Does Everyone Need to Squat?

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In a word: No. Actually, much like everything… depends.

But before I get a fusillade of hate mail for making such a heretical comment, hear me out for a second.

There’s a huge dichotomy between the word need and want.

Need and want are too different things.

  • Do you need to crush beers on the weekends?  No, but you want to.
  • Do you need to bench press three times per week?  No, but you want to.
  • Do you need to remind your boyfriend that he’s not Channing Tatum, every…..single….day?  No, but you want to.  We get it ladies.  Channing Tatum can dance. And he has abs that could deflect bullets. And yes, his index finger probably has more sex appeal than the entire East coast.  But do you have to throw it in our face every minute of every day?  We have feelings too, you know!

This whole subject was spurned a few weeks ago when, after my most recent T-Nation article about shoulder pain went up, some internet warrior decided to chime in to bust my balls and made a comment that he stopped reading once he saw that I stated my best bench press was 315 lbs.

Trust me: I’ll be the first to admit that my bench numbers are pathetic, and that I should have a few points revoked from my man-card.  

I replied back with: “Yeah but my internet max is like 405. That has to count for something, right?”

Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with squatting, but it speaks to the incessant chest bumping and bravado the pervades the internet, and the fitness industry as a whole.

Peruse any fitness forum and you’ll invariably notice one common denominator, especially when it comes to squatting:

EVERYONE squats ass to grass.

And everyone, seemingly, squats 600 lbs.

For reps.

With Mila Kunis on their back.

 This, my friends, is utter bull to the shit.

What’s even more comical (or scary) is that the same people that claim to lift these world renowned numbers are also the same ones who call out people for not squatting ass to grass, or chastise those who refrain from squatting all together.

As a strength coach (and some parts meathead), I’d be remiss to poo-poo on the squat.  I want people to squat as I feel they’re an invaluable exercise that helps build strength, power, and helps to improve athletic performance.  Moreover, you’d be hard pressed to find another exercise which helps burn more calories.  So, for those more concerned with fat loss or aesthetics, squats are unparalleled.

Taking it a step further, though, I also feel squats do a fantastic job of offsetting many of the postural imbalances we see from those who spend a vast majority of their lives sitting.

Someone who can perform a proper squat demonstrates that they have the ample ankle dorsiflexion, hip flexion, t-spine extension, core stiffness, and glenohumeral ROM (to name a few) to do so. Which is saying a lot given many people can’t sit down onto a chair without blowing out their back.

So I guess the question isn’t so much “does everyone NEED to squat,” but rather……

……..“which squat variation is the safest and most effective for that one individual?”

While I’m all for people squatting with a full ROM, sometimes it’s just not feasible, and borderline counterproductive.  Make someone with chronic anterior knee pain or Femoral Acetabular Impingement (FAI) squat ass to grass, and you’re setting them up for something bad to happen.

And, you’re an a-hole.

Likewise, take someone with a degenerative disc issue or who has any number of postural imbalances, place a bar on their back and make them squat, don’t be surprised if your eyes start bleeding.

Conversely, even if someone does have crazy mobility and demonstrates that (s)he can squat to depth, that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

I’ve worked with a handful of dancers, gymnasts, cheerleaders, and Yogi’s who could contort themselves into a human pretzel and could easily squat all the way to the ground, but because they weren’t able to stabilize within that ROM, I felt it was not in their best interests to squat.  That low.

We still squatted.  Just within a ROM that was safe for THEM.

More to the point, I place a priority on technique (regardless of depth):

– Groove a proper hip hinge pattern (learn to sit back).

– Push the knees out.

– Learn to engage core stiffness (get tight).

– Learn to engage the lats to provide more stability to the spine.

– Maintain a “neutral” spinal position.

– Try not to pass out.

And the list could go on and on.

Look at something like a Goblet Box Squat:

[Video credit to John Gaglione]

To me – and many other fitness professionals – the Goblet squat is about as idiot proof as a squat can get.  The anterior loading forces the trainee to engage their core, and the box helps to keep them “honest” and learn where proper depth actually is.

Additionally, if I have to bring the box up due to any number of issues – FAI, knee pain, whatever – I can do it and still reap many of the benefits.  Really, all I care about is grooving proper technique anyways.

From there, we can progress the exercise to a lower box, or to a free-standing squat (no box).  Or maybe even a goblet squat with pulse:

And then we can gravitate towards more “aggressive” squat variations like front squats or box squats or whatever we deem appropriate.

In the end, I just wish more people would consider that not everyone can show up on day one and squat, let alone ass to grass – especially without taking into consideration someone’s health history, injury history, postural imbalances, compensation patterns, and experience.

So to bring this all back around again: I DO feel that everyone should learn to squat…..the right way. But more importantly, to choose the appropriate variation that suits they’re needs.

Whether or not someone wants to squat is one thing. That’s a can of worms I don’t want to open here  Do we need to squat?  Well, that depends.  I want to say yes given the plethora of benefits that squats have to offer.

But given how a lot of people move nowadays, it might be one of those things that’s not worth the effort – at least to start, and it’s better to approach things on a case-by case basis.

I’m obviously not going to go through every squat variation and say who should be doing what. That would take forever.

If anything, I hope this post at least starts a conversation amongst those reading and it gets people to take more of an objective look at how they go about making recommendations and programming for their clients.


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