A Bodybuilder Is Born: Episode 17 - How To Squat!

There are many different ways to squat and many different ways to squat wrong. Learn the difference between powerlifting style squats and regular barbell squats...

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Wait until you see this guy squat, he's like a damn freight elevator. Strong as a gorilla! Randy was excited because his old workout partner John was going to join us today for legs. John had transferred to a University out in Illinois somewhere for his graduate school, and only made it back to Boston for holidays.

So the day after stuffing ourselves with turkey, which in turn had previously been stuffed with stuffing, we gathered to blast quads and hams. I felt the need to exert some extra intensity to offset the two large hunks of Boston cream pie I had been unable to resist.

I Felt The Need To Exert Some Extra Intensity To Offset The Two Large Hunks Of Boston Cream Pie I Had Been Unable To Resist.
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I Felt The Need To Exert Some Extra Intensity To Offset The Two Large
Hunks Of Boston Cream Pie I Had Been Unable To Resist.

Then there was that ice cream cake with the Oreos in it... I think I blacked out around the time that was cut and came back to awareness nearly an hour later with an awful bellyache. Either I had eaten too many desserts, or there was a writhing nest of vipers in my gut. Though I can't say for sure, I am fairly certain reptiles had nothing to do with it.

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Meeting John
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Randy and John had trained for over a year in the B.R. era, or the dark ages before Ron. Pompous as that sounds, and it probably is, Randy was making a lot of fundamental mistakes in his training and eating before he came under my wing. One of these days I will have to get that darn wing removed - it does hide a lot of detail on that side when I hit a rear double biceps pose.

Anyway, John had apparently been much stronger than Randy, especially on legs. Once I finally saw him, I understood why. John was built like a fireplug, and my first thought was "Does Ed Coan know about this long-lost son of his?" He was about 5-6 and 210 pounds, not terribly lean but not sloppy either. A lot of that weight had to be in his bones.

Ed Coan:
Ed Coan has set over seventy world records in powerlifting.[2] He become the lightest person to cross the 2400 lb. barrier in the powerlifting total (a sum of three lifts: the deadlift, bench, and squat). He set an all-time powerlifting record total at 2463 pounds, even though at the time he was not even in the heaviest weight class.

His hips were quite wide and solid, exactly as wide in fact as his shoulders. His wrists were thick and his hands were like mitts, making me self-conscious about my own slender, girlish wrists and small hands. I couldn't see his knees as he was wearing loose Adidas pants, but they were most likely thick and clunky like his elbows. Yes, Randy was right. John looked like he was built for strength.

Randy had put on quite a bit of muscle since John's last visit. After John and I were briefly introduced, they spent the next few minutes with Randy telling him about each and every improvement he had made, flexing various bodyparts to demonstrate as he did so.

It was almost like watching a woman show off her new hair color, diamond ring, and designer handbag to her friends, except that these were all things he had worked his tail off for in the gym, not bought at a store. Once all this had subsided, I mustered the troops. "Okay, we start with squats."

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Training The Legs
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After chatting with him for a couple minutes, I suspected that John's training was definitely more geared toward pure strength, even though he had never taken any interest in competitive powerlifting. He had been a lineman back in high school football despite his short stature, and had always enjoyed the thrill of becoming more and more powerful in the basic lifts.

And he was powerful. Luckily there were several squat racks all in a row in the gym, because taking plates on and off for all three of us would have been tiresome. Randy worked with about 225-275 for his work sets, while I was up around 405 for mine these days.

We were all taking turns spotting each other, though I didn't feel comfortable spotting John. Randy and I were working in the 8-12 range on our work sets, while John was doing 2-3 reps on his. Once John got to five plates a side, Randy started getting fidgety. John was wearing a wide, thick leather powerlifting belt and had his knees wrapped.

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"Hey, can I use your belt and your wraps for a set, John?" Randy asked. "I wanna try a little more weight." I just sat back and observed for now. Randy stole a glance at me to see if I was scowling in disapproval, but I kept a poker face and said nothing. John had to help him with the wraps, as Randy had never used any to my knowledge. John's belt looked enormous on Randy's small waist.

I was reminded of old men with their trousers pulled up to their chests. Randy had 275 on the bar moments before, but now he had added a full 45 to each side to bring the total to 365. I knew Randy couldn't squat this weight and I thought he had already learned to use weights he could handle, but obviously he was feeling wimpy around his friend and felt the need to prove himself.

After a dramatic build-up with John yelling in his ear and slapping him on the back, Randy snarled and got under the bar. He had trouble walking it out from the rack, and then couldn't decide what to do with his feet. We always squatted with our feet just outside of shoulder width, while John had been doing all his squats with a much wider stance.

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Randy suddenly spread his feet further apart in awkward little shuffling side steps. This was just getting uglier by the minute. Yet it was like a train wreck, I couldn't look away. Randy started descending with a fairly upright torso, but right away he lurched forward under the strain of all that weight. He didn't come near parallel, and needed John to get under his armpits in order to stand back up and rack the weight.

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A Lesson In Bodybuilding
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"Awesome job, bro!" John congratulated him. Randy looked to me. I know he couldn't have been expecting me to clap and cheer - but I think he was. "These wheels are gonna grow now!" he declared. "I am afraid not, Randy." I hated to do this, because now John might take offense, but clearly Randy was confused and needed to be informed.

"What you were attempting to do is squat in powerlifting style like John does," I explained. John was a graduate student and no caveman, so I wasn't surprised to see him listening attentively.

RELATED POLL
How Do You Squat?

Narrow Stance
Shoulder Width Stance
Wide Stance
It Varies Depending On My Goal

"If you want to move the most weight possible, you would want to take a wide stance, and bend your torso forward so that the glutes and lower back are in their most powerful leverage positions. You would also wrap your knees tightly to give yourself a little 'spring' out of the bottom of the rep. All that is great for becoming stronger, but not so great for a bodybuilder trying to craft the best legs he is capable of."

"The quads and hams don't get worked in powerlifting style squats anywhere near as hard as they do the way we squat as bodybuilders. And your goal is to build a great physique, not to be the strongest man in town. So you are better off using less weight and doing them in bodybuilding style." I had a flash of inspiration. Rather than alienate John, why not get him into the discussion? "What do you think, John?"

Pleased to be included, he mimed his squatting form for us with no bar and then tried to imitate the more upright stance with a narrower foot stance. "Yeah, that all makes sense. I really could care less about shaking my ass all oiled up for a crowd so they can admire my legs," he joked. "I'm all about putting up the weight."

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"Like they would want to see your ass shaking," Randy quipped. "On the subject of asses, squatting like a powerlifter will eventually develop the glutes to their maximum size, which can throw off the lines and symmetry of a bodybuilder," I added. "Trust me, I know. I used to squat more like John and my butt got so huge it looked like I was smuggling bowling balls back there."

"And Randy, you know how I feel about depth. If you're only going to do half-reps, don't bother squatting at all. I will overlook it this time because I think if you went down with all that weight you may never have got back up." I stripped my bar down to 135 so I could give Randy a refresher course once again.

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Relearning The Squat
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"Okay, this is how a bodybuilder should squat," I began. "First is the bar position. Powerlifters set the bar further down, but we want the bar to go right across our traps, about four inches below the bottom of your neck. You have to stand pretty upright this way or else the bar would go rolling down your back. Now we get under it and walk it out." I stepped back from the squat rack.

Barbell Squat Barbell Squat
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Barbell Squat
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"Set your feet now, just outside of shoulder width and with the toes angled away a little. You basically have to experiment to find the exact foot position that feels right for you. Now we descend." I dipped down, talking all the while. "It's like sitting down on a low chair. You can go to parallel or even a bit below and then..." I drive back up to a standing position. "Blast it up, always keeping a tiny bend to the knees."

"What about the reps?" Randy asked. "Can't bodybuilders ever go lower on reps?" "Of course," I replied. "The legs respond to a variety of rep ranges. Tom Platz, the man with the best legs in history, would do anywhere from five to fifty or even a hundred reps in his squats at various times.

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Using heavier weights and lower reps for planned cycles of a few weeks a couple times a year is a great change of pace, and you will come back stronger on your higher-rep work afterward. But I insist that you still have to squat in bodybuilding type of form and do full reps no matter what. That's important to keep your legs developing with the aesthetic proportions we want." John was smirking.

I could tell he thought bodybuilding was an immensely vain undertaking - which it is in one aspect, to be sure. "So don't worry that you can't use as much weight as John, or me, or anyone else. As long as you are gradually adding weight to your squats and your form is good, those legs will keep growing like they have been."

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Conclusion
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We did a few more exercises, and then John and Randy took off. I think they were planning on getting lunch and then hitting the mall on the busiest shopping day of the year. Have fun in that crazy crowd, I thought. I get claustrophobic in crowds like that and start thinking there isn't enough oxygen for all of us.

Meanwhile I had to get in a solid forty-five minutes of cardio to atone for the sins of all those desserts the day before. And of course, there were many turkey-based meals to come over the next few days to get rid of the leftovers. I think green Jell-o with turkey bits is my favorite, although turkey tacos ain't bad either.