Death of Squatting, I Think Not!

I attended Mike Boyle’s “Death of Squatting” presentation at the 2nd Annual Boston Hockey Summit and Basketball Symposium at Northeastern University Sunday, May 23, 2010. I come from a powerlifting background and consider myself a student of periodization. I have traveled the country to train with some of the best in powerlifting from Louie Simmons to Mark Bell, but perhaps the most influential person I have meet is Saul Shocket. He has trained some the greatest lifters in the sport as well as some good athletes. What I learned from him is to back off training loads: Just because they are strong enough to lift the weight, it doesn’t mean they should.

Coach Boyle said, unless I am mistaken, he is now getting predicted max’s on the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat that are within five pounds of previous Front Squat max’s. My concern is once coaches start programming similar percentages as they did for squats, they may still have the same back problems or something entirely new emerges. Something to consider is that the problems some coaches have faced from the Back Squat or the Front Squat may have been from the amount of volume and intensity, rather than the exercise itself.

I have found that a lot of strength coaches, program with loads and intensities that are often near maximal. For example, 3 sets of 5 at 82%-85% that would be like hitting a predicted max every set. This will fry the athletes’ central nervous system over time and also leave the athlete most susceptible to injury. One aspect many college strength coaches can forget is that our athletes aren’t at school to lift, they are here to play their sport. I know if I participated in a practice with any sports team and tried to handle the volumes and intensities they go through on the field, my lifting would suffer. Why would I want an athlete to try to handle the volumes and intensities I do as a competitive lifter?

This year I decided to start the volume and intensity very low: 2 sets of 3 or 2 sets of 5 at 65%-70% (with the rowers that I worked with who were entering their season). Then each week only progress their working loads by 2%-3%. I saw a drastic decrease in back issues, which is the number one problem with rowers. I also saw near-flawless technique in cleans, squats and deadlifts from every athlete. This trend still held true even when they started to approach 85%+ for 2×3’s.

I believe Coach Boyle made some very good point about the need to train unilateral strength. I don’t think anyone would disagree that is a necessary part of training. As I stated earlier, what I fear is now it has have proven that athletes can use weight comparable to the weight they use in Front Squats, coaches may start seeing issues pop up again. Perhaps these issues haven’t been discovered yet because we are now discovering how much weight one can lift in the Rear Foot Elevated Spilt Squat and all the work you have done thus far has been at lower loads and intensities than you thought. I wouldn’t say squats are bad unless you are using them badly. I might be stubborn, and squats might be my sacred cow, but I feel I can tell as much or more about an athlete by watching them squat as I can watching them in a functional movement screen. I have yet to see a new athlete walk into the weight room who wasn’t quad-dominate. One of the best tools I have in my tool box to fix this is implementing a powerlifting style box squat with vertical shins. I have found this to be true because it not only overloads the posterior chain but teaches the athlete the movement pattern of sitting back to use the posterior chain.

I am not looking to change anyone’s mind, or start an online war with one of the greatest strength coaches in Mike Boyle, but perhaps challenge the new trend of not squatting.

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