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To Squat or Not?

Most bodybuilders “throw out” their backs every so often—and it usually gets more frequent as they move into their 40s and beyond. Could it be from all of the cumulative spinal compression caused by heavy squats over the years?

The barbell squat is hailed as one of the miracle exercises of muscle building, and while it does great things for overall metabolic stimulation and trains a number of muscle groups at once, it’s not very ergonomic—and there’s that spine-compression thing.

Think about it: Is having 400 pounds riding on your shoulders as you crouch down with your arms up next to your neck really a safe move? And I’m not just talking about the danger to your lower back. So many bodybuilders have had to get hip-replacement surgery later in life that it’s scary—including Clarence “Ripped” Bass, John Grimek and even Lou Ferrigno right before he turned 60.

After a certain point, bodybuilders need to wake up and put a stop to the barbell squat. One solution is simply to use dumbbells, holding them at the sides of your thighs. That will allow you to remain more upright for safer hip action and require no spine compression.

To make the move even safer, use the 4X method. Use a weight with which you can get about 15 good reps—one-second positives and three-second negatives—but do only 10. Rest 35 seconds and then do it again. Four of those sets, with the last one to failure, will do amazing things for quad development—no vanishing vertebrae necessary.

Even better, do your leg extensions 4X style before your squats for a modified preexhaustion effect.

We’re supposed to get wiser as we get older—and I think that includes putting a not in front of heavy barbell squats.

Editor’s note: Steve Holman is the coauthor of the new e-book Old School, New Body, available at

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