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Squat On, Part 2

In Part 1 I explained that, for many bodybuilders, the squat has the potential to be supereffective—but only if it’s performed correctly, which means applying the caveats that follow.

In Part 1 I explained that, for many bodybuilders, the squat has the potential to be supereffective—but only if it’s performed correctly, which means applying the caveats that follow. The parallel-grip deadlift, however, where you use a trap bar or a shrug bar, can be much more effective for some trainees. If you’ve always struggled to progress on the squat and you’re still struggling after you’ve applied these caveats, deploy the parallel-grip deadlift.

Caveat 2: Squat with correct technique, or don’t squat at all. Squatting technique was never spelled out in the magazines and books I read when I started bodybuilding in the 1970s. I tried to learn through experience, but I never really got it. I had the bar too high on my shoulders—on the base of my neck rather than across the muscles just above my shoulder blades. My stance was too close, and my feet weren’t flared enough, if at all; and, partly as a consequence of those two errors, I leaned forward excessively. That involved my lower back too much, and I often strained it. I used to elevate my heels to try to reduce forward lean, but that produced knee problems. Plus I squatted too quickly, without controlled rep speed, which also caused problems.

Many people who think that they can’t squat correctly have never actually used correct technique. Because they don’t know how to squat correctly, they get injured, don’t enjoy the exercise, don’t progress on it and give up on it without having experienced correct, safe and effective squatting.

If you don’t use correct technique, you’ll never prosper on the squat over the long term.

Caveat 3: Excessive frequency ruins the squat. When I was a teenager, a common recommendation was to squat twice a week, and some people recommended three times a week. I used to squat twice a week, and provided I didn’t injure myself, I made some progress. But when I upped it to three times a week, I would regress. I found it hard enough to recover from two hard sessions a week, let alone three.

Had I squatted twice a week at most, sometimes three times every two weeks and sometimes just once a week, I’d have made better progress.

The squat must be used prudently.

Caveat 4: Excessive training volume ruins the squat. When I squatted safely in the context of a short routine, no more than twice a week, I made good progress. When I saw progress, though, I’d often try to speed it up by training more. I’d add exercises, for example, or extra sets. Then I’d exceed my recuperative abilities, and progress would stop. If I continued to overdo things, I’d get injured or sick, which happened often.

If you’re not squatting within the context of abbreviated training, you’re unlikely to experience the full effectiveness of the squat.

Caveat 5: Adding poundage too quickly ruins the squat. When I saw that my strength was increasing, I used to try to accelerate my progress by adding weight to the bar often. Then my progress would stop, my technique would crumble, I’d get injured, or I’d get so overtrained that I’d get sick.
Haste makes waste in bodybuilding. Progress can happen at a moderate pace, and if you try to accelerate it, you’re much more likely to kill your progress than increase it.
What to do: What worked well for me as a teenager was something like the following, done twice a week—Sunday and Wednesday, in my case:

1) Squats: warmup plus one set of 20 reps
2) Breathing pullovers after each set of squats
3) Calf raises: warmup plus 2 x 20
4) Bench presses: warmup plus 2 x 5-8
5) Pulldowns: warmup plus 2 x 6-8
6) Overhead presses: warmup plus 1 x 6-8
7) Barbell curls: warmup plus 1 x 10
8) Crunch situps: warmup plus 1 x 15+

Especially after the work set of 20-rep squats—but sometimes also after the warmup sets of squats—I’d rush to a bench and grab either a 15-pound barbell or a swingbell with the same weight. Then I’d do at least 12 reps, breathing as forcibly as possible. My rib cage used to ache afterward. Because I was a teenager at the time, it seems that my rib cage was enlarged, especially in the depth from front to back.

Provided you’re suited to the squat, know how to squat correctly and add poundage gradually, I recommend the aforementioned program. It’s simple and short, which means that you should be able to keep intensity high without exceeding your overall recuperative abilities. Then, with sufficient good food and rest, you should make steady progress in strength and growth.

In hindsight, I’d probably have done better with the parallel-grip deadlift rather than the squat, the parallel-bar dip instead of the bench press and perhaps a dumbbell curl rather than the barbell curl. You may benefit from those changes as well. Choose exercises that are best suited to you.

—Stuart McRobert

Editor’s note: Stuart McRobert’s first byline in IRON MAN appeared in 1981. He’s the author of the new 638-page opus on bodybuilding Build Muscle, Lose Fat, Look Great, available from Home Gym Warehouse (800) 447-0008 or

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