As much as we, as Mental Meat Heads, like to say we work outside of ego, we are not immune to it and from time to time fall prey to it’s lesser qualities. So it is with humility and no small touch of embarrassment I offer this post.
I thought I was a good squatter. Despite the fact the squat is not my strongest lift, I actually thought it was one of my better lifts. I can get pretty deep into a squat, or I should say, I can get my butt very close to the ground with my feet flat on the floor. I was proud of this flexibility, especially being a big guy, and felt that because I could get low my squat was somehow superior.
A few weeks ago, my good friend, Kevin Sheerin, released his free product Squat Domination, so of course, I had to give it a look-see. Kevin’s great guy, I knew he was passionate about his work, and I wanted to see not only what he’d produced but also if I could pick up a few pointers. After all, while I thought my squat good it still wasn’t my strongest lift and I wanted to see what I could do to bring it up.
Squat Domination is a good product. It could use a good copy editor (Hey Kev, I know one!) but the content is solid and if you follow his program you will increase your squat.
For me, it was just the beginning.
At Agoge Fitness Systems Friday and Saturday are squat days. The majority of my squatters train on Saturday, while I squat Friday. This past Friday I had an epiphany. While working my heaviest squat I noticed that on the last rep there was a “power leak.” While coming out of the hole my hips “slipped out the back” and started to rise before my shoulders which created an awkward Good Morning moment when my low back was having to work overtime to keep me upright.
Kevin details this very issue in Squat Domination and I was given a key to why my squat was weak. To give perspective, my squat is currently weaker than my bench press and a good two hundred pounds weaker than my deadlift. My epiphany was the discovery that my low back was the weak point and as I got close to 300 pounds it was showing itself.
On Saturday I was all set to fix everybody’s squat and get us all on the right track. Using a trick Andrea Seward (Smith) had taught me to fix my deadlift, I used the front uprights of a power rack as a guide to enforce proper bar path. It works like this: Get the bar into position on your back, step up until the bar comes in contact with the uprights of the rack and your mid-foot (center of gravity) is in line with the back edge of that upright. Now when you squat, if you maintain contact with the bar and the upright, your bar path will be a straight line perpendicular to your center of gravity, the ideal line of travel.
I stepped up to offer a demo for my clients and then, horror of horrors, I realized, I couldn’t squat! My lowback went into a major contraction as I strained to get half my usual range of motion, with an EMPTY BAR! I was at a complete loss. What had gone wrong?
I asked Samantha to film me and I squatted again, this time free of the uprights and like normal. On watching the film I realized, I was moving the bar forward, ahead of my center of gravity as I squatted. This was why I was losing power “out the back” when I got near max levels.
The rest of the morning was spent working mobility and flexibility with our local roller derby team. Before I left, my final client came through to be coached on squats before his workout. We worked 5 sets of 5 using an empty bar. I managed, with a wider than usuall stance, to get all 5 sets to a 1 foot box but not without effort.
And now my confession…I have been working as a personal trainer since 2004. Squats have admittedly been part of my programming from the beginning, but they were wall squats with a stability ball, body weight squats or goblet squats. I didn’t start back squatting until 2008 when I started Wendler’s 5-3-1 and, I’ll admit it, I started using a Smith machine.
When I started training it was all about the “core” and direct loading of the spine was a big No-No. I had a history of back issues and was afraid to hurt my back again.
In relatively short time I moved off the Smith and into my new power rack, but the lift never took off for me. In 2008 I started 5-3-1 squatting and benching off a max of 225, and deadlifted 270. Today, my bench and squat are still running neck and neck with maxes at 305 and 315, respectively, and my max deadlift is around 475.
Last Wednesday, bench day, I stalled at 295 on my second rep. I then stripped the bar to 225 and went for reps. I got 9. Friday, I attempted the same thing with squats. I got two reps at 285 and then stripped the bar to 225 — and got 6 before my confidence stalled me from going for 7. Hence, my bench is stronger than my squat.
So, now I have to fix my squat and that means much humility. It also means I have to work extra hard with each of my clients to make sure the mistakes I let filter into my own form hasn’t gotten into theirs.
Henry Rollins said, “The iron never lies to you.” And he’s right, but you can lie to yourself about what the iron says. You only get the message if you’re willing to listen and if you’re not listening no amount of truth will ever make a difference.
I wasn’t listening.
The iron was whispering it’s truth all along. “Dude, you’re squat is weak. There’s something wrong with it. Fix it.”
But I wasn’t listening, the message was too close to, “Dude, you’re squat is weak. There’s something wrong with you. You suck.” And because I didn’t want to hear anything that sounded like the latter, I was content to languor in mediocrity.
Why did I stop to listen? Kev.
Kevin’s program is brilliant. Not so much in it’s prescriptions, though they are spot on. No, it’s brilliant for it’s honesty. Kevin is not a monster squatter. He’s not a specimen of alpha male muscularity, with a physique molded into gargantuan proportions inspiring envy or awe. He’s just a dude (admittedly one with a killer accent).
He’s also one of the bravest dudes I know.
He stripped himself of all artifice and bluster and simply offered his experience. “Here’s something I used to suck at. Here’s what I did to make it better. Maybe it will help you, too.”
The bravery comes in not only being honest with himself, but also in being honest with all of us. And the result? We’re better for it.
So, I have to start all over with my squat, strip it down to it’s basic movement and build it from there. So what? What else am I going to do? Stay stalled at 300 pounds for ever? Refuse to listen to the iron’s truth and keep pushing until I get hurt?
Not likely. The iron’s talking and I’m listening, thanks to Kev anyway.
To our perfect imperfection,