the hang to the snatch position. These movements can be done with both one and two arms, using a dumbbell, a barbell, or a pair of dumbbells.

Holding a weight across the shoulders as in the regular back squat and then lunging forward with first one leg and then the other into a deep split position is still another variation you can follow.

Last but not least among this sort of variety squats is the duck walk squat, in which you use a light weight, squat down into a full squat and then, staying as low as possible, walk around the gym floor in a sort of waddle.

The parallel squat, or 'half squat' in which you squat down with thighs parallel to the floor and no further is another variation. Here too you can alter the width of your stance, the angle of your toes, the placement of the bar, etc. They can be done to a bench or box of suitable height placed behind you. You actually sit down on this and rise again from this seat.

The 'quarter squat' cannot be beaten for handling very large poundages. In this, you use just as much weight as you can, bending the knees only 6 inches or so, and place the feet in whatever position is more comfortable for you and that allows the use of most weight. The idea is simple: use as much weight as you can.

In variations of the regular (full) squat, besides performing them with a block under the heels, you can also rise up onto the toes at the top (erect) position, even balance yourself there and squat maintaining the heels off the ground.

I have also seen some bodybuilders perform lighter squats with the toes raised very high off the ground, a block under the heels or a slanted platform. This seems to affect the all the muscles involved differently, though it may be a little awkward at first.

The low-back or hack squat in which the barbell is held in the hands in back also can be used.

The straddle exercise in which the barbell is held between the legs, one hand in front and the other to the rear, while the weight is raised and lowered by bending the legs is yet another worthwhile variation.

Lg pressing can also be performed.

Here is a novel exercise. Attach a pair of iron boots onto your lat machine bar. Now, lie on an exercise bench, on your back, head towards the lat machine. Attach the boots to your feet and perform the exercise by pulling down and pressing forward at the same time. Someone may have to hold your body down, for the weight may pull you off the bench.

The dumbbell squat in which a dumbbell is held in each hand at the thighs, and you then squat all the way down until the bells touch the ground gives a very full action, different from the barbell squat.

The leaping dumbbell squat in which the dumbbells are held at the thighs while you squat down and then actually jump off the ground, sinking down again into the squat upon descent, will improve your speed, power, and endurance.

Stepping up onto a bench or box with one foot at a time, holding a pair of dumbbells at the sides or a barbell on the back is another fine squat-type exercise.

Walking up and down stairs holding a dumbbell in each hand is also a fine developer.

A novelty exercise that will work your legs very strongly is the squat using a roman column or board. You can make one easily. Attach two strong straps onto the floor or a piece of board on the floor, with enough looseness so that you can slip your toes under them, similar to the strap or belt used on an abdominal board. Now get two stout chains and secure them into the wall at about knee height. Have them long enough so that when you attach the free ends to a bar that the bar fits snugly behind the knees, while your feet are inserted into the foot straps. Now, hold your body weight well back and squat down while in this position. The leverage and leg position makes the exercise a severe one. Naturally, you can use a weight behind the back when this is easy with bodyweight only. Pad the foot strap and the bar that fits behind the knees for comfort. You can also use this apparatus or a similar one for several good abdominal exercises.

There are still more variations of the squat which I could list, but I have already exceeded my allotted space, so I will save these for some time in the future. In the meanwhile I have given you enough variations to last for years. Try them all out over time. See how each gives a special feel and result all its own.  


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