Squat Practice

box squat
Photo: bonvecstrength.com

I had planned to do cardio and then ab/core work today, but I’ve been dissatisfied with my squats. At anything much beyond 115 to 125 pounds, I can’t get my butt down far enough to make my thighs parallel to the floor, at least with the promise of being able to stand back up again. My legs just aren’t that strong (yet).

So I thought maybe doing low weight, high volume squats as extra practice might be in order.

Problem. I didn’t want to get up again this morning. I had one interruption in my sleep to go to the bathroom but otherwise, woke up at around 3:40 a.m., which is about right if I want to swill coffee, get my brain to come alive again, and be at the gym by 5 a.m.

I was seriously considering making Friday a rest day and just lying around for an extra hour or so. But no. That won’t do. I forced myself up, hit the brew button on the coffee maker, and went through my usual wake up routine.

No rain again, but ice and fog, so driving was slow. I actually was a minute or two late getting to the gym, which kind of terrified me since the only piece of equipment I absolutely had to have was the squat rack. If I missed that opportunity, there really wasn’t much else I could do.

Also, if I’m going to do squats, I’d rather do them first since they take up so much energy. If I tried to do cardio and then squats, it would be a disaster.

But since I was planning to squat and then hit the elliptical, I brought my breakfast protein shake with me. Figured I’d squat, gulp down my protein powder, and then do cardio. It didn’t work out that way, but it was a nice thought.

Anyway, although there were a few people already in the gym, by the time I got my sweat shirt and protein container in the locker and made my to the squat rack, I was still the first person in the free weight room, if only by a minute or two.

Here’s what I did. I’ll explain why after the “stats”.

squatting to a bench
Photo: Livestrong.com’s YouTube channel

Back Squats in Squat Rack (squatting to bench)

8x 45lbs/20.4117kg
8x 95lbs/43.0913kg
10x 65lbs/29.4835kg
10x 70lbs/31.7515kg
10x 75lbs/34.0194kg
10x 80lbs/36.2874kg
8x 85lbs/38.5554kg
8x 90lbs/40.8233kg
10x 90lbs/40.8233kg
8x 95lbs/43.0913kg
8x 100lbs/45.3592kg

Rep total = 98

Bodyweight Roman Chair Back Ext (low setting)

x12
x10
x10
x10
x10

Bodyweight Bent Knee Ab Crunch

x25
x20
x20
x20
x30

squat rack
Credit: killer-fitness-instincts.tumblr.com

My legs and back were both sore when I got up this morning, which is another reason why I thought squats might not be such a hot idea. Fortunately, once I started working, that didn’t seem to be a limiting factor.

I pulled a bench into the rack with me and then experimented with just the bar. It’s funny how the first set, no matter how light, feels so heavy. The bar felt like it weighed a ton. But that’s why I need to warm up. Once I do, the bar feels fine.

Next, I figured I’d pick a nice, safe, light weight, like 95 pounds, so I grabbed two 25 pound plates and put them on, one on either side of the bar, put on the collars, got into position, and lifted the barbell off of the pins.

Then I squatted down until my ass was on the bench. So far so good. Then I tried to stand up again.

Oh, I succeeded, but it was harder than I thought. I initially planned a “working weight” of 115 pounds, but I realized that wasn’t going to happen. So I went lighter…way lighter.

That made it easier to do a full 10 reps per set. After each set, I increased the weight on the bar again just slightly in order to both practice my squats and to test my limits in being able to lift the barbell from essentially a seated position.

I had figured on doing 8 or 10 sets, but ended up doing 11. I got the weight back up to 95 pounds for 8 reps but decided to try out an even 100. I could still do a full 8 reps going down to and coming up from the bench, but I noticed I was making funny faces in the mirror with each rep.

When I got home, I counted all of the squat reps and they added up to 98. Incredibly light weight for any respectable bodybuilder or powerlifter, but that’s a lot of volume by anybody’s standards.

Two things. My legs were already tired since I’d done squats for two days this week and bent leg deadlifts for another two. I don’t know what would have happened if I’d let myself rest for a few days before trying this experiment. The other thing is that my back, though sore when I woke up, didn’t particularly complain during my squats or afterward. I noticed some slight soreness on occasion, but nothing I’d call a problem.

squat to seat
Photo: Bodybuilding.com

By the time I finished my squats, over 30 minutes had passed. I elected to do some core work instead of hitting the elliptical right away, but first I chugged down my protein drink on the theory that having protein right after finishing lifting will encourage an increase in muscle production.

We’ll see.

Doing back extensions actually seems to help the soreness in my back. Sure I felt it on the ninth and tenth reps of each set, but it was pretty slight, and as I sit here writing, my back’s lower lumbar region feels totally fine (although after sitting for a long time, I notice my thighs and lower back upon standing). If anything, I feel more soreness in my mid-back/lats area, but I think that’s just because of yesterday’s rack pulls and deadlifts.

I finished my core work and it was about 10 til 6. No time for cardio and I didn’t have anything else in mind, so I just went home.

For giggles, I decided to look up “low weight high rep squats” to see if this is a “thing”. The first search result that came up was a debate on the topic over 10 years ago on the Bodybuilding.com forums.

One guy said he swears by heavy weights and low reps as a better way to build muscle, and considers low weight, high rep squats to be just another form of cardio. If he’s right, then I got my cardio in today anyway.

Another person posted the following, which is a pretty standard opinion:

Reps of 1-5 create strength with minimal hypertrophy
Reps of 6-12 create hypertrophy and strength
Reps of 13+ create endurance and minimal hypertrophy

That said, yet another opinion stated that legs respond to anything between 3 to 50 reps. Then a few people mentioned the 20 rep squat program, but that involves high reps and heavy weights, which I can’t do right now.

I found this opinion interesting:

High rep squats or high rep anything generally are not good because most times your form breaks down before your muscles do, resulting in injuries. To keep good form, you must use a weight that is too light.

squatExcept I was doing low weight, high rep squats in order to practice keeping good form. Too light for what?

OK, I’m not planning to do my squats all high rep, low weight all the time. I was just curious as to whether or not others have trained/practiced squats this way and why.

The same person then said:

Many sets of heavy weight and low reps work the best for strength and muscle growth. Whoever says that the 1-5 rep range is not good for hypertrophy obviously has not been to a powerlifting contest.

In other words, if 1 person is doing 5 sets of 10 reps with 200lbs squatting and another person of equal strength is doing 12 sets of 4 reps with 300lbs, who is going to have the bigger legs?

That’s OK as far as it goes, but I couldn’t stand back up from a seated position on a bench if I had 200 or 300 pounds on my back, even for a single rep. I understand the principle, but I’m not there yet. Being over 60 years old, maybe I’ll never get there.

I looked at the other search results and it seemed like I was just going to get more of the same, so I tried searching for “low weight high rep squats to practice form.”

This article at SimplyShredded.com seemed promising. Under Squatting with incorrect form, it said:

Stopping far short of parallel isn’t the worst squatting offense. Many bodybuilders lean too far forward and push their hips too far backward, working their backs, hips and butts more than their quads. What’s worse, this could potentially strain your spinal erectors. If you’re going to do barbell squats wrong, it’s best not to do them. A better option is to practice the correct form of this invaluable exercise until you squat right every time.

muscles worked in squat
Photo credit: peakfatlossandfitness.com

But the “solutions” section didn’t say anything about reducing weight or practicing form with high reps. The advice for Using truncated range of motion wasn’t helpful, but Going too heavy came up with these “solutions”.

  1. Do full-range movements.
  2. Keep the reps for most sets in the eight-to-12 range.
  3. Focus on your muscles, not on the weight.

This is the first practical piece of advice that seemed to map to how I worked out this morning, especially the part about focusing on “your muscles not on the weight.” However, this site seems to be targeting bodybuilders more than powerlifters or strength trainers, so the higher rep range makes sense.

I decided to check out The Glute Guy, a site maintained by Bret Contreras, and got a lot of information, but not what I was looking for.

However, he said something that I thought was quite interesting and that I’ve been wondering about:

Head and neck position is a widely debated topic within the strength and conditioning field. For the most part, you want to try to maintain a neutral head and neck position, as this will put the least amount of stress on the neck. However, I allow some wiggle room for the lifter to determine what they feel is most comfortable. Some argue that the neck should be packed (double chin) throughout the motion, but there is no evidence to support this as being superior to other neck positions, and if you look at the strongest lifters HERE, you will see that all different types of head/neck positions are used during the squat. Just avoid extreme ranges of head/neck extension or flexion and you’ll be okay, and base your posture on comfort and what feels right for you.

Depending on who you ask, you should either look up, look down, look somewhere in-between while squatting. I’ve tried either extreme and find that looking slightly up (which is what my personal trainer Chase recommended) as I ascend from the hole seems to be better for my lower back. I wonder if height and particularly torso length is a factor? This is just an uneducated guess, but since I’m tall and have both long legs and a long torso, the position of my head/neck in order to maintain a neutral spine may be different than for people having other body proportions.

back squat
Photo credit: Tribe Sports

I was grateful for Contreras saying that head “and neck position is a widely debated topic within the strength and conditioning field.” At least someone admits it rather than insisting there is one and only one correct position for the head and neck throughout the squat.

My casual search didn’t seem to yield much relevant data to what I attempted this morning, so I decided to bag it and call it a day. If nothing else, I got some extra practice in improving my squat form and depth, even though I had to use what most people would consider pathetically light weights to do it.

Believe me, I really was working hard, and although I didn’t get crazy out of breath, I was still sweating like a pig, and on those last few sets, I actually got a little light-headed. In fact, when I was doing back extensions, which I started after finishing squats, I was still sweating enough to drip my DNA on the weight plates positioned at the base of the roman chair.

I definitely will sleep in tomorrow and not go to the gym (Yay, Saturday). I promise. I’ve got to rest sometime. As I think I mentioned before, next Sunday starts a week of 3/3/3+ or 3 sets of 3 reps per set, with the third set being open to more than 3 reps if possible (none of which includes the jokers). I’ll let you know how that goes.

Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.

John Sinclair

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2 thoughts on “Squat Practice

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