The Exercise I Was Doing "All Wrong"

Let’s talk about lifting weights… LOTS of weights.  But to tell you the whole story, first let me take you back to when I released a little DVD called Dynamic Kneebars…

Because it was (and still is) the only resource dedicated solely to the topic of kneebars – the king of the leglocks – it was a very successful, widely distributed video.

At the end of the DVD I have a short bonus section covering the five most useful weight training exercises to develop a killer kneebar. And it’s no coincidence that the very first of those exercises is the barbell squat.

If you can only do one weightlifting exercise then it should probably be the squat – it’s a great exercise for your legs, and the legs are so very important in jiu-jitsu and grappling. Also the squatting motion itself is a very sports-specific movement.

The squat also strengthens your torso, because your core muscles really have to work in order to stabilize the weight of the barbell on your shoulders.

Finally the squat strengthens your whole body. I’ve been told by more than one coach: “if you want to get a big bench press then you have to squat too.” What they were talking about is the hormonal effects of squatting. Moving that much weight around has a strong metabolic and hormonal effect on your whole body, not just your legs.

The squat has been one of my cornerstone exercises since about 1996 or 1997. I was taught how to squat by a friend of mine who was a personal trainer. He took me under his weightlifting wing, making sure that my squat form was good so that I didn’t hurt myself with this exercise.

So I was shocked when, a few years ago, a strength and conditioning coach first complimented me on the Dynamic Kneebars DVD, but then told me “you’re doing your squat all wrong.” At first I felt defensive. After all, I thought I had pretty good weightlifting form. I’d even put footage from one of my workouts onto a DVD, for Pete’s sake!

When I dug a little bit deeper and quizzed him, it turned out that the specific thing I was ‘doing wrong’ was that I was squatting like a bodybuilder. You see, I’d been doing what’s called a ‘high bar back squat.’ The high bar back squat is a whole body exercise, but the biggest driver is the quadriceps (the muscles on the front of the thighs).

This coach was advocating powerlifting squats for grappling and MMA conditioning. A powerlifting-style squat has the bar lower on the back, the legs wider, and sitting your butt backwards as opposed to bringing the knees forward.

A great review of the different squatting styles can be found here.

The net effect of these changes is to spread the effort out over your whole body, with a special emphasis on your posterior chain (the muscles on the BACK of your body).

After a little more research on the topic I decided to change things up and switch to a power-lifting style squat. I wanted to see how I felt with this style of lifting. I figured that if I didn’t like the results I could always stop and go back to my regular squatting style.

The following article by Dave Tate really helped me when I made the transition to the powerlifting squat: “How to Squat 900 lbs.”

Within a few months of trying out powerlifting squats I was hooked. My posterior chain got significantly stronger, and my knees and back felt great.

And I could squat a lot more weight!

Of course the two lifts are different exercises, and comparing the amounts of weight you can lift in both lifts against each other isn’t really fair. It really is apples and oranges. Nevertheless it was exciting when my maximum two-rep lift shot up from 315 lbs to 405 lbs.

That’s 90 extra pounds in 4 months, which is very significant (especially if you’re ‘supplementing’ your training with growth hormone and steroids).

I’m not lifting quite that heavy right now, but I’ve pretty much stuck with the powerlifting style of squatting. My training time is limited, and by making the squat even more of a whole-body experience my workout becomes more efficient.

If you don’t lift weights, I encourage you to start. Even once a week can have a significant effect on your body, especially when it comes to reducing injury. Try to get some qualified coaching, especially right at the beginning, so that you don’t injure yourself with a rookie weightlifting mistake.

If you do lift weights and don’t squat then I think you’re cheating yourself. You’re missing out one of the best strength building exercises out there.

If you do bodybuilding style squats then I encourage you to try powerlifting squats and see how you feel. Once again, a little coaching here goes a long way towards ensuring an injury-free lifting career.

And finally, if you try powerlifting squats and you don’t like them, that’s OK. Go back to regular squatting and I won’t think any less of you.

Any kind of squatting is (much) better than no squatting!

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