Saturday, November 28, 2009

Squatting for Athletes

A good image of Russian lifter, Anatoly Pisarenko squatting.

Is there a good reason why non Powerlifters should max out in squatting movements? Prior to the 1960’s squatting exercises were considered as assistance movements to build strength for cleans and snatches, as well as leg power for other sports. The idea of performing a 1 rep max was not a priority. In fact, the exercise was usually referred to as the deep knee bend. Generally the exercise was performed by either cleaning the weight first, then pushing it over the head on to the shoulders or by standing the bar up on end then squatting down and rocking the bar across the shoulders. While some amazingly strong men were able to use over 500lb. in this fashion, it wasn’t until the late 50’s and early 60’s when Paul Anderson pushed the limits much higher. This is when squat stands came into vogue.
It was during this time when the sport of Powerlifting began. Prior to that time the only sanctioned lifting sport was Weightlifting also known as Olympic style weightlifting. This consisted of three lifts, the Press, Snatch, and Clean and Jerk. In 1972 the Press was dropped due to inconsistent judging. Weightlifting is now the Snatch and Clean and Jerk. For these iron athletes squatting was a means to an end. Maxing out is rarely done. Ask a world class weightlifter what their best back or front squat is and they will usually reply with the heaviest lift they have done for a double or triple. A one rep max in a squatting movement is irrelevant.
However back in the 60’s in the United States there were a lot of men training who did not perform the standard weightlifting lifts either due to lack of access to coaching, lack of interest, or lack of ability. Competitions in other common training lifts began to immerge. As interest grew, these “oddlift” competitions, as they were known, became more standardized. Soon the Bench Press, Back Squat, and Deadlift became the accepted standard lifts and the sport was called Powerlifting, although strength lifting would be more correct. It is not the purpose of this article to cover all the history of the growth of this sport, but sufficeth to say, today Powerlifters greatly outnumber Weightlifters and there are a variety of organizations that sanction competitions with a variety of rules. The powerlifts are more popular than ever as they are relatively simple to perform in contrast to the more complex weightlifting movements. It was determined that the legal depth for a competitive back squat would be thighs breaking parallel. This is interpreted differently by the different organizations. Some consider a legal squat to be top of the thigh below parallel. Other consider the middle of the thigh and some the bottom hitting 90 degrees. You can watch a lot of squats on Youtube where football players get excited about heavy squats that do not even approach parallel. You can see Powerlifters bound up in tight elastic suits and all manner of strange things where max squats are involved. For weightlifters squats are performed by going as low as possible. No thought is given to parallel or minimum “legal” depth. When you remove the idea that a squat should be performed as a one rep maximum strength test, then there is no need to specify depth. It only makes sense to bend your legs as far as they can bend and strengthen the entire range of motion.
Compare the squatting techniques demonstrated by these examples from Youtube. One is a “World record” from one of many powerlifting organizations complete with all the "gear" and monolift...etc., one is a world champion weightlifter in "no, no, no" style (no wraps, no belt, no spotters), the other is a world class bodybuilder who began his training as a weightlifter. You can see the influence in his squat style. Which style would be most productive for your sport? Is a one rep max more important to throwing far than developing dynamic strength through a full range of motion?

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