Old Strength Back Squats

I saw this video little while ago and thought I’d post it here on my blog as another inspiration for you. I want to show you that nothing is impossible, such as teaching a 72-year-old man to squat for the first time.

Here’s the summary text from the Starting Strength webpage simply called “The Squat – Training the Elderly.”

Starting Strength Coach Beau Bryant takes Dan, a 72-year-old new client with no prior strength training experience, through a modified teaching method for The Squat. In this first training session, Beau teaches Dan how to squat and then makes corrections in real-time as he works through his first three work sets.

The video, which you’ll find below, is a tad over 15 minutes long, but it’s well worth the watch. Dan, the person being trained, first practices with “air squats” sitting down and getting up from a stack of weights (although Beau calls it a “box”). Then he works with the 45 pound bare barbell. Finally, he does 3 sets of 5 reps per set with 55 pounds.

Dan isn’t totally non-athletic. He has a history of running marathons and has done or does yoga, so the discipline of exercise is known to him. However, those skill sets don’t necessarily translate into strength training.

Besides watching Dan’s first experience with the back squat, in the beginning of the video, you’ll notice a rather heavy-set gentleman resting on a bench behind Beau and Dan. Later, you’ll find out that this person is 50 years old and has been training at the gym for about a year. His first back squat was with a 75 pound barbell, and Beau says jokingly that he thought they were going to lose the fellow when he first started squats. Now, a year later, his best squat is at 395 pounds or just a hair under 180 kilos.

Beau gives Dan one piece of advice that makes sense while at the same time being totally counter-intuitive. After lifting the barbell off the rack and doing the walk back, Beau tells Dan to take a big breath and hold it going down into the hole and coming back up. He doesn’t take a breath until the rep is completed.

This is supposed to keep the abdomen rigid so Dan’s spine is stabilized under the load and doesn’t “wobble”. I tend to do the usual inhale as I go down and exhale as I come up. I’ve heard of holding your breath under load before, probably from some book or video Mark Rippetoe did. Makes me think that if I started this practice, I might be able to manage a heavier load in my own squat.

I originally saw the video posted in my Facebook feed, and one of the comments there was that the elderly shouldn’t squat at all because of the potential for knee damage. Certainly anyone who’s never done strength training before, and especially someone who is older, should get an exam from their doctor and make sure there are no physical barriers to doing squats. But I’ve seen competing powerlifters in their 70s working with very heavy weights, apparently with no difficulty. By the way, the comments on the YouTube page were much more encouraging.

As with Dan, if you’re going to learn to do squats and other compound barbell lifts for the first time, it would help tremendously to get a knowledgeable trainer to teach you the right stance and form from the very beginning. If I had it to do over again, that’s what I would have done. It would have saved me a lot of wasted time and a lot of injuries.

Here’s the video for your education and enjoyment.

There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.

Paulo Coelho


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