By STEVE HOLMAN, IRON MAN Magazine
Squatting extremely heavy can do cumulative damage.
Q: What’s with your attitude about squats? It’s the best mass-building exercise, but you pan it. Are you turning into a fitness model instead of a hardcore bodybuilder?
A: Actually, a lot of fitness models train damn hard. They have to because they’re usually more ectomorphic and don’t take drugs. Hmm, that does kind of describe me to a degree.
Seriously, I’ve done my share of heavy squats—and I finally came to the conclusion that, for me, it’s not worth the risk. Squatting extremely heavy can do cumulative damage. That’s one reason many bodybuilders have to get hip replacements as they get older—one I know was only 59.
Luckily, I discovered the 4X mass method. The weights you use are moderate, so barbell squats aren’t quite as dangerous. You take a weight with which you can get 15 reps, but you only do 10; rest 35 seconds, then do it again—and so on until you do four sets. You go all out on the last one, and, if you get 10, you add a small amount of weight to that exercise at your next workout.
To make squats even safer, you can do a 4X sequence of leg extensions first for a modified preexhaustion effect. That will help you feel your squats more in your quads and force you to use a poundage that doesn’t compress your spine or inflame your hip sockets. And your quads will still grow—possibly better than ever due to more sarcoplasmic stimulation (the sarcoplasm is the energy fluid in muscle fibers that expands when you use high reps and/or short rests between sets).
For me the cumulative damage I’ve incurred from squatting excessive poundages can trigger back injuries even when I squat with moderate weights now (or twist the wrong way when getting out of my car). Instead, I often do 4X dumbbell squats—usually after 4X leg extensions.
If and/or when you do barbell squats, consider these suggestions:
1) Look straight ahead, not up—looking up can cause unnatural neck and spine stress.
2) Position your feet slightly wider than shoulder width with toes pointed at a natural outward angle—that puts your knees in their strongest position.
3) If squatting below parallel hurts your hips, don’t do it—stopping above parallel is not a sin. Remember, not everyone is structurally suited for deep barbell squats.
That said, I still do barbell squats every so often, but I try to keep my form perfect and use a weight that’s not spine-crushingly heavy. Call me whatever you like, but my plan is that no one will be telling me I need hip-replacement surgery down the road. (By the way, top pro bodybuilder Jay Cutler doesn’t ever squat more than 405 during his workouts—and his quads are pretty darned big.)