6 Things I Really Dislike
by Mike Boyle
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I was going to call this article "6 Things I Hate," then I realized I'd be a hypocrite. I tell my seven-year-old daughter all the time that hate is a strong word and it should be used with caution. Hence the new title.
As I've said frequently, the responses to the articles I write always seem to produce the next idea. An open forum is a wonderful incubator. Hopefully we can produce more meaningful dialogue or, in the case of some of my adoring audience, just mean dialogue.
It's okay. Thinking is good, and a little controversy is good for the mind. Let's stir up some now!
Dislike #1: People who make excuses for their high squats
Many people say they squat to "parallel," but they aren't even close! This may qualify as preaching to the choir, but it still needs to be said.
I spoke with Eric Cressey the other day and he said, "Everyone who reads Testosterone Nation knows that you should squat deep." If that's the case, why do we still see so many high school and college athletes half-squatting using huge poundages? Are our readers not out there training and coaching these kids and themselves?
It's like grade inflation in school. We get so numbers-oriented that we throw technique out the window. The fact of the matter is that a double bodyweight back squat done to powerlifting depth without gear is actually a pretty good lift. We've got number inflation from suits and wraps that make everyone shoot for the sky.
AJ Roberts, a great young strength coach and excellent powerlifter, just won the 308 pound class at the WPC World Powerlifting Championships. AJ was nice enough to give me his raw versus gear numbers. To say I was shocked is an understatement. Even with my level of experience, I have to admit to being out of touch with the effect of supportive gear. Check this out:
Squat: 950 pounds geared, 650 raw — 300 pound carryover
Bench: 700 pounds geared, 455 raw — ~250 pound carryover
Deadlift: 705 pounds, 661 raw — ~40 pounds carryover
(Note: AJ mentioned that in the last three years of powerlifting he hadn't trained for a raw max. The raw maxes were just done on a random day when he was feeling really strong in warm-ups. AJ also noted he weighed in at 276.)
Whether you're a front squat guy like me or a back squat guy like many other coaches, there's only one acceptable depth: powerlifting depth. Three white lights. Period. No parallel, no hamstring parallel, and definitely don't tell me you squat to "ninety."
This is all lame shit put forth by bad squatters who want to get weight on the bar, or excuses put forth by those who don't want to work on flexibility and mobility. Either way, I think we should be on a personal crusade to bring these crazy numbers back down to earth.
When I was still a college football strength coach, I had a saying. I'd tell our football coaches when they were recruiting a kid to "divide his squat by two." A high school kid who claimed to squat 500 pounds would usually get a little more than half that on test day.
Figure 1 — If you measure the knee angle on the bottom, it's 90 degrees at a half squat. On the top is legit depth, knee angle closer to 45.
All of the descriptions — parallel, hamstring parallel, and ninety degrees — are excuses and euphemisms for lousy squats made by lousy squatters or (worse yet) by their coaches. I've had strength coaches tell me stuff like, "My guys have trouble getting that low." Well, fix your guys.
Just take weight off the bar and do it right. Squatting isn't an ability you gain, it's an ability you lose. Check out a baby picking something up off the floor. Picture perfect mobility. Perfect squats.
I love when someone tells me they squat to "parallel" and then I get to go to the gym and watch. I think, "My God, who taught your geometry class?" Parallel to what? I start to ask myself if there's a line on the wall going downhill at a 45 degree angle. Are they parallel to that?
For the record, parallel really means femur parallel to the floor. Visualize your femur and see if it's parallel to the floor. It's amazing how many people say parallel and are nowhere near it. The difference between the femur parallel to the floor and the bottom of the thigh parallel to the floor has been about 100 pounds in my experience. That means a 400 pound full squatter is a 500 pound hamstring parallel squatter. It also means reductions in mobility and 100 pounds more compressive load on the spine.
To eliminate this, I suggest using a twelve inch box for most athletes. We actually perform a "box squat" of sorts:
Our box is used to gauge depth. We have pads to adjust the box up for our taller athletes, but twelve inches works surprisingly well for most of my 5'8" to 6' guys. We make small adjustments for shorter or taller athletes.
We squat to a light touch on the box. No rebound off the box, no sitting. This is clearly not a Westside type squat. It's just a consistent depth gauge. You'd be surprised how many athletes will be right at a true full squat at twelve inches.
What I've realized is that there's more similarity in tibia length than femur length in most athletes. Tibia length really determines the distance needed in the descent, and it actually only varies about two inches from a short to a tall person.
Another thing the box does is encourage sitting down and back. After adding the box, I was amazed at how many athletes changed weight distribution during a set. As fatigue sets in, many athletes shift weight onto the balls of the feet and as a result squat higher.
The nice thing about my "box squats?" There are no arguments. Either they touch the box or they don't.
Dislike #2: People who say they can't squat because they have bad knees
This is more lame crap from those who can't squat or don't want to. All knee rehab now centers around squats or something that looks like a squat. Anyone who tells you they can't squat because they have bad knees is more than likely full of crap.
What they're really saying is, "I was never a good squatter. I always did them wrong and, as a result, my knees hurt." I even get doctors who say things like, " No more squats, just lunges." Sorry, how is a lunge different than a squat? Knee range of motion is knee range of motion.
Is there really any evidence that squats ever were bad for your knees? Nope, none that I've ever seen. There's actually more evidence for increased patella-femoral compression from leg extensions than there is for dangers of squatting.
If this "squats are bad" stuff isn't true, where did all this start? The "squats are bad for your knees" crap started with a 1969 book called The Knee in Sports by Karl Klein and Fred Allman. Many squat critics say this book contains strong evidence for squats damaging the knee joint. You know why they think this? Because they never read the book! Well, I have an original copy of it right here beside me and here's what it says:
"If squat type exercises are to be used, the weight should be kept in front. Even though it may not be possible to use as much weight, the exercise is safer and puts much less strain on the back."
What wisdom! Where have I heard that before? The authors continue:
"The depth in the squat should be controlled, with the thighs just breaking the parallel position."
The accompanying photo in the text shows a nice powerlifting depth squat. They conclude:
"Much beyond this point, the reaction between the hamstrings and calf muscle begins to act as a pry to force the joint apart... stretching the ligaments."
In other words, Dr. Klein and Mr. Allman recommended full squats, but didn't advocate breaking parallel. What Klein and Allman cautioned against were what they described as "deep squats." Deep squats were squats below parallel as might be seen in the catch portion of the clean and jerk or snatch in Olympic lifting.
As my man Alwyn Cosgrove always says, this produced a massive overreaction. Those who didn't take the time to read the book or even look at the pictures went on to badmouth squatting, saying it was dangerous and bad for the knees. One old rumor says that some gyms actually went so far as to ban full squats!
The bottom line, although some will disagree, is that there's no evidence that a powerlifting-depth full squat is bad for the knees, but there's some evidence that squatting below parallel (what many like to describe as ATG or "ass to grass") could be harmful to the collateral ligaments or to the posterior horn of the meniscus.
Does this matter? Very little. Most people never approach the knee danger zone in depth anyway. With my athletes I'm more concerned with lumbar stress than with knee stress.
By the way, I also dislike knee wraps. If you come to visit me, please leave your gloves and wraps in the bag. Knee wraps aren't a knee injury prevention device; they're an elastic aid to move more weight. In addition, they magnify the fulcrum effect that Klein and Allman describe.
Dislike #3: People who can do a pull-up or a chin-up but still do pulldowns
Why does this bother me? Because in my mind it shows mental weakness.
Every article on back training written since the dawn of time says that pull-ups are far superior to pulldowns. So why do people still do pulldowns? One reason: they're easier.
My females are better at chin-ups than many males I know. You know why? Because we have accepted the reality that it's better to pull up than to pull down. No excuses in my book.
When I spoke to Eric Cressey he cautioned me to not make this look like a rant. Again, many readers are probably saying, "I know pull-ups are better than pulldowns." If you know, why don't you do them? Why don't you make your clients and athletes do them? I'm writing the same stuff I wrote twenty years ago. We need to create change, and change begins at the top. Testosterone Nation readers are some of the most sophisticated, so I'll gladly preach to this choir.
By the way, I also hate writers who refer to pulldowns as lateral pulldowns. "Lat" is short for latissimus, not lateral. It's an amazing display of ignorance and poor editing when I see a book or an article that refers to a "lateral" pulldown.
Thirdly, I despise those who do behind-the-neck pulldowns. The only way anyone can make a case for behind-the-neck pulldowns is if they said it was a combination lift that worked both the lats and the rectus abdominus.
Dislike #4: The two-man bench press
You know the one I mean. The one where one guy lowers the bar and the other guy deadlifts it, all the while screaming, "It's all you, man!"
The two-man bench press has unfortunately become a staple in many college strength programs as strength coaches seek to increase numbers to keep the head coach happy. I've actually talked to athletes who describe how much they've benched "with a spot." What a joke. That's like saying you run a 4.0 forty with a "head start." Cut the crap.
I've actually seen coaches show videos of what look like revival meetings filled with gleeful football players wildly cheering while other players cheat their asses off on a lift. I hear rumors of college programs with twenty or more guys bench pressing 400 or more. Either they have the world's greatest strength coach or they're lying and cheating.
By the way, if you're a college strength coach and have twenty clean guys who can do a legit touch and go 400 pound bench press, my hat is off to you... and I want a copy of your program.
Let's review the rules again. The rules on the bench are simple: it's a touch and go lift. Bar is lowered under control, must touch the chest and return to the rack with no assistance. Any touching of the bar invalidates the lift. Period. No questions, no discussions.
Dislike #5: Shrugs
I dislike shrugs. Truth is, most people don't need any more dominance of the upper traps. As it is, most people are way out of whack when it comes to upper trap versus lower trap strength. Shrugs just reinforce the problem.
Want to know what's worse? Cheat shrugs. I have neck pain every day. I've spent years trying to get my neck right. Every time my neck hurts I think back to those late seventies and early eighties cheat shrug workouts. Four hundred and five pounds on the bar, a quick snap of the hips and a cheat shrug. It seemed like such a good idea at the time.
So did the George Frenn / Roger Estep "rocking box squats" we used to do. My sore SI joint is at least half due to those moronic workouts. As I've said before, I've been there; I know. I also know, if you saw me today, you'd be hard-pressed to believe I ever lifted.
Dislike #6: People who curl in a squat rack
I'm going to finish with the idea that prompted me to think of this article: curling in the squat rack. This is sacrilegious to me and identifies you as someone with no respect for gym etiquette. If you want to be respected by those who lift heavy weights, please pick up the bar off the floor.
It's a squat rack, not a curling station!
I actually read a post in the threads from my last article that said, "Where do you load up bars for barbell curls anyway? You can't do it on the ground." Why not? It seems to work fine for deadlifts. I don't care how much you can curl; if your biceps can move it, you should be able to deadlift at least three times that amount.
To finish my catharsis, please don't touch the stair climber or the treadmill if you're doing cardiovascular work. I know you're going to tell me that if you don't hold on you have to adjust the level or the decrease the speed. Good. Don't use your hands. It's also cheating.
I feel better. Feel free to add your dislikes to the thread that follows!
About the Author
Michael Boyle is a Boston based strength and conditioning coach and the owner of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning in Winchester, Ma. To read more of Mike's articles, visit www.michaelboyle.biz or check out www.functionalstrengthcoach.com.
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