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. Power lifting was and will stay very popular sport in USA and that is totally super, so coaches and athletes need to train for power lifting and squat is part of it.
    But every day comes articles about injuries in
    that sport especially, and of course in S&C world when we talk about lower body strength or squat for example.
    Today in 2015, as we can see, we have a huge numbers of many consequences in our job and ( good for as younger 😎 we can learn through others mistakes, so safe strength and training are number one goal for professional and recreational fitness population.
    In Europe are very popular soccer, basketball, volleyball…., and still we can see very bad squat technique, but the question is are we need only squat to increase lower body strength and the often answer, in big clubs is but how will you overload their legs…?
    What I am trying to say is that, Mr. Boyle you are very right for everything about single leg training, about single leg functioning during exercise and on field, this case in sports above.
    However, it is very sad that Europe strength coaches still do like they read from some old book or do like they have learned on Methodology of Sports Training class, or maybe they think they have just enough education, but I claim yes we can overload ours athletes more than we think through single leg training, yes they will be much more safe without back ( or front ) squat and yes they will be healthy, strong, proud and happy athletes on field, and strength coach will shine than…8-)
    Once again, THANK YOU on all books, videos, blogs, articles. I am so far away from you, and my next goal one day is to come in Boston and try to be one of MBSC certified coaches because I have
    enough reasons to do that for my better success in career.

  2. […] 1)https://strengthcoachblog.com/2015/04/14/why-we-dont-squat/ -Interesting write up by Mike Boyle on why his athletes don’t back squat. […]

  3. mboyle1959 Says:

    Thanks Tate. Obviously powerlifters need to squat but, the rest of the sports world probably doesn’t. I’m an ex-powerlifter so it wasn’t an easy transition for me. Thanks for reading.

  4. mboyle1959 Says:

    We used to but as our athletes got stong I realized how dangerous it was. Unlike a squat, it is really hard to bail out in a unilateral exercise so we stick to DB’s and vests.

  5. Coach Boyle,
    Great outlook on squatting vs unilateral training. My question would be do you ever load your unilateral training in a front or back rack position with the bar?

  6. Awe, so you aren’t saying that squats cause pain because of squats, you’re saying that squats cause pain for those who have certain anatomical differences, with which I definitely agree. So instead of wasting time figuring out who can squat and who can’t, the answer is just to find movements that don’t cause those problems. I’m not one to say that everyone HAS to squat, but I work with lots of powerlifters, so it’s sort of required, lol. I appreciate your response and the fact that you didn’t get defensive over my comment. My real concern is that young coaches will give up on squats because THEY don’t know how to coach it properly.

  7. mboyle1959 Says:

    I don’t think it’s an imbalance. As I said, the back is the weak link because the legs are capable of more work than the back allows. Watch a bunch of failed squats. In most cases you will see a forward lean as they fail. Very few squatters fail because the legs give out. Have you watched much powerlfting?

  8. mboyle1959 Says:

    I think we do what looks best. Often Trap Bar Deadlifts look a lot like squats.

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