Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Lifer Series - Part 1 - I Will Squat

Squatting, more than any other lift, has been drilled as the go-to lift, for strength, power, and mass.  It has been called the king of lower body exercises, had entire routines and philosophies based around it, has purportedly cured cancer, aids, the beetus, and the desire to be a pussy.

Squatting is your man making exercise.  

When my squat is in the shitter, without fail, the rest of my training usually is too.  

If my squat is kicking ass, the rest of my training is too.  Even if it's not, it feels like it is.  You know why?  Because my squat is.  

Squatting high reps sucks because it makes your lungs burn like inhaling battery acid, and makes your lower back ache from supporting the weight for such an extended period.  It makes your legs feel like those of a man who just woke from a 6 month coma, and turns your stomach inside out.

Good.  That's what it's supposed to do.  

I paid the piper may times over doing years of high rep squats.  Eventually it's something most guys will need to do in order to understand what kind of intensity it takes to move up another level.  

Lots of guys avoid this, because it's an excruciating endeavour.  If someone doesn't avoid it, it is usually an undertaking most trainees approach with trepidation and anxiety.  At least, any of those that have done enough of these kinds of sets.  

A high rep set of squats can really test your willpower and desire.  

"How bad do you really want this?" it asks you, with an insidious grin.  

Will you rack the bar when it gets really hard?  When the reps still look easy to the casual onlooker, but your lungs feel like someone is smelting steel inside of them, and your upperback is numb from carrying the load?  

These kinds of sets tell you about who you are in that moment in time.  

Sometimes you quit.  It does happen.  To all of us.

Sometimes you push through it, and continue on.  

However, each time is a battle you don't soon forget.  

Lifters with enough time under the bar have plenty of these guys of war stories.  When they did stupid shit like "20 rep squats for a few hours, and couldn't walk for the next 5 days".  

It's a rite of passage lifters eventually need to take.  A road that should be traveled at some point.  

After enough time on this journey, eventually the mind and body succumbs to the bar and you say "fuck this, I'm going back to lower reps for a while."

So you do.

For a while, it's awesome.  Then the weights start piling on, and oh how daunting all those plates can look stacked on each end of the bar.  

Then you realize, you only traded out one kind of anxiety for another.  The fear of the pain and anguish, has now been replaced by the fear of weight on the bar, and the very real possibility, that you might not be able to stand back up with it, once you sink down into that black hole.  

Guys with enough time under the bar know that feeling of uneasiness that comes with the unracking of a weight they have never squatted before  A weight that feels so heavy, that just supporting it on your back makes you question everything about your decision to try and squat this.

Sometimes you make it, and all the pain feels worth it.  

Sometimes you don't, and for a moment, you feel emptied out.  

With every victory you grow a little, and with every failure you grow a little too.  The realization of the latter often doesn't sink in until many year later.  If you do not let your failures destroy you, then they will make you better.  With every failure, you should have learned something; and with every learning experience you get smarter, and better.  

Squatting tests your mettle more than any other lift there is.  

Miss a deadlift?  Drop it.  

Miss a bench?  Have the spotter pull it off (unless you don't have one, then you do that rolling the bar down your body movement).

But missing a squat feels completely different.  Getting under the bar feels like an investment.  Losing out on an investment hurts far more than just dropping a few coins into the slot machine.  

It's all of these reasons that squatting at the top of the lifer list.  If you can't squat because of physiological reasons, then it usually takes the make up of many other movements to fill that single void.  

If you can squat, you should be squatting.  You should explore every kind of squatting that you can in order to understand and appreciate all of the things the squat does to you, and can do for you.  

If you can squat, and aren't, then you need to man the fuck up and spend some time under the bar learning the lessons of victory and defeat.  You might also want to stop calling yourself a lifter, because picking your favorite pet exercises (generally bench, curl, and some shoulder press) each week while avoiding squats, just makes you a lifting bitch and a coward.  

The squat is not your enemy, or your adversary, but your teacher.  Look to each squatting session as a learning experience.  Getting better at squatting generally means you're going to get better at everything.  This is the reason that "I will squat" is at the top of the Lifer list.  From a training perspective, it is probably the single most important thing you can do.  

No one ever got better at squatting and then failed elsewhere.  Because even if they did, they didn't.  You know why?  Because the squat got better.

And this is why Lifers squat.



  1. Word.

    I recently did a "squat for time" in which I put 225 on the bar and squatted as close to non-stop as I could for 1:30, then stripped it to 135 and repeated for 3:00.

    A little piece of me died. A bigger piece of me LIVED.


  2. Great article, hit the nail on the head. Beautiful Struggle of the squat.

  3. I have to be honest and say that this was one of the most well written pieces that I have ever read. I'm right there with you brother. I try to get everyone I meet in the gym under the bar. Most look at me like I'm crazy. I've come to the realization that fear is what's stopping them. They're afraid to fail. Afraid to fail on a lift that, without good spotters or the right equipment, can seriously fuck you up.

    I look at it differently. I can't tell you the number of times that I've unracked only to put the bar right back down. Doubt creeps in and I know that there is no way in hell that I'll ever get out of the hole with that amount of weight. It's a mind game. Sometimes, I can hear the 45's laughing at me... Pussy. Then something snaps down deep. I becomes personal. It's time to go into battle. Man up or go home.

    Most times I come out on top. Sometimes the bar wins. But I never back down from it. My thought is that if I back down now, I'll back down some other time when shit gets real. What a message to send to my kids... "Daddy quits when it gets tough or when he's afraid." I refuse to do that. (Yeah, I've been afraid to squat a few times)

    I have people as me all the time if I can help them program a routine. My first question is, "Will you be squatting?" If the answer is, "No." I tell them that I can't help them.

    And you’re right… Missing a squat feels different than missing any other lift. Both physically and emotionally.

    “If you can squat, and aren't, then you need to man the fuck up and spend some time under the bar learning the lessons of victory and defeat. You might also want to stop calling yourself a lifter, because picking your favorite pet exercises (generally bench, curl, and some shoulder press) each week while avoiding squats, just makes you a lifting bitch and a coward.” Preach it!

    Sorry for such a long post. Keep on keeping on. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.


  4. Great article. In my younger days, I was always afraid of squatting for fear of hurting myself. When I did squat, I always went too heavy (ego) and either tweaked something or didn't complete my reps. I bought 'Super Squats' by Randall Strossen. What a great book. I remember starting off with 25 lbs on each side for the set of 20. Each w/o I would increase only 5 lbs and if I didn't get 2-, I would stay at that weight. 3-4 months later I was squatting 200 x 20. I finally lost my fear of squatting heavy. Squats & DL are my favorite lift.

  5. That's some gospel right there. It's also evident at every full power meet that also includes single lifts. 5 lifters squat, 50 bench, 40 deadlift. A lot of "bad knees" out there.

    1. Everyone uses the "bad knees" excuse for why they need knee wraps too. Just so happens they get 100+ pounds from knee wraps too. I mean, I have fucked up elbows. Why can't I wear my elbow wraps?

  6. I fucking hate the squat and I suck at it which is why I squat twice a week in the hope that one day I will suck less at it. Even 70% of my 1RM feels like a mountain on my back but I derive great satisfaction when I make all the reps, no matter how much I struggle or how long it takes.
    After a shitty squat session, I feel like never doing it again but I always come back for more. One day, my max will be a warm up set.

    Great article btw.

  7. "When my squat is in the shitter, without fail, the rest of my training usually is too. "

    True on so many levels

  8. Missing a near max squat where you really grind the fuck out of it.. man that's a tough experience. I've only done it once. It fucked me up for a two days and took about a week to fully recover from.

  9. The sweat, pain, and feeling battery acid in your lungs during 20 rep squats is almost a form of meditation for me, I'm totally unaware of anything around me - its sheer concentration man. Not been squatting for a while due to an injury but your article makes me want to get back under the bar asap.

    Good write up brother.

  10. Paul you should really check out Jim Steel. he is the S&C coach at a big college and he writes a lot about being a lifer and shares a similiar view somewhere inbetween your's and wendler's.

    LOTS of useful info on his blog.

    1. Oh I have. I love his stuff. His philosophies and methods are pretty much exactly like mine.

    2. Thanks for linking that blog Patrick, looks good. Should provide some good reading.

      Btw I assume his 'Gym Rules' are partly tongue in cheek? No stretching allowed haha.

      6. You must Deadlift a certain minimum weight to give advice to anyone- 700 for men

      Thats hardcore as hell!

    3. Jim Steel trained with Capt. Kirk. That's all you need to know about how awesome he is.

    4. Maybe Jim Steel or even Wendler would be great for a podcast?

  11. I've read this whole blog and this may be the best thing you've ever written. Can't wait to squat tomorrow!

  12. Paul, i've read your book twice, thanks for the advice within. I'm currently doing something a lot like your intermediate training, always good to know you're on the right path.

    Possibly my favourite part was the prehab/rehab section and I have to there anything you HAVEN'T injured? Even Prejac got a mention - now thats thorough.

  13. Do Zercher's and front squats count?

    1. Fronts, yes. Zerchers are an abomination.

    2. I've never done zerchers so I've got no experience with them. However, for strongmen don't you think they can be relevant? Should have some carryover to Atlas stones?

      BTW, a guy at my gym does strongman 90kg -class. He recently set a norwegian record by placing a 190 kg. stone on a 1 meter platou, and he contributes his succes to doing regular and deficit sumodeads. I know you don't like sumopulling, but have you considered sumos for strongman training? I'm thinking they can have some carryover to tire-flips as well, espesially if you do em coan-style? Thoughts?

    3. OK, why Zercher's are an abomination needs to be discussed on the next C and B. Please. I think you and Jamie may have a difference of opinion there.

    4. Oh I'm sure we will. I will totally make fun of him for doing such a dumb fuck exercise. LOL

    5. Ris - I think for strongmen they could have some benefit, but otherwise it's just a dumb movement IMO.

  14. Paul,

    As a high school football coach and avid weightlifter i live your post. Going to show it to the players when their whining about squat day. I do some cycles where I will squat three days a week. Even after bench. That way i don't feel like a bitch. Make the players do this as well in the off season. Thanks again.

  15. Paul Carter is on fire right now. On fire!

  16. Paul, What an article!!

    You said it all when you said..and i quote

    "Guys with enough time under the bar know that feeling of uneasiness that comes with the unracking of a weight they have never squatted before A weight that feels so heavy, that just supporting it on your back makes you question everything about your decision to try and squat this"..

    So damn very true this statement is!!!

    every (PR) Squat session is an adventure into uncertainity and an untamed territory!

    Until the ascent from the hole, i am not sure if i can ever make it.

    However hard i try, Squat always gets the better of me.

    But yes "i Will Squat".

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful thoughts !


  17. Man, what a good article. Just what I needed to get a little boost in my pause squat session today. Just now been able to straighten my arms fully after the Poundstone curls tuesday. Thanks for that brilliant idea.

    Wade M.

  18. Paul, Love, love this post. My husband sent it to me (I think) as a reminder that you will hurt when you work hard so suck it up. My elbows are somewhat fucked but that doesn't mean I won't squat anymore. Screw that. I am close to a 1.5 x my bodyweight squat and I will be damned if I am going to let a little elbow pain interfere with my sessions. Thanks for the reminder. I'll keep reading as long as you keep writing.


  19. I agree with all of this, if you replace every instance of the word "squat" with the word "deadlift." Except where that wouldn't make sense.
    Kind of kidding of course, but I don't think everyone has to have the same most important lift. Seems that squat is the most important and effective strength builder for most people, but for me the deadlift is far in a way the most effective builder of overall strength.

  20. Paul,

    I am floored. What a hell of a way to start your lifer series--this was one hell of a post. I shit you not, awesome writing. To make matters worse, I fkin' despise the squat and you somehow managed to inspire me on the squat. Un-fkin-believable.

    Questions in regards to the squat--- I swear, due to physiological reasons---I have the most problematic issues when it comes to squatting. I apparently have shoulder blades so large that I cannot grasp the fkin' bar and its not because I have limited flexibility. Well, technically speaking I do. There are times when I do Crucified Squats (where I wrap my wrists around the edge of the bar or hold onto the 45lb plates. I wish that was my only problem. Several buddies of mine told me my form is dogshit for squatting and was built to pull. They said that my squat form ends up looking like good mornings (even when doing body weight squats). When I squat...everything hurts. The inside of my groin hurts, everything just feels "wrong".

    My deadlift and any form of pulling or *carrying heavy weights, dragging weights) surpasses my squatting by hundreds of pounds. 3 years ago, I weighed 210 and could deadlift 640lbs. I had the hardest time squatting 250, i shit you not. I am now getting back into the game. And this time, I am really trying to fkin' squat. My deadlift is still 500+, I tried squatting 250 the other day and I fkin; popped something in my lower back. It's like my body is anti-squat! The only thing seems doable is squatting 135lbs for high reps. So, the question is---what are you thoughts on squatting 135lbs for high reps for building mass? If anything, I can see it stripping the fat off my bod-ay. My current goal is to do 100 reps in 1 set. My deadlifting is always heavy via singles n doubles. I could ask a shitload more questions, but let's start with one.

    Thanks and once again, effin' sweet post.

  21. So... gymnast and other upper body-based athletes are not men?

    1. What the fuck is an "upper body based" athlete?

      Second, I said a "lifter", not a man. Is a gymnast a lifter, or a gymnast? Wow, that was deep. /rollseyes

      It's like the tardcart was too full, and now they are all showing up on my doorstep.

    2. It would help if you toned down the attitude in some of your articles. It's not funny.

    3. Feel free not to read them. I write how I write. JFC, go boo hoo someplace else.

    4. It sounds like Carter hurt your feelings. Some dude mouths off in a blog you don't have to read, it hurts your feelings. I prescribe a teaspoon of cement in your oats each morning, it might help you harden the fuck up.

      Either that or some more squats.

  22. Hey Paul,

    Been a follower of Jamie for a few years now and have just started reading up on your blog since listening to Chaos and Bang. Ive always been fit, but quite small, never really climbing above 150lbs. That is until i finally gave in wholly to an eat and lift lifestyle, barbell compounds, hard and heavy 6 days a week, clean as hell diet of around 3500 Cal/day. I had never squatted before 7 weeks ago and now it has become a part of life, my greatest love/hate of any exercise. There's a real difference between not getting something off the floor, or having to dump it to the side or roll the bar down your chest (ive done that twice now) and crumpling under the weight of that one last rep onsquat. There's just something soul crushing about having that weight on your shoulders grind you down to your knees and you just cant get up, something visceral and primally frightening.
    But, on the other hand, there,s nothing that makes me feel stronger and happier than completing another set and reracking the bar, legs shaking from the effort, totally gassed, but feeling like a monster.
    I fear every squat set, but damn do i love it too. I have gone from 147 to 163 lbs. in just over 7 weeks, and a great portion of that growth has been in my legs, and will likely continue, with liberal application of the good ole squat.

    Great blog, love the chaos and bang, and just bought your book so i really look forward to reading it.

    Guess if i were to ask any question it would be suggestions for hip mobility. Years and years of being a desk jockey computer game nerd have blessed me with terribly immobile hip flexors that ache for days after heavy squat sets and even just running. Very litle else hurts quite like the hip flexors.


  23. I couldn`t say it any better...

    Thanks for sharing your thoougts and sharing your words of wisdom ;)