What is the single most effective exercise you could do? That's a common question and many look for a silver bullet, the holy grail of exercises that would pack on muscle fast and the good news is that just such an exercise exists. It's not pretty or refined. It's raw and brutal - renowned for making grown men cry.
It's not new or hi-tech, but it's proven to add inches to your arms, chest and legs, in fact it activates the grow button for your whole body. No more doing sets upon sets of countless exercises.
Just one set of this exercise will make you turn from a mere mortal with chicken arms into a fully fledged monster, teaming with muscle. A natural bodybuilding program would be unimaginable without it.
This exercise (perhaps combined with bench pressing) will pack on serious muscle all over your body, with fewer sets than fingers on one hand. So why is it that hardly anyone does it and it's as popular as a horny dog at a Miss Lovely Legs competition?
It is not popular because when done properly it can make you want to puke, faint and cry or an amusing combination of all three.
So the question was, "What single exercise would you do that would pack on more muscle than any other?" Well if I was on a tropical island (if only!) with a barbell and some heavy plates and someone just allowed me to do one exercise it would be an exercise that many love and loath in equal measures and many gym goers rarely (if ever) do - and that is the Full Squat.
The Full Squat
Without question the squat is the most effective and productive exercise on the planet - bar none. Nothing else can shake a stick at it, not even a man who has just won the stick shaking world championship.
What's more the results are proven, dramatic and they come thick and fast. Forget Dianabol for your next bodybuilding project and add this squat system- no kidding. Before steroids there was Squats for pure mass. When the Russians got massive and strong they gave us the line that it was from hi-tech steroid use, but really they hit the Squat rack with a vengeance. Whilst the west looked for their secret stack, they laughed and continued Squatting.
Deadlifts come in a close second, but second none the less. If squats are the king of exercises, Deadlifts are the prince, an heir that will never inherit the crown. We'll cover Deadlifts in another issue because they are certainly one of the other of the Mass generating exercises that one can do and everyone and their pet badger should be doing them. But for now let's get on with the mighty Squat.
The Mighty Squat:
Some seasoned gym rats even go as far as saying that without Squats in your bodybuilding battle plan you simply cannot expect to grow at all beyond the initial gains we all get no matter what you do in the gym, especially if you are drug free!
At the very least you will not grow to your maximum potential. Squats are the exercise equivalent of anabolic steroids. They make the body produce huge amounts of natural growth factors and hormones and can whack pounds of solid tissue onto even the smallest of frames in record time.
They also make you as strong as a horse, although personally I have never seen a horse squatting, well an ex girlfriend of mine... that's a different article I think. - ahem.
Why Isn't Everyone Doing it?
Firstly - Ignorance. Many people assume squats are for getting big legs and a big butt only and that exercises such as the leg press will replace them and give similar results.
Yes big butts and big legs are a common side effect, neither of which is a bad thing. There is also a strange, but persistent, old wives tale that says that squats slow down your metabolism. A slow metabolism means a greater chance of being fat. This is nonsense.
Squats are both anaerobic and aerobic in nature when done correctly so this burns of lots of calories and the large increase in muscle will automatically supercharge the metabolism, not slow it down.
Secondly many magazines and 'training systems' try and push new exercises to appear cutting edge. An old exercise like the squat, especially to the beginner, seems to pale into insignificance when compared with hi-tech pulleys and cable routines that the pros use.
Thirdly, and most importantly, they hurt like hell, especially when you do them in an effective manner and it really takes a special kind of person, with a tough mentality to be able to push through with a set of squats.
Lastly - Because of unjustified bad press. People who dislike squats point out that they can damage your back and knees and are generally just plain dangerous, the exercise of the devil none the less, reserved only for those that want to end up with broken backs and knees.
Of course squats are more dangerous on a rating basis than say barbell curls because of the amount of the weight used and the position you are in when performing the exercise (you being under it) but if you take sensible precautions and learn to squat properly then Squats are really not that a danger at all.
Yes if you use too much weight, use poor form and do not take precautions to protect against the weight you are using, such as spotters or a squat rack, you can and will injury yourself, but that is true of most exercises.
Jean-Pierre Fux Was Squatting 695lbs In A Flex Magazine Photoshoot When Suddenly Both Legs Collapsed. He Tore All Four Quadricep Muscles In His Left Leg & His Pattella Tendon In His Right Leg.
More Pics Availible On His Website.
In fact the increasingly popular leg press is, in many seasoned bodybuilders opinion, far more dangerous to the knees and lower back than Squats. People often go too deep into the movement so that their back ends up curved (such as when you butt lifts off the bench) and your knees quickly get hammered.
Of course it allows you to push heavy weights, often far more than you could manage squatting, so those with egos that need massaging often stick with it regardless. I have seen first timers of around 17 years of age able to leg press five 25 KG plates on each side. Three months later they still have the same size legs and generally have not grown either. Some complain of bad knees even at this early stage.
So why isn't every gym rat doing Squats up and down the country and in every gym in the world? Why do we not have fan groups for the lovely Squat? Because of a number of reasons.
20 Rep, Heavy Breathing System
So you've been talked into it, or at least are thinking about adding Squats to your routine. The squat is the king of exercises and key to unlocking that dream of filling your lacking body with bulging muscles, so the next question is how many reps and sets?
Probably the best rep and set scheme to do with squats is the 20 rep, heavy breathing system. That doesn't mean squatting whilst making a dirty phone call. It means only doing (did I say only?) 20 heavy reps of squats whilst breathing as deep as you can in between reps.
It has been around for as long as anyone in the iron game can remember and has never failed to pack on serious size on all that have tried it regardless of age, sex (certainly not something to do under a squat bar) or whether you are natural or on those naughty little tablets and potions that of course no body but the evil minority take, oh how bad they are - heh-heh!
In fact the simplicity of this system is its downfall, as many do not even bother to try thinking that if it's that simple everyone would do it. But it's bloody hard and that's why many do not do it. It is the simplest things in life that are often the most reliable and effective.
How many people refuse to do a simple thing such as exercise whilst dieting still believing that diet alone shifts fat?
But again, Squats, particularly 20 rep squats are very hard going. If its not hard work you are doing it wrong. That's the only bad news. The good news is you only have one set (after initial warm-up sets the number of which is an individual thing). Yes that's it. One set.
One Very Difficult Set:
Okay now there's a bit of doubt creeping around in your mind again. How can one set be of any use? Well this article is not about that huge and controversial subject of how many sets are needed for this effect or that effective so let me just tell you again that this one set system has been proven time and time again to work- period.
There are no hidden supplements to push with the system. I make no money from this. I do not sell squatting racks or barbells. All you have to do in conjunction with this is have a solid bodybuilding diet behind you. Then its time to get a new wardrobe of XXL rag tops.
This one set will be one of the hardest things you ever do in bodybuilding. All other exercises after this will seem like a gentle caress of a beautiful woman. The Squat however will be as pleasurable as having a rough anal probe in a field of daisies.
This is because you do your 20 reps with a weight you would normally give up the ghost on by the tenth rep! Sorry I guess I should have mentioned that sooner. This means you do not even have the luxury of aiming for 20 reps with a light weight.
Sorry, they don't work that way. In between each of these terrible, painful reps you take lots of deep breaths. This will not be something you have to really think about because you will be breathing like you have just run 100 yards with a lion at your heels. These breaths must be really deep, filling your whole lungs and expelling the air forcefully. Don't breathe fast, you may pass out, but deep and slow as the actress said to the bishop.
This system was popularized in Randall Strossen's book Super Squats and I recommend all readers who want to find out more detailed history and information on this system to rush out and buy it - but finish the article first.
Rib Cage Growth:
After you finish the 20 reps you will typically stagger off (or are carried off) to do one light set of pullovers (lying flat on a bench) to further enhance the breathing effect and to add to the rib cage expansion properties of the squats.
Is it possible to expand the rib cage? Science on the whole says no, not after you are twenty one or there about, but the evidence from the bodybuilding frontline says that 'yes you can increase your rib cage from squats and pullovers.' I tend to agree, at least they give the visual appearance that this is the case and bodybuilding is after all a pretty visually based sport.
Squats seem to trigger the GROW button of the entire body that other exercises simply cannot get to. They appear (and studies back this up) to make the entire muscle fiber system throughout the body to be more responsive to getting massive.
They also make the body produce huge amounts of natural testosterone, growth hormone and other growth factors. The squat is also great for your lungs, heart and circulation, which is indirectly great for muscle building. Better circulation allows nutrients to be carried around the blood more efficiently and for waste products to be removed faster. Heart and lung strength is of course good for health and for allowing you to train harder due to increased performance.
Nobody Really Likes Squats
If you do not like squats you are normal because not many people do because they are uncomfortable and to be effective they are supposed to be. So you are not weak for not liking squats but once you start packing on pounds of muscle within weeks of trying out squats you will still not like them much but you will be happy to do them.
They say 'no pain no gain' and if you cannot tolerate the hard work of squats you surely do not want that massive body as much as you thought you did. Bodybuilding is not an easy sport at any level. If you want an easy sport, maybe take up fly-fishing or ballet.
The big guys train bloody hard, but the results make it worth it, and the results from Squats will make you a true believer. A born again squatter. I used to avoid squats like a politician answering a straight question. Now I do them twice a week. I still hate them, but like many things, you learn to live it.
Combined with a calorie rich diet and plenty of quality protein (see Manifesto: Chapter 1) you will finally turn your skinny body into a powerhouse of strength and size that you deserve. You will also gain a huge amount of respect from others, as people who can get through the 20-rep system are certainly someone who cannot be called weak either mentally or physically.
If you have a guy in the gym who thinks otherwise, load up the bar for them and see how they get on. This makes the big head loud mouths in their Spandex and sunglasses fall strangely silent!
Proper Form First:
It takes strength of mind and body to do it and there is no reason why you cannot do it as well. You are as strong in body and mind as anyone who has gone before you in this sport. Everyone has to start somewhere and the best thing to do is to start light and get used to the movement.
You may feel you need to get used to the movement for several workouts, that's fine. Correct form is one of the best things to learn in bodybuilding.
If you have an approachable veteran squatter ask them to show you and have them check your technique. Proper technique is vital. Don't be put off by these so called personal trainers who say squats are only for serious (i.e. pros) gym rats and are off no real use anyway. You now know otherwise.
And you don't actually need a belt for squats, which will surprise some, but few serious squatters or deadlifters (apart from those in competition because it allows them to add more weight to the bar) use belts. They use their own belt - their abs and lower back which should be strengthened with regular exercise if you find they give out during squatting. If you need to wrap up your knees or wear a belt something is going wrong.
For squats follow these rules for safety.
Preferably squat with two spotters, one each end of the plates, and even one behind. If training alone (like most of us) squat in a power rack and set the pins to be able to catch the weight if you get in trouble. Don't let training alone phase you. The rack will protect you if you fail during a rep.
Squat flat, not with a block on you heels. Your flexibility will improve with regular squatting and stretching exercises. Keep your back flat and head up.
Squat in a position natural to YOU! This may, at first, mean a wide stance like a Sumo wrestler, with feet pointed out -no problem. Better this than trying to follow a picture in a magazine and squat in an unnatural fashion which can hurt your knees, back and throw off your balance.
Use weight you can handle, don't let your ego rule your training. You want to increase the weight each workout if possible, even if it is by 2lbs but never at the expense of proper form.
If you are new to squats break yourself in before trying the 20 rep system and read up on it in Super Squats or similar articles/books to get yourself fully familiar with how to squat safely. Say 3 sets of 10 - 15 reps to get used to the weight and squatting and then add the 20 - rep squat system to your routine.
Perhaps even pretend to fail and learn how to 'fall' into the rack without harming yourself. If anything this builds confidence that you can get out of trouble if need be.
Good luck! The only downside is you are going to get bloody massive fast so don't buy any expensive suits before trying out this program, wait until you have gained the few stone you can expect first!
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