Why We Don’t Squat?

I’ve unfortunately become famous ( or infamous) on the internet for my views on lower body training. A friend asked me if I could briefly explain my thoughts so I wrote this up. The question of why we don’t squat has both simple and complex answers. The simple reason is that we found the back squat and front squat to be the primary causes of back pain in our athletic population. At any point, in any season, approximately 20% of our athletes would be dealing some kind of back pain that was either caused by squatting or exacerbated by squatting.

The problem was finding an alternative that would allow similar loads. The answer came in three steps.

Step one was actually a picture of one of Joe DeFrancos athletes doing really heavy rear foot elevated split squats ( I think it was with 120 lb dumbbells). That picture opened up my mind to the idea that we could use really heavy loads in unilateral exercises . My first thought was “wow, that would be 480 for reps with two legs”. As a result, I reevaluated and added heavy rear foot elevated split squats to our programs.

Step two was an article by sprint coach Barry Ross. In the article Ross talked about how deadlifts required the use of more muscle mass than squats and were in truth a better total body exercise. As I sat and pondered, I had to agree. Grip work and back work were certainly a feature of the deadlift absent from the squat? I disliked deadlifts because my memories of the deadlift were the ugly ones I did in 1980’s powerlifting meets. Again as a result we added Trap Bar Deadlifts to our program.

The last step was beginning to look into the concept of bilateral deficit. The bilateral deficit research ( actually not new) supported what we saw. What we saw in the split squat was that our athletes were using proportionally heavier loads than they had used in the squat. In fact after one year we saw that our athletes split squat and front squat were equal.

As we progressed in our always experimental programming we saw the change that we desired. We had more healthy athletes. As I have always said, healthy athletes are goal 1, better athletes come second. What we found is that deadlifting gave us a bilateral, more hip dominant choice that seemed to decrease back pain while rear foot elevated split squats actually gave us both higher loads and unilateral, sport specific loads.The only thing wrong was that we were rejecting the sacred cow of squatting.

My thoughts have always been controversial but, always rooted in what was best for the athlete. Unfortunately the detractors ( haters is the popular term now) don’t want to think. They simply want to do what they have always done.

This brings me to one of my favorite quotes from Lee Cockrell in his book Creating Magic:

“What if the way we had always done it was wrong?”

Food for thought and fodder for debate.

PS- We have added front squats back with our young athletes to teach the clean catch and we do some goblet squats with beginners but, you won’t see any athletes with big loads on their shoulders in our facilities unless they are required to do that for a college test.

27 Responses to “Why We Don’t Squat?”

  1. Coach Boyle,

    I understand your philosophy here, my main question is on the Trap Bar Deadlift position. Is there a reason you do not Trap Bar Deadlift with a vertical shin/horizontal back, maybe having to place the handles up? That start position seems to resemble a quarter squat more than the hinge of a deadlift.

    Thanks Coach, I’ve enjoyed all your books greatly.

  2. Mike, Thanks for the response. You stated that lower back injuries/pain were less with the unilateral/split squat than the back squat. Presumably, that means you’re taking some of the ‘back’ out of it. Then you are seeing greater masses being moved unilaterally, meaning the focus is more on the legs than the ‘weak link’ of the back squat- the back. So while this creates greater leg development, it also creates less back development, hence the imbalance. I’m not trying to be a ‘detractor’ here, just trying to get a better understanding. Thanks.

  3. Thank you
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  4. No worries, I completely understand! I just sent you the manuscript.

    And to answer McKay’s questions, I have found (both experimentally and anecdotally) that the Barbell Modified Single-Leg Squat (MSLS) does significantly improve 1RM of the Back Squat in Division 1 Male Baseball players. This was found in an 8-week training study. Also, the Back Squat did increased the 1RM Barbell of MSLS but not nearly to the same degree as with training the Barbell MSLS.

    Anyone who wants to see the manuscript is welcome, just drop your email and I’ll send it over.

    TAMU-CC Strength and Conditioning

  5. mboyle1959 Says:

    Rich- sorry, my fault. Things get lost in the shuffle. Can you send the info to mboyle1959@aol.com again?

  6. mboyle1959 Says:

    Scott why would simply switching to unilateral create and imbalance?

  7. mboyle1959 Says:

    Loren- couple of things. No matter what causes the injury, it’s still an injury? Porr movement, going to heavy etc.

    As for battling in corners and volleyball? Those actions are better served by bilateral Olympic lifts was they are explosive hip actions with limited knee flexion. As for football lineman? Ask your football if they teach the old “two leg fire out technique”. No one does that anymore. It is all unilateral stepping.

    As for lunges, sleds etc, we do all those in addition to what you saw.

    Lastly, we do train bilaterally, we Trap Bar Deadlift and Olympic lift. It’s not as simple as everyone wants to make it out to be.

  8. mboyle1959 Says:

    We have not, no.

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