Squats…I HATE Them, So That’s Why I Do Them

Here's an embarrassing admission…

I've never barbell squatted more than 275lbs.  From a relative standpoint – someone who's been a coach and personal trainer for 13 years – that's not very good.

I've never enjoyed squatting.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE squats as an exercise, but squatting myself in my own training, I HATE them…

And that's why I SQUAT.

Back in the day I would come up with numerous reasons for me not to squat:

-spinal compression

-lack of mobility

-I can do more weight on one leg than I can on 2 (if I double the 1-legged weight)

-OR the infamous, “I promise I will add squats to next month's program, now let me get back to my pistols”

And then THIS video came out (see below) from somebody I truly admire and respect, and I felt validated….

But it was all a means of finding an excuse to not squat because in the back of my mind, I KNEW that squats were the KING of all exercises.

The muscle building potential of doing squats don't compare to any other exercise – NOT the bench press, NOT deadlifts, NOT chin-ups – NOTHING even comes close.  The reason for this is, much like fat-burning is an OVERALL effect – fat comes off your body in layers, not in specific spots – so is muscle building.  If you were to only squat, week in & week out, you'll build an impressive physique like nothing else.

In fact, take a look at the physiques of someone who can squat 135lbs for reps vs. someone who can squat 315lbs for reps.  You'll see a significant difference in appearance, I can guarantee you.

So how do we squat then, if we train with kettlebells?

When you train with kettlebells, nothing will beat the double-KB front squat.

=>Start training with kettlebells and lose COPIUS amounts of belly fat HERE

Simply clean the bells into the rack position, clasp your hand together, fill your belly with air and get your butt down into the hole by pulling yourself between your knees.  When you're at the bottom position, DO NOT LET AIR OUT OF YOUR BELLY, in fact try to tense up even more.  Drive your feet into the floor and push through the top of your head to get back up to standing.

If you don't have double KBs, then squatting with one bell – either doing it goblet style or doing a single KB front squat – will still give you many benefits.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that squatting deep (below parallel) is bad for your knees.  HOWEVER, when there weren't any chairs, recliners, sofas or even TOILETS for that matter, how do you think people rested or WENT TO THE BATHROOM?

The squatting movement itself is PRIMAL.  Our bodies were meant to squat, and SQUAT DEEP.

What if my knees hurt when I squat?

I think knee pain occurs primarily because of an imbalance in the lower body muscles.

Pain, in my experience, occurs when people aren't able to actively engage their glutes & hamstrings properly when they squat.  I think that when people squat deep and they experience knee pain, it's because their hamstring strength need to catch up to the imbalance of strength in their quads.

The solution for this – and I've implemented this myself after reading the work of Jason Ferruggia & Jim Wendler – is to do glute-ham raises prior to your squatting session.  Nowadays, after my full dynamic warm-up, I'll do 3 sets of a circuit of…

  1. Band Pulls x 25 reps (both overhead, then across my chest, then some dislocations)
  2. Ab Wheel Roll-Outs x 25reps (to get my abs fired up)
  3. Glute-Ham Raises x 15 (to get blood into my hamstrings and get my knees pumped)

Ever since I started doing that circuit, my knees have felt great.  This coming from someone who's got so much degeneration in his knee from years of jumping and playing sports.

What about single leg squats?

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know I'm a huge fan of single leg squats and pistols.

They're great for address asymmetries in your lower body (muscle imbalances between your legs), they're great for mobility, and they're a great carryover exercise into everyday life and sport (how many sports do you know of that are played with both feet on the ground and your weight evenly distributed).

If I'm (2-legged) squatting using heavy double-KB front squats – if I'm using anything heavier than double-32s – then I will save some bodyweight pistols for my next superset or the workout after and use them as an assistance exercise.

If I'm doing goblet squats or I only have access to light KBs, then I will use my single-leg squats as my primary lower body exercise and load them (by either holding a KB or using a weighted vest) and then I'll use the goblet squats as a high rep finisher.

Either method works great.

In the end, everyone should be squatting to get strong, stay healthy and look great.

Whether you do barbell back squats, front squats or squat with a kettlebell, there's no denying that squatting will help you in your training and is an essential element of any good program.

Chris Lopez, RKC

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15 Comments

  • Reply August 22, 2011

    Dale

    Chris –

    I’m still a little confused here. Are you saying that one-legged squats are insufficient, that, at bare minimum, one should also include something like goblet squats at very least ?

    And if so, given that my knees are a little fussy and don’t take kindly to much volume, which would you prioritize in your training, pistols or goblets ?

    • Reply August 23, 2011

      Chris Lopez, RKC

      @Dale – sorry for the confusion, Dale. I think you should incorporate both single leg exercises and bilateral exercises. I like goblet squats for mobility. If all you are doing is kettlebell training, then I would prioritize single leg squats as your main lower body strength exercise (only because they are easier to load when you have only one bell) and use goblets in your warm-up for mobility purposes only doing 5-8 reps per set but focusing on really prying your hips open when you’re in the bottom postion.

  • Reply August 22, 2011

    George

    Awesome article. Still find it hard to believe that there is still a school of thought out there that 1) squatting in general is bad for your knees, and 2) that going past parallel is bad as well. When I incorporated B/W squats and went down as far as my flexibility would allow me my knees actually felt better. Plus squats are an excellent full-body excercise for burning fat and building muscle.

    • Reply August 23, 2011

      Chris Lopez, RKC

      @George – I couldn’t agree more. Your glutes don’t really kick in until you break parallel, so I think it’s important to train yourself to work down to get as low as you can.

  • Reply August 22, 2011

    Jay

    I have bad knees and often find it difficult to go up and down stairs (down is worse). I LOVE squats though and could never do the regular squats due to the pain in the knees. However, I play softball and I play catcher and get into the catchers crouch all the time with no problems. I can even play 5 or 6 games in one day and be ok (until the next day). I use this same wider legged stance when I do my squats and can do them easily and very low (as low as I get when I am catching for softball). Being a woman, the most I have squatted is 135 lbs but I have no problem going into the deep squat using the wide-legged stance.

    • Reply August 23, 2011

      Chris Lopez, RKC

      @Jay – the wider stance allows your hips to open up and gives the opportunity to go lower. keep doing what you’re doing, Jay! Don’t forget the single leg work too!

  • Reply August 22, 2011

    Michael Suggs

    Chris,
    Great article. I’m looking at a way to build a rack at my house so I can back squat. I will be adding more double KB front squats to my regimen. Dan John put out a killer article on T Nation regarding the goblet squat. Go check it out. You’ll find it easily under his articles.

    • Reply August 23, 2011

      Chris Lopez, RKC

      @Michael – Great to see you on here, Michael! I have read that article (and anything that Dan John puts out). Can you post a link to that so that all the readers can check it out?

  • Reply August 22, 2011

    Kylie

    I’m a firm believer in doing things you don’t like or aren’t good at.
    2012 will be the year of learning to pistol for me, after the RKC – so until then, it’s goblet or double kb squats, and lots of them!

    • Reply August 23, 2011

      Chris Lopez, RKC

      @Kyle – Kylie’s back! You’ll LOVE the RKC!!! If you need any help, just let meknow! Otherwise, keep squatting and doing what you’re doing!

  • Reply August 22, 2011

    Kylie

    P.S. Like the new-look site!

  • Reply August 24, 2011

    Dale

    Thanks for the clarification, Chris. Makes perfect sense.

  • Reply August 26, 2011

    Fern

    Waaaaay too technical for me, but never mind that – I believe you said some time ago that squats were tricky for women due to pelvic/hip build. I certainly find them difficult !!!! Can you please clarify
    Still waiting for your KB workout for women . . . . . . . . . .
    Cheers
    Fern

  • Reply August 27, 2011

    Michael Suggs

    Chris,
    Here is the link to that Dan John article on TNation that I mentioned.

    http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/goblet_squats_101

    Goblet squats rock!

    Michael

  • Reply April 14, 2012

    trenton

    First i would like to say this is a great article and i appreciate it because it is helping me but i was wondering exaclty what kind of workout program i should follow. You see i have good upper body strength and i am exactly were i want to be in power cleans and bench press. but i need to impress my defensive coordinator next year to earn a varsity spot. I will be a sophmore next year and while i did start both ways in freshman and jv games i need something to make me stand out for the varsity squad. And ever since i started lifting i simple could not squat so i was wondering exactly what do i need to do to gain size and leg strength.

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