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Squats: Deep Is Better Than Heavy

A lot of bodybuilders and serious weight trainees don’t have the leg development they are capable of because they don’t squat.

A lot of bodybuilders and serious weight trainees don’t have the leg development they are capable of because they don’t squat. They avoid squats like the plague in favor of leg presses—top choice by a country mile—hack squats and other machine exercises. Even the faithful few who dare set a loaded bar across their back and step out of the rack for real squats, though, are often falling far short of their potential. Why? Toney “X-Man” Freeman sums it up nicely: “They go too heavy and don’t do the full range of motion.”

Freeman, currently one of the top five bodybuilders alive, according to the results of the last Mr. Olympia contest, has some of the most impressive wheels in the sport and perhaps the best leg development ever achieved for a man of his height—6’2”. To look at his thick, sweeping quads, you could easily assume he squats at least 500 pounds for reps, if not heavier. You’d be wrong.

“I will occasionally go up to 405,” Freeman explains, “but most of the time I stick to 315 and do sets of 15, going all the way down below parallel.”

That’s a long way to go for a man of his height. Yet most of us shortchange ourselves by insisting on using mega-heavy weights that we can manage for only a few reps—and even those couldn’t be called full.

“You need to leave your ego at the gym door and squat in such a way as to stimulate maximum growth,” he says. “Most guys wouldn’t even need more than 225 if they did the exercise correctly.”

On your next leg day start even your warmups by going all the way down. Add weight only as long as you can maintain that full range of motion, and don’t be tempted to use more weight than you can handle for at least eight reps, preferably 10 to 15. Done properly, squats can be akin to pure magic for your legs and give them all the size you will ever want or need. Done half-assed and as more of an ego booster, squats aren’t any more effective than the machines that your less hardcore brethren flock to on leg day.

—Ron Harris

Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding, available at

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