Guest Blog: John Brooks

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I’m switching gears a little bit today, and doing something completely different. Today I have a guest blog from John Brooks. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest (and undoubtedly a Pearl Jam fan), John’s a fellow colleague/muscle nerd who not only trains rowers and rugby players, but a handful of MMA fighters as well.

John’s always been supportive of my stuff (articles, blog, etc), and I’ve had the pleasure of exchanging numerous e-mails with him over the past two years or so. What’s more, he actually made a cameo appearance at CP last year when his wife competed in the Head of the Charles Regatta here in Boston.

Long story short, John sent me an e-mail a few weeks ago after the release of Functional Strength Coach 3.0, and the subsequent video that followed asking me why so many people were getting their panties all up in a bunch over the fact that Mike Boyle was not only “dissing” the squat, but hinting that he may very well eliminate them from his programming all together.

No Squatting

John made a rather convincing argument in his original e-mail:

“……..those guys seem wrong, but their arguments are damn compelling (regarding Boyle). However, what if they’re right for the general population? Or, more accurately, why is it that we tell every unfit woman with screwed up movement patterns who wants to look like (American triathlete) Lokelani McMichael that she needs to get fit before she can go run 20 miles a week, yet most muscle heads who want to look like Thiago Alves, we have no issues telling them to squat without similar caveats?”

First and foremost, this is Lokelani McMichael:

Lokelani McMichael

Secondly, how in the hell have I gone this long without including a picture of her in my blog?

Third, and most importantly, that was a damn good question raised by John. To that end, I asked John if he’d be interested in writing down some of thoughts on the matter. And this is what he came up with:

Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the squat. Mike Boyle, one of the most respected coaches in the country, caused an uproar with a video (linked above) that says he almost never squats his athletes (note: he did say almost). Testosterone Magazine recently published a few articles proposing hip extension exercises to strengthen the posterior chain, ostensibly to replace the squat.

On the other side of the fence is Mark Rippetoe who so eloquently declared: “you have to squat or you’re a pussy.” Or, a bit less extreme would be Coach Dan John: “Squats can do more for total mass and body strength than probably all other lifts combined.” Can heavy barbell squats turn one into a life-taker and heart-breaker, or are they dumb, dangerous, and unnecessary?

Thinking Monkey

What Coach Boyle says in the video makes a lot of sense; I have a bum SI joint that agrees with him: squatting incorrectly hurts, but never squat? It just feels… wrong. Every hypertrophied fiber in my body says that you have to squat to get strong. So what’s the truth?

The truth is they’re all right, and they’re all wrong. They’re all guilty of the fallacy of accident (ignoring exceptions to a generalization). The problem with the training world is that there are always exceptions. If done correctly the heavy back squat really is the muscle building panacea that Coach John and Rip say it is. However, most people lack the mobility and fundamental body awareness to squat correctly, and thus for them, it is dangerous and should be avoided.

Some guy from the internet once wrote: “most (read: not all) people shouldn’t be running,” and summarized:

“you need to be in shape to run. In doing so, your body will be able to handle the stress MUCH more efficiently and you will be less prone to all of those nagging injuries that come with being a runner.”

If we keep this logic in mind; if every unfit woman with screwed up movement patterns who wants to look like Lokelani McMichael needs to get fit before she can go run 20 miles a week, then don’t most muscleheads who want to look like Ivan Stoitsov need to follow similar caveats before they put a heavy barbell on their back and squat?

Without proper movement patterns and the stability to move under load you will end up squatting for a while, getting hurt, taking time off, healing, squatting some more… over and over…so on and so forth; just like runners who do the same thing. Everyone thinks for some reason, “this time is going to be different. This time I’m going to runsquat and I won’t get hurt.”

To make this more difficult, a good many trainers have never dealt with these issues themselves. They see it as a ‘technique issue.’ Their response to people who can’t safely reach full depth is to say “go lower, keep your arch,” and continually keep trying to jam square pegs into round holes because they dogmatically believe everyone has to squat.

So what do we do? We have to assess and progress athletes from where they are to the point where they can get the muscle building benefits without injury. Depending on injury history some trainees may never be able to free squat at all. Some will always have to squat to a box. Some may never get past unilateral loading and pull-throughs.

The key is to look, find out what is causing their “bad form” and fix it. Get their hips open and glutes active (since you’re reading this blog you probably have a few good ideas about how to do this). What’s more, you should also emphasize core endurance (which is key in preventing back injuries), as well as strengthen the posterior chain, etc.

Get the athlete in shape. Then squat. The key is that no exercise is for everyone, and few exercises are for no one. These fundamental arguments are meaningless until we apply them to individual trainees.

NOTE: to contact John, you can visit his website HERE, or e-mail him at jbzero@msn.com

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