Monday, June 26, 2023

To Squat or Not to Squat -- Fred Hatfield (1987)

From this issue (July '87)

Of all the popular exercises bodybuilders do, as sports medicine expert Michael Yessis has pointed out, "The squat is probably the least understood." 

That, despite the fact that over the years more has been written about this exercise than any other in the book. 

Where Joe Weider is concerned, an exercise routine that does not include the squat will prove about as useful as the most expensive CD player without discs. 

Squats stimulate all-over body growth, says the innovator of the world-renowned Weider System (recently updated . . . Go, Joe and Fred). It should be noted that when Joe talks squats, he means squats heavy enough to make your knees tremble.

Sometimes I wonder if Joe's love affair with the squat has anything to do with his roots as a powerlifter and weightlifter. 

"No," he says, "the squat builds power, whether you're a lifter or a bodybuilder. It also builds quality muscle, in the thighs especially."

And not surprisingly, Joe firmly believes that "all that stuff about squats giving practitioners a big behind is strictly bull." 

Of course you cannot discuss the pros and cons of the squat without the name Vince Gironda coming up. Indeed, so certain is Vince of the negative influence of the movement that in all the years I trained at his North Hollywood gym, I never once set eyes on a squat rack. 

Vince insists that all you'll get from heavy squats is a horse's ass, a grotesque rear end that'll throw the rest of your physique totally off balance. In other words, if you want symmetrical development, stay away from deep knee bends. Which may account for the fact that the majority of Vince's big names, Don Peters and Don Howorth among them -- never sported huge behinds or, for that matter, huge thighs. 

But then Vince will quickly point out that Larry Scott was his most famous product -- and that the two-time Mr. Olympia had thighs that took your breath away. (He also had calves that were the envy of most ambitious bodybuilders at the time when steroid abuse meant a handful of Dianabol pills a day!).

At Vince's you were encouraged to do sissy squats (wouldn't it be interesting to discover the inventor of this particular exercise -- and how it got its name?), sometimes with a dumbbell or barbell plate attached to a harness made especially for the purpose. I tried the exercise a few times, without the added resistance, and almost destroyed my knees. 

Here's Vince G doing some posed Roman Chair squats. You can make your own conclusions as to the possibility of injury over time with these as well as his double burlesque bump-whatever squats. 

Or, you could do hack squats on Vince's somewhat archaic contraption. I might add that several people in a position to know insist that Scott's thighs were built largely with sissy and hack squats performed the Gironda way. Which must say something, despite my personal experiences. 

Note: In Scott's booklet on thigh development, the foundation-building layout, we may have some form of answer. The exercises he recommends are: 

Back Squat
Jefferson Lift
Leg Press 
Front Squat 
for the first phase.

No mention of double bumping the burlesque way a la Tempest Storm or Blaze Starr. In the "cutting" phase he recommends plenty of BB and DB hacks, all with an upright back and no lean-back or hip jutting. Perhaps Vince just looked the other way when a member of Scott's draw brought in members for cash via his celebrity, much as he did when making pronouncements about steroid use and his mighty-clean champeens? 

But what do our current champeens say about the squat? 

Tom Platz, for one, swears by the movement. I've watched him go up and down with 500 lbs on his shoulders without a warmup, and by the look on his face you'd have thought he was actually having the time of his life. 

Several Gold's Gym members swear they've seen Tom squat {a lot of oath-taking goin' on in this game, ain't there! The real question might be, Are there enough grains of salt?] . . . swear they've seen Tom squat with over 600 lbs nonstop for 40 reps! It's worth pointing out, by the way, that Platz's squats are rock-bottom deep, every rep [i.e. Oly squats]. 

Of course, Tom isn't merely a powerful squatter. He also happens to be especially famous for the look of his thighs. Indeed, whenever you think thighs, the name Platz automatically comes to mind. 

What does Tom say about heavy squats? 

[Too much in too many places, seemingly without end?]

Well, for starters, they have not hurt his knees or back. And just in case you're thinking the guy was simply made to squat, let's hear from Tom himself [all the while realizing the guy was on the shy side of 5'6" and armed, er, legged with, well you round up some pics and check out his leverages for squatting] . . . 

"I started out feeling about the movement as most other guys do," he insists. "I was wary of it. But once I'd taken the plunge -- once I'd started squatting in earnest -- there was no stopping me. My thighs responded quickly to the exercise and the poundages just kept rising." 

[What does that tell ya about his genetics etc. for this movement?]

What were his thighs like before squats came into his life?

"They were skinny," Tom swears. "I've got lots of pictures to prove it. Squats have helped me a great deal, especially with my lower back! You see, before I started serious bodybuilding [a possible contradiction in terms depending on your worldview?], I played football [is this guy too sacred in the b-building community to make fun of? I wouldn't know. Is anyone? You know, with my familiarity with the musclemags and tubes about these champeens and a good memory of what each has said in print or video over the years, it's  too easy to do, so I'll stop here], and I was getting killed all the time. My back was a sorry state. Squats strengthened the area to a degree that eliminated my problem." 

Let's hear again from Michael Yessis: "Successful execution of the squat, and the depth of the squat, also depends to a great degree on ankle, knee and hip joint flexibility," he says. "If you don't have sufficient flexibility in the ankle joints to keep your feet flat on the floor or in the hip joints to get low enough, you should practice the squat with no weights. Keep striving to get lower and lower until you either get stuck in a hole you butt-drilled in the floor or develop the required flexibility." 

Yessis points out that the deeper you squat, the greater will be the involvement of the glutes." Partial squats, in which the thighs do not hit the horizontal position, stress mainly the hamstrings of the hip joints and the extensors of the knee joints," says Yessis. "They aren't effective for involving the bluto, er, glute muscles." 

Yessis points out that "the squat should be executed in one basic pattern. However, there are several variants that can be used for maximum all-around development." You may use a wide stance, for example, or stand with your feet fairly close to each other. But in all cases, Yessis advises, "keep the execution the same." 

Anyone else here long for public guillotining?
Keep the execution the same! 

He also recommends a variety of squats . . . 

Front squats, with the barbell held high on the chest so that it rests on the deltoid muscles with elbows held high to prevent the bar from falling off, require greater balance than regular squats. The trunk remains in an upright position throughout the action. 

With regular squats, says Yessis, "be sure that your weight remains equally distributed on the whole foot. Don't allow the weight to shift onto the balls of the feet or onto your heels." 

He also advocates that Jefferson squat, admittedly no longer popular among bodybuilders, but wonderful, "especially for those with back problems."       

It is the opinion of Michael Yessis that proper execution of the squat depends to a large extent on a strong midsection. "It will prevent buckling or other undesirable movement of the spine while squatting. If you midsection muscles are weak, do situps, back raises, twisting situps and twisting back raises." 

Additionally, he advises, "When you use heavy weights, make sure that the bar is fairly rigid and doesn't have a lot of bend to it. If it does, hitting the down position could be dangerous. For example, when you lower yourself and stop, because of its inertia, the barbell continues to move down, creating greater pressure on your body. The faster you go into the squat position, the greater the pushing force. Thus, if you try to rise as the bar is whipping down, it can create excessive force and be dangerous to your knees and back -- and lead to failure in the lift. You should always use spotters, regardless of the barbell." 

Finally, Yessis is against the use of a lifting belt while squatting. "If you do, it will prevent your back muscles from keeping your spine in a strong position. A back support by itself is of little value. If you must use a belt, use a very wide one, wide enough to cover the greater part of your abdominal wall. This will create pressure on your spine and keep it strong and in place." 

Like Tom Platz, Rich Gaspari is a particularly strong squatter. "I started out in a powerlifters' gym," Rich explains. "There, all they talked about was strength. You were respected only if you could squat with impressive weights." 

Note: Here's something taken from a Rich Gaspari interview: 
"By the time I was 19 years old I was doing 785 on the squat. I got 2 reps. I was also doing six plates a side (585?) for 20 reps, 495 for 30." 

Once at Gold's Gym in Reseda, California, I stood openmouthed as then little known Rich squatted Lord knows how many times with 650 pounds. Several months later, after he'd won the NPC Nationals, Rich reminded me of the squatting episode. "I hadn't planned on doing more than about 6 reps," he chuckled. "But by the look on your face as I got under the weight . . . you seemed to be thinking, "Oh-oh, another jerk's about to bite the dust!" I just couldn't help myself after that. So I went and did, I think it was 15 reps." 

Not anymore. These days you'll hardly ever catch Gaspari squatting with more than 350.

He says, "In the first place, I don't need the muscle mass that heavy squats undoubtedly build, not in my thighs anyway. Besides, there can be no doubt that squats encourage growth where I definitely don't need it at this point in my career. I'm talking about my obliques and butt." 

These days Gaspari depends for "thigh refinement" on leg extensions, leg curls, lunges and so on. He says, "THE SQUAT IS A FABULOUS MOVEMENT IF WHAT YOU WANT TO DO IS BUILD MASSIVE THIGHS. I highly recommend the exercise, all varieties. The regular squat, with heavy weights, is almost unbeatable when it comes to developing muscle mass in the thighs." 

The bottom line, says Rich, Richie, Gaspo, our personal friend, right, finally, is this: "Too many advanced bodybuilders keep on doing a movement just because it's effective. You've got to know when you've had enough of a good thing. Otherwise, you could end up with thighs that bring an audience to its feet every time you display them, while the rest of you is hardly worth a second glance." 

He certainly has a point. 

I spoke with Fred Hatfield, who has broken squat records in five different weight divisions, 181 through 275 pounds. 

Was there ever a time when Fred Hatfield was just an average squatter? He says he was always very strong. As a 165 pound Olympic lifter, he could squat 500 pounds "on any given day -- hard bar, Oly style." 

Secretly recalling my own best performance (I actually squatted with 500 pounds for reps at a bodyweight of 210!), seemingly a hundred years ago, I asked, "Is there a type whose structure does not readily lend itself to heavy squatting. 

Note: What an assinine question. Obviously on this planet if you see a human being with great genetic advantages for doing a specific thing, you won't have much trouble finding another outfitted with for-shite genetics to do the same thing. Oops. Pardon me. 

'How about the guy with a long torso and relatively short legs?" 

"He'll be forced into squatting in a very upright position," said Hatfield, "and that's not conducive to squat records, mainly because from the upright position you can't get as much from the glutes and hamstrings. As far as bodybuilders are concerned, however, I believe that squatting with the torso upright is the single most effective means of developing the quadriceps."

"Is there a bodybuilder for whom the squat is not recommended?" 


 "Yeah," said Hatfield, smiling. "His name is Tom Platz, and he sure doesn't need a lot of squats now. As everybody knows, Tom has a remarkable physique. But despite that, his legs are out of thisworld. They overshadow by a long way the rest of his development. They overshadow by a long way the rest of his development [especially that arm with the torn biceps . . . only cure for that is extreme forced stretch work on more-a them DB flyes! I have always enjoyed the way Weider contests will ignore their sponsored contestants' obvious weak, no, complete fail bodyparts. Must be the adverts already set up or something, eh. The torn biceps, the quad that wasn't really there, the Dickersonian elbows, the repeat Mr. Olympia over the hill and only half ready to compete, the ripped off triceps, etc., etc.] 

Where were we? 

Clearly, I had not put my question properly. What I meant to ask was, "Is there a body type that would be better off not squatting at all?" 

"I don't think so," said Hatfield. "I believe squats will benefit anyone who practices them. Bodybuilders of all physical categories will find that regular squats are the best means of attaining super-development in the quads. And most bodybuilders need massive quads -- except for Tom Platz, that is." 

"Do you recommed high or low reps? What about poundages?" 

"I like the Weider Holistic Training Principle." 

Okay . . . I've had enough bullshit and you likely have too at this point.

"The Bodybuilder's Friend: The Deep Knee Bend." Coming soon to a blog near you and showing the difference between fartin' and foolin' when writing an article on the Squat. 

Enjoy Your Lifting! 




  1. that goddamn picture of the paraclassic physique...oh i mean the guys imitating leg-o-less....god....uhmmm. anywho. that picture. hilarious!

    praise dale

    1. I couldn't help myself . . . simply was not able to not.


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