Strength comes in many forms. But during the season of giving, having the energy, capacity or willpower to give back is just substituting other words for “strength!”
Physical strength is necessary for anyone to give as much as they are capable of and, in my opinion, there is nothing greater to develop physical strength than a back squat.
There will be naysayers who demand that the deadlift is the best or strongman events like sled push or farmers carries are tops.
And they may make valid points as to why.
And there will be those that say, “what if my [shoulders, knees, hips, ankles] don’t allow me to back squat?”
I can’t argue with someone if they feel like their body hurts when doing a traditional back squat but strength coaches are notoriously creative when it comes to movement variations! 🙂
So today, I will provide you the reasons why I THINK the back squat is the best way to develop overall strength in the body AND I will provide a number of variations to accommodate the most common restrictions with back squatting.
Back Squat for Strength
As I said, I think the back squat is the best physical strength developer, not just for the legs but for the ENTIRE body. So let’s dig further into my reasoning for this.
This is the most obvious as anyone who has ever back squatted for the first time will tell you stories of not being able to get off the toilet, struggling to heave themselves out of bed or other tales of soreness woes and fatigue.
When you squat down, particularly past parallel, the muscles in the lower half of your body are working overdrive through their entire range of their motion (shortening and then re-lengthening). You force your muscles that generally stop you from moving or slow you down to fight against the weight as you descend, thus controlling the motion to the bottom of the squat.
Then, as you push into the ground and into the bar, your muscles that assist in accelerating the body kick on to help push your body back to standing.
Additionally, when you screw your feet into the floor, you can create torsion, or rotational force. The muscles that sit medial and lateral to your big movers (quads, hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes) turn on to help create tension on the way down and then assist in the spring-like effect necessary to drive the body and bar back to the top position.
When I refer to the back squat, you are likely to hear me call it that, a BACK squat. Many seasoned strength athletes will just refer to the back squat as “SQUAT.”
I am not anal retentive about it, but here’s what I know and why I will always refer to it that way: you need some serious BACK strength, assisted by core strength to BACK squat. It’s my little reminder to anyone I’m coaching that you have to use your back and hold good posture for a back squat to go well.
In fact, assuming everything is properly coordinated, breath and bracing are solid and the foundation is created with the floor, the breaking point for a max effort back squat most often resides in the trunk, not the legs or hips.
When squatting, you want to create a pillar of strength between the moving levers (legs/hips) and the implement (barbell).
So your objective is to create as strong of a core pillar as possible with a big breath and bracing, avoid an extended low back position and then push the back into the bar while simultaneously attempting to bend the bar.
It sounds completely backwards to pull the bar down when you want to come up but give it a shot the next time you are feeling like you can’t get enough tension in the torso. You will get a boost of power from this simple objective.
When utilized correctly, the abs and back give you the strength to crush your back squat goals and the sexy muscles you want to show off 🙂
There are A LOT of ways one can look strong: eat better, train like a bodybuilder etc. The back squat will help with muscle gain. But the strength gained by back squatting, for many people, isn’t something that is visual.
When you back squat properly and reasonably heavy for your abilities, you must learn how to breathe for tension and brace against significant load. These are tools that have immense carryover to any physical activity you want to or are forced to do. Learning proper bracing is what allows people to avoid low back and other similar injuries and feel confident in taking on new challenges they may not yet understand how to do.
Having this ability is basically coordination. And I’m not going to tell you that by back squatting well you are going to all of a sudden be able to catch a ball. That’s a whole different issue we aren’t diving into.
Instead, coordination is the ability to tie the body together for a common goal. And so many movements in life or athletic endeavors involve some variation of a squat. From the golf swing, to climbing, to playing ultimate frisbee, squatting is necessary.
And when you don’t yet have the skills but you have the coordination to do the basics, it will get you by and give you time to develop the skills. You can have fun, be powerful, learn a new activity and then crush people!
So now what?
If you don’t want to back squat at this point, just stop reading. But for the rest of you who are itching to grab a bar and start crushing some weight, I have a quick disclaimer.
Not all of you can back squat…
I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. Stuff happens, life gets in the way, so do injuries and surgeries and…
But, I wouldn’t leave you hanging. I have compiled a series of back squat variations so you can find the one or ones that will work for you.
Oh and if you are totally healthy and don’t have any restrictions, you should experiment with ALL the variations!
Properly Done High Bar Back Squat
Low Bar Back squat
Safety Bar Back Squat
Transformer Bar Back Squat
Box Back Squat
Mini Band Back Squat
Lifting Shoes High Bar Back Squat
Heel Elevated Back Squat
There are many variations that we didn’t go over. That is the great thing about squats, you won’t ever be done experimenting and establishing a host of different back squat records for yourself will only continue to develop your strength, build up your weaknesses and provide a foundation of strength to make you awesome at life.
And by records, I’m not going to tell you setting 1 rep maxes is imperative. I think it’s a great way to measure your improvement. But setting new 2, 3 or 5 rep records for yourself, even 5 lbs at a time, functions great for most anyone. Because, if you are just trying to continually get stronger, sets of 3-5 reps are great for 3-5 working sets at weights between 70 and 85%. The majority of people don’t need to push heavier than this because it will get you close to technical failure (where technique breaks down but you don’t actually fail).
When you combine this type of squatting with the necessary accessory work to continue trunk and leg/hip development, you will develop a strong body capable of giving back as much as you wish!
We are FITSTRONG!