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You Ain't Squat 'Til You Squat!

Sweat drips from my forehead. Butterflies dance in my stomach. My heart pounds wildly. With an ice-cold stare, I lock my eyes on the loaded bar. I can hear it calling out to me, challenging me.

Sweat drips from my forehead. Butterflies dance in my stomach. My heart pounds wildly. With an ice-cold stare, I lock my eyes on the loaded bar. I can hear it calling out to me, challenging me. With mixtures of fear, intimidation, anxiousness and determination flowing through my veins, I step up and accept the challenge. The bar lands perfectly on my traps, and I grunt as I clear the bar off the pins and step back. I'm at war now. Nothing can distract me. Oblivious to everything going on around me, the pencil neck on the stair stepper, the spandex clown slaving away on bicep curls, or the group of kids benching the day away, I squat down.

It's just me and the weight. Nothing else. I drive my heels into the ground as my body rises into the upright position. I take a deep breath. That's 1. I descend once again, my thighs hit parallel, and I drive back up. 2. I can feel the loaded bar digging into my back now, but it doesn't phase me. Again I squat down, and back up. 3. I'm starting to feel it now. Acid burns my thighs as my calves begin to tighten up. There's no room for submission. I won't give in. My concentration like a laser beam, I continue the set… 4… 5… 6… I'm finding it difficult to stand now, as my body sways slightly forward. I'm feeling light-headed and I don't know how much more I can take. But still, I won't stop. Not until every ounce of strength is taken from me. I bend down, digging deep for those last few slivers of strength. As if my life depended on it, I drive up with an explosive force of will. I'm moving slowly, but the bar hasn't stopped. I continue my assault on the weight, pushing higher and higher. For what seemed like an eternity, I have finally completed the rep… 7… But any hardcore lifter knows that it ain't over till it's over. I squat down once again as the gods of pain taunt me. With every remaining fiber I push like I have never pushed before, but it's too little too late. The bar won't move an inch, as I set it down on the pins and collapse. My stomach turns. The pain is surrounding me like a pack of wolves, but I can't help grinning. I know I've given everything I could possibly have given. THAT is intensity. THAT is squatting.

"You Ain't Squat 'Till You SQUAT!" Simply put, squats are the most difficult, intimidating and painful exercise you could possibly have in your arsenal. They require massive amounts of discipline and willpower to perform correctly. After you have performed a set of squats to failure, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about! They are also a challenging exercise to master from a technical standpoint. All this aside, they are also the most productive. Squats have packed more muscle onto skinny frames than any other lift out there. Because of the degree of difficulty, squats also force your body to release higher amounts of growth hormone, resulting in new muscle in all areas of your body. In addition, squats will cause a spillover effect, enabling you to gain strength in all of your other lifts. When I started squatting to failure, my bench went up at least 20 pounds! If you don't already squat, START, and be prepared for the gains of your life! Quite plainly, THEY WORK. Results guaranteed.

Unfortunately, many people have yet to experience the benefits of heavy squatting. Why? It seems that people will come up with just about any excuse they can to avoid squats. How many times have you heard the all too common "They're too hard on my knees", or "I heard they stunt your growth." What do I say to that? Bullsh*t! With the exception of a very small population of lifters, everyone can squat! The main reason that the power rack seems to collect dust faster than any other piece of equipment is simply due to the amount of intensity one must generate in order to squat effectively. In addition to that, many myths have come up over the years, steering people clear of the squat rack. Let's take a look at these myths.

#1: "Squatting will ruin your knees"

Just as the muscle tissue in your body strengthens when exposed to stress, the tendons, ligaments and other connective tissues in your body will also thicken in response to weightlifting. Because of this, heavy squatting can only increase knee strength. By strengthening the supporting muscles around the knee, you will also end up with much greater knee stability and strength. Knee problems when squatting will only occur through improper form, namely relaxing in the bottom position. When you relax the knee joint, it separates slightly, placing it in a compromising position. The solution? Don't relax in the bottom position! It's that simple. Keep everything tight and flexed and you'll have no problems.

#2: "Squatting is dangerous to the spine"

Again, weightlifting will only strengthen ligaments and connective tissues. If you like, you can use a weight belt when performing low, heavy reps, but otherwise you won't need it. Some lifters find squatting uncomfortable for the cervical spine (your neck) because of the bar resting there. Most lifters get used to it, but if you find to be a big problem you can simply place a towel or pad underneath the bar.

#3: "Squats are dangerous to the heart"

Many weight lifting exercises restrict blood flow due to long periods of muscular contraction. Elevated blood pressure will result from this, but it is only temporary and isn't dangerous. The heart, just like all other muscles of the body will adapt to the stress that is placed upon it. Therefore, squatting will help to strengthen the cardiovascular system. However, just to remain on the safe side, those with coronary diseases may want to consult a physician before beginning any kind of weight training program.

#4: "Squats will decrease your speed"

It is a well known and accepted fact by exercise physicists that the stronger a muscle is, the faster it will contract and the more force it can apply off the ground. Therefore, speed can only be increased through the use of squatting.

Well, so much for those myths! The thing to remember is that anything negative brought on by squatting is a result of improper technique, NOT the exercise itself. Squatting is safe and hugely effective. So if you're one of those people who fear the squat, stop being a pussy! Gather some courage and drag your ass over to the rack! Well, what do you say? Do you want to be big?? I mean really, REALLY BIG?? Then continue reading and be prepared for some mind-blowing mass……still with me? Okay good; let's learn the proper technique.

Proper Squatting Technique

For safety reasons you should always do your squats in a power rack or cage. This way you can adjust the height at which you clear the bar, and you can drop the bar on the safety pins if you need to bail. The safety pins should be set at just below the depth you are squatting and the J Hooks should be set at about the level of your nipple.

At all times during the squat your head should be pulled back, your chest raised and you should have a slight arch in your lower back. You should always be looking straight ahead, and at no time should you be leaning too far forward, or be looking up or down.

Step up to the bar, placing your hands at about the same width as a bench press. Before clearing the bar, make sure it is placed evenly along your traps. Now that you have cleared the bar, take only as many steps back as necessary. Most squat injuries occur when backing up, so make sure that you only back up as far as you need to. Your feet should be placed at about shoulder width apart or slightly wider, and your feet should point out at a 45-degree angle.

Take a big, deep breath, and make your descent. You should not lower yourself straight down, but rather as if you were sitting in a chair behind you. At all times your knee must remain in line with your feet, and they should never bow in. Lower yourself until your thighs are at least parallel to the ground. If in doubt, go lower!

As soon as you have reached the bottom position, rise up immediately. Do not relax in the bottom position! Drive up with your heels and straighten your back as quickly as possible.

Once you are in the upright position again, take another deep breath, and continue the lift until you have completed the desired number of reps. How many reps should you do? It depends. There are many who say that 20 rep squats are the most beneficial. Others say 12-15. Some people might use 6-8. It all depends on the person. Experiment and see what works for you! Personally I perform 4-6 reps. I think it easier to generate a higher level of intensity by focusing your energy on only 4-6 reps.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. You have all the reason in the world to get into the squat rack and bust your ass, so go ahead and do it! Everyone should be squatting! Bodybuilders, powerlifters, athletes, ballerinas…Squats are the KING of all exercises. When performed correctly they are NOT dangerous. Treat the lift with respect and you will make gains that you never thought were possible. You ain't squat until you SQUAT!!

Down the road, in a gym far away
A young man was heard to say,
"No matter what I do, my legs won't grow!"
He tried leg extensions, leg curls, leg presses too.
Trying to cheat, these sissy workouts he'd do!
From the corner of the gym where the big guys train,
Through a cloud of chalk and the midst of pain,
Where the big iron rides high, and threatens lives,
Where the noise is made with big forty-fives,
A deep voice bellowed as he wrapped his knees,
A very big man with legs like trees,
Laughing as he snatched another plate from the stack,
Chalked his hands and monstrous back,
Said, "Boy, stop lying and don't say you've forgotten!
Trouble with you is you ain't been SQUATTIN'!"
'Nuff said.

- Jeff MADDOG Madden

Sean N.