I had an epiphany a few days ago. Thanks to time, rehab and mobility training, I have recently been able to perform back squats for the first time in 11 months. I knew that I was going to lose strength in squat…and I sure did. What surprised me, however, was how much my technique had gone to sh^%. So I called M, our coach, powerlifting guru/evangelist and all around nice guy, and asked him to meet me at the powerlifting club.
Using experience, the naked eye and a bar tracking app on his Iphone, M confirmed what I already knew; that while I wasn’t back at square one, I was definitely on square 2. On a bar tracking app(which draws a line on your video denoting the bar movement), a textbook squat should appear as 1 straight vertical line. The squat should travel the same path going up as it did going down. In the beginning, my squats (via the app) looked like skinny ovals, but after a few hours and many reps later, they began to resemble really skinny “V”s. They felt a little better, too, more in the “groove”.
This should not have been that surprising as a powerlifting squat is an athletic move. One would not jump back in a boxing ring after 11 months off and expect to spar at the same level as a year ago. You can shadow-box and hit the heavy bag all you want, but nothing replaces that 3 minute round with a real, live opponent. Similarly, all the deadlifts and safety-bar squats I did in the interim helped to keep me in shape, but maintain my squat they did not.
The squat is not just an athletic movement, it’s a test of character. I know a lot of people who are freakishly good bench-pressers or deadlifters. While they do need to work hard to improve these movements, they generally have certain physical attributes that give them a certain advantage. I am sure there are exceptions to this rule, but I’ve never seen anybody walk off the street and almost automatically squat impressive weight. Rule number one of the squat: you must put in the work. 95% of the people you see squatting impressive or at least heavy weight have plodding their way, slowly and methodically, towards lifting more kilos.
Rule number two of squat: Technique is paramount. Most trainees who weigh between 80 and 100 Kgs can rep out 130 or 140 kg squats after about 4 or 5 months. This proves that, yes, they’ve put in the sheer work. If, however, they also emphasis training for correct form at some point their squat weight will make huge jumps – from 140 to 180 kgs in a relatively short space of time. This is because they’ve applied their strength to a more efficient way of moving the weight. A highly trained welterweight boxer hits a whole lot harder than some 100 Kg slob throwing haymakers.
Rule number three of squat: Confront your fears. First, you need to confront your fear of hard work. You need to confront your ego, and make sure you’re up to sucking at something in the short-term. And, finally, when you do finally start lifting some considerable weight..it’s scary. It shouldn’t be, if you squat in a squat rack, have learned how to bail by this point and are not attempting a weight 40kgs above your PR. Nevertheless, taking some pretty heavy weight out of the J-hooks…there is something sort of crazy about it. 6 months later, that “crazy” weight has become something you do for 5×5.
Rule number four of squat: Ain’t no half-repping. Only squat that weight which you are able squat slightly below parallel and back up again. You may argue that quarter squats or half squats are valid training movements (er, and I’d disagree). If you half-squatted 200kgs with aid of knee-wraps, smelling salts and your gym-bro posse yelling encouragement and filming you for the “IGs” than kudos to you, old boy. You did not, however, squat 200 Kgs. You did something else.