Squat: The King of all Lifts?

Deadlifting is probably one of my favorite lifts. There’s something magical about pulling a heavy barbell off the ground. Most people will say it’s a true measure of strength.

As much as I love the deadlift, people can get away with some pretty bad form during the lift.  Rounded back, stiff-legged, hitching the weight up the legs. When you’re pulling 105% of your max, a bit of technical breakdown is bound to occur… even in the most advanced lifters.

But the squat… oh, the squat… Not only do you have to be strong, but a master of technique. (Nearly ever powerlifting competition I go to, I’m told that my technique is flawless.) Sure, I’ve also seen some pretty poor squats in my life, but the chance of missing a squat is much higher. Most people can get away with just ripping the bar off the ground on a deadlift, but much of the success of a squat depends also on the eccentric (lowering) portion of the lift… something the deadlift doesn’t have.

While I’m not one to say that if “you can’t squat, you’re not strong,” I do believe that because the squat requires so much technical work, it could be considered the king of all lifts. In fact, a basic bodyweight squat is one of the best assessment tools you can use to find strengths, weaknesses and deficiencies.

While this isn’t a comprehensive list of squats, it will give you a good list of squats to rotate in and out of your program based on what exactly you need to work on at that time.

Front Squat (BB or KB)– Because the weight is placed in the front of the body, this requires the lower, mid and upper back to work really hard to stay upright. For someone lacking strength in the mid/upper (thoracic) back, this is a great starting point.

Box Squats– Love box squatting. Breaks up the eccentric/ concentric train and you always know your depth.  You can use low boxes, parallel boxes, slightly higher boxes. Try using narrow stance, medium stance and wide stance box squats.

Safety Squat Bar Squats- can be used free squatting or box squatting. This bar will humble you. Definitely hits the mid/upper back.

Giant Cambered Bar– Again, another humbling piece of equipment. I freakin’ hate this bar, but it’s what I need to use the most.

Free/Back Squats– Typically the staple exercise used in most programs, but one that I personally rarely use. I use the other squat exercises to build my regular squat.

Goblet or KB squats- I like doing these during deload weeks or as an accessory exercise. Great for building the upper back and helping to keep posture tall during the squat.

Overhead Squat– Not only is this a good warm-up exercise, but it’s a great assessment tool for a person’s weaknesses.  It’s also a base lift if you do a lot of Olympic lifting.  Start light and master the movement.

Just remember that squats can be rotated in various ways. Some will do the same exercise for 3-4 weeks, just increasing weight and decreasing reps. (This is great for beginners so they have 4 weeks to master the movement.)  Others will rotate the exercise every week, going for a 1-5 rep max each week for the various lifts. If you’re technically sound in the squat, you can rotate the exercise more often.  If you’re hammering out some weaknesses and technical issues, stick with the same lift for 3-4 weeks.

About Julia Ladewski

7 Responses to “Squat: The King of all Lifts?”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. I love GGS! I have been so inspired by all you girls to start lifting heavier, and for the past 6 months it has made a huge difference. Squatting is a problem, though. Not only am I 6 ft tall, but I have relatively short arms and long legs (36 inch inseam). I always seem to lean too far forward while squatting. My hips are tight, and I have a sensitive low back from an old disc injury. Even just a 65 lbs front squat (a little less than half of my BW) is very hard. do you have any recommendations for remedial squatting exercises given my anatomical disadvantages? Should I even attemot squats at this point? Thanks and keep up the inspiring work!

    • I’d start with not going through a full range of motion. Or a higher box squats. Unfortunately, having an old disc injury is going to cause some issues. Bill Hartman and Mike Robertson (as well as several others in the industry) would be good resources for spine issues. I guess it just depends if you’re having a lot of pain and if you need to squat for a reason.

  2. I’m not Julie, and I can’t speak for her, but I can kind of empathize with you (not just ‘sympathize,’ but, also ’empathize,’ since I’m almost 5’10” without shoes, I’m tall like you and can feel your pain).

    What I’m trying to say is that since you’re tall, the it’s harder for you to overcome leverage (your femur, which is the bone between your hip and knee is longer). The easy way to imagine your leverage problems is to imagine picking up a SHORT stick off the ground my one end. (That’s what Julie faces, since she’s short.)

    Then, imagine picking up a long broomstick off the ground, again, by one end (that’s what you or I face when attempting to squat).

    So, in conclusion, my recommendation is to be content that you can overcome bad leverage and still squat a weight.

    One rough estimate on how to “even the odds” is to do a partial squat over the same range of motion as a shorter lifter to whom you are trying to compare yourself. It would not be a legal competition lift, but it would be a good assistance exercise, and furthermore, it would allow you to compare yourself on equal footing with shorter lifters, and THIS IS IMPORTANT, since it can help your self-esteem and encourage you with new-found confidence that you are accurately assessing and measuring your “actual” strength. Don’t kid yourself, your psychological edge is very important — lifting starts in the mind.

    Gordon Wayne Watts
    LAKELAND, Fla.

  3. Thanks so much to bothf you for the ideas!

  4. Edel says:

    Hey Julie, Loving your work!

    Can you suggest some more kb/db/bodyweight excercises to strentghten to mid to upper back please? When I front squat or clean I struggle to hold onto the bar more than anything else. My overhead squat is very poor and I would like some variations to help move forward with them……..pretty please!

    Sorry if you have posted something like this before I knew you existed : ) but would greatly appreciate it if you could point me in the right direction. Thanks

    Keep it Strong Girl x

    • Julia Ladewski says:

      Edel, I can certainly put together a nice post on some upper back exercises!! For now, look into:
      Face pulls
      YTI raises
      DB Power Cleans
      Mini Band Pullaparts

      • Edel says:

        Thank you Julia,very much appreciated. I will get cracking on these for now and look forward to any future additions. How did your meet go over the weekend? I hope you did well! Thanks again : )

Leave A Comment...