Weight Lifting, Weight Training, Bench Press & Bodybuilding
May 18, 2024
Putting the Squat Exercise Controversy To Rest
by Dr. Ken Leistner

On April 22, 2000, I agreed to allow my training partners to videotape one of my workouts. This was done for two purposes, both I believed, to be worthwhile. First and foremost, my children were anxious to have a tape of my training session, something to add to the family collection, something to remember me by in future years. It would be meaningful for them because it would have captured me doing something I enjoy, perhaps more than other things I do. It was also an opportunity to help raise needed funds for the Lakeview Youth Federation. LYF has been my "other work" for over twenty five years. A group of dedicated adults, almost all with a "street related" background, spend a lot of time funding, organizing, sponsoring, and directing educational, cultural, and athletic programs that benefit the young people in the community. We pay for college scholarships, books, and clothing for deserving students; send children to summer camp; organize food and clothing collections during the holiday seasons; direct the largest indoor high school track meet in the United States every year; and plow any profits directly back into the community. We even started and funded the Little League baseball program in the late 1970s. Charles Nanton, LYF founder and president, thought we could hawk the tape and add money to the coffers.

Unfortunately, a legal problem involving music copyright law prevented us from selling the tape although I have given a number of them as gifts. The editor of the cyberpump site asked if he could show a clip of the deep knee bend. It was to be done without the music of course, which also negated my many curses and comments so that one would not truly understand how very hard the set was for me, as was the entire workout. We agreed, however, that it would probably be enjoyable for his site visitors. It has produced a firestorm of controversy that is not at all understandable to those dedicated coaches and trainees that are not part of the so called HIT community, slightly understandable to those like me who realize that there are some who have wedded their understanding of training to a very narrow interpretation of exercise performance, and a source of humor for most who know me and who have trained with me. While no one is owded an explanation, there are many who see me as a public figure and who are influenced as such, thus, this attempt at clarification, one that should put the matter to rest.

Heavy Squatting My definition of what has been termed High Intensity Training is quite simple and has been published numerous time. If you train hard enough to stimulate changes in your physiology, you will have to train very hard, so hard that you will then have to limit frequency and volume of training. This is a more concise summary than some I have used previously, but it serves the purpose. Its hard training with the emphasis on the effort put forth in each set, taking a weight you have achieved a certain number of reps with last time and forcing yourself to get more, this next time. You then get enough recovery time to benefit from that session and approach the next one. Rep speed HAS NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with that definition. If your definition however, involves rep speed, that's fine with me except, and this is a major exception, it first needs to include the provisio that one is training "all out" or we will not agree on the definition of hard or high intensity training. To maximize the potential of each rep, one should create tension in the muscle. Despite widespread misunderstanding of this point, this does not mean one uses a specific or particular speed of movement. It means, in my opinion, that you move so that you don't become injured and create tension in the muscle. Relative to potential limb speed, even an Olympic lifter cannot move a loaded barbell "fast". If your definition of proper training includes the admonition that nothing move, including one's eyelids other than the working body part, it may or may not be realistic and it may or may not be productive. The emphasis has just been shifted from "hard, all out work" to something else and in my opinion, the quality of the workout has just suffered. I will repeat what was noted in a previous issue of the Hard Training Newsletter: for decades if not a century of strength training, rep speed or cadence was a NON FACTOR, a NON CONSIDERATION. Yet many many men, without the use of drugs, became tremendously strong and well muscled.

In our early days at Nautilus, the emphasis was on some of the hardest work one could imagine, work that brought almost all of the involved trainees to their physical limit each session, and to the point of vomiting and illness. We all grew stronger and benefitted. If one is using a machine, it is certainly easier to "control" the resistance than it is with a barbell or dumbell and in fact, this is one of the supposed disadvantages cited by those who don't agree with the use of machines in the training of competitive athletes. With a barbell, one has to accommodate for their own leverage factors and bodily proportions. One has to be able to stabilize their body and its position under load. One has to find what is safe technique for them. I prefer that all dumbbell pressing overhead be done with palms facing each other to reduce rotation of the humerus during the movement. I have some trainees who cannot comfortably do that, or safely do that due to their proportions or the way in which their muscles attach from origin to insertion.

I believe too that one has to squat if they can, as it is the most difficult and demanding exercise one can do. If this is so, it also becomes the most potentially productive exercise one can do. I don't believe one can squat "slowly". One can and should squat "rhythmically" with enough body lean and movement to maximize their leverages and maintain what is for them, a safe position and this is what they should do. This is what I do when I squat, especially when I squat heavily. Remember, one DOES NOT EVER SQUAT "UPRIGHT". There must be some body lean (without rounding the back) so that the hips are behind the bar, the upper body and lower body are aligned so that the resistance can be counterbalanced, and most importantly, so that the hips "have some place to go" as they are driven forward as one comes out of the bottom position. If one tries to stay literally upright, the hips cannot be moved forward and one cannot then squat with a weight that will stimulate changes in their body.

Anyone versed in orthopedics will state that you NEVER PAUSE ON THE BOTTOM POSITION OF A SQUAT with a loaded barbell. The so called pause squat done by powerlifters is ill advised as this places forces on the collateral ligaments that can be dangerous. Recoiling under load, at very fast speeds can also be potentially damaging if there is no attempt to keep the muscles in the buttocks and thighs "tight". If one goes to the bottom position without first properly "setting" or aligning their bodyparts and does so quickly, there is potential for injury. I squat the way trainees have been squatting since the beginning of the century; under control, tight abs, butt, thighs, and low back. If you watch a skilled Olympic lifter squat clean and come off the bottom, that is an example of recoil and as much as I don't like that kind of training, the injuries they get are often not caused by that maneuver.

The Squat Exercise Controversy

Thus, the criticisms of my squat focused on two major points; I supposedly went 'too fast" which I will disagree with because I went fast enough to make it safe for me, and I paused between reps. Now, I did not rack the bar between reps, I stood with the weight and attempted to force air into my lungs. If you are squatting with a weight that DOES NOT FORCE YOU TO BREATHE HEAVILY BETWEEN REPS, you are not squatting in a demanding manner and thus, in my opinion, are not squatting productively. You are supposed to breathe between reps, you are supposed to need to breathe between reps, and do so while holding your body position.

This episode is an example of taking one aspect of training and emphasizing it to the extent that you have now altered the entire activity. I won't pat myself on the back but I'm smart enough and I've been around the game long enough to know that few would want to squat 407x23 nor would they train hard and consistently enough to actually be able to. For me, its a natural extension of my forty years of training and a repeat of something I've done numerous times in the past. The tried and true emphasis on hard work, remains effective for the average trainee. It works for those with differing philosophies. If your definition of productive training includes anything other than an emphasis on hard work, you are selling yourself short.


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