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:
-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.
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…
- Band Pulls x 25 reps (both overhead, then across my chest, then some dislocations)
- Ab Wheel Roll-Outs x 25reps (to get my abs fired up)
- 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
P.S. Squat your way to a leaner and stronger body using the TT Kettlebell Revolution by clicking HERE