Why You Should Squat Heavy

I recently watched a DVD on overhead throwing athletes and rehabilitation that featured Mike Reinold and Eric Cressey. Reinold is a well-known physical therapist (owns and operates Champion PT in Massachusetts). Cressey is a widely respected and highly educated strength and conditioning coach. Anyways, on the DVD Cressey spoke about the injury threshold of a muscle or human body. The idea was that a strong muscle is less likely to get injured in comparison to a weak muscle (Well that’s common sense).

Now let’s apply that same knowledge to the squat. Imagine in your head, two friends that are relatively the same body weight, height and age. Friend X could perform a 1RM (repetition-maximum) of 135 pounds. Friend Y could perform a 1RM of 405 pounds. The logical (and correct) thought would be that Friend Y would be less prone to injuries.

Friend Y could do yard work, work a full time desk job, and partake in a weekend kickball game without pain. When Friend X tried to do the same activities, he ran into trouble. I’m going to ruin the surprise for you and tell you that X eventually developed back pain an overuse knee pain. Why did this happen???

Muscles have a certain capacity to perform work. The larger the capacity, the more reserve they have. Let’s use the biceps as an example. Let’s say your best bicep curl is 100 pounds for 1 RM. If your biceps performed 5 pound curls every minute for 8 hours, it could probably hold out and last. However, what would happen if your best bicep curl was only 20 pounds for 1 RM. Your poor biceps are not going to be able to sustain lifting 5 pounds every minute for 8 hours. Eventually you potentially develop tendonitis, DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) or even rhabdomyolysis. They may have to amputate the arms because you just killed it too hard with curls (just kidding!).

Now, let’s switch out the biceps for the squat muscles. The squat muscles would include quads, hamstrings, glutes, core etc. If your squat muscles can sustain and lift a heavier 1RM, your body will certainly be more resilient to injuries. Standing up and sitting down would be an easier task if you had strong squat muscles. Navigating stairs or going on long walks/hikes wouldn’t be such an issue with strong legs/core.

Stand From Chair.jpg
Don’t be like this guy! Squat heavy!

The point I’m trying to make and get across is that you should lift heavy! Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself to a 1RM or 3RM. Make sure you have an experienced coach or trainer assess your technique before attempting a personal record. Staying in your comfort zone and performing body weight squats for high reps is not a bad thing. However, you are selling yourself short by not seeing what your body is capable of. If you’re young and able, I challenge you to find that personal record and try to continuously improve your strength. It will be mentally and physically good for you.

Lu Front Squat

There have been numerous studies and articles written on how muscle loss and weakness is positively correlated with death and a shorter life span (1-7). The squat, when performed correctly and with good programming, will improve core strength, increase muscle mass/power/strength, increase your resiliency to injuries and improve your life expectancy.

When I was in physical therapy school, we learned that walking speed and weakness was directly correlated with how long an elderly person had left to live (8). Exercise is the best medicine. Think of heavy squats as a necessary nutrient in your life. Take your squat vitamins and don’t be afraid to drop it like its hot SQUAT! 

Hope you enjoyed this fun post,

Kevin Photo
Dr. Kevin Sonthana, PT, DPT, CSCS

With

SquatBottom
Dr. Aaron Horschig, PT, DPT, CSCS, USAW

 

** Special thanks to Ryan Ruble for his awesome drawings!

References

  1. Newman AB, Kupelian V, Visser M, et al. Strength, but not muscle mass, is associated with mortality in the health, aging and body composition study cohort. Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences. 2006; 61A(1):72-77
  2. Ruiz JR, Sui X, Lobelo F, Morrow Jr JR, Jackson AW, Sjorstrom M, & Blair SN. Association between muscular strength and mortality in men: prospective cohort study. British Medical Journal. 2008; 337(a439):92-95
  3. Xue QL, Beamer BA, Chaves P HM, Guralnik JM, Fried LP. Heterogeneity in rate of decline in grip, hip, and knee strength and the rate of all-cause mortality: the women’s health and aging study II. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2010 Nov. 58(11):2076-2084
  4. Goodpaster BH, Park SW, Harris TB, Kritchevsky SB, et al. The loss of skeletal muscle strength, mass, and quality in older adults: the health, aging and body composition study. Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences. 2006; 61A(10):1059-1064
  5. Cooper R, Kuh D, Hardy R, et al. Objectively measured physical capability levels and mortality systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2010; 341:c4467
  6. Rantanen T, Harris T, Leveille SG, Visser M, et al. Muscle strength and body mass index as long-term predictors of mortality in initially healthy men. Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences. 2000; 55A(3):M168-M173
  7. Ruiz JR, Sui X, Lobelo F, Lee DC, et al. Muscular strength and adiposity as predictors of adulthood cancer mortality in men. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 2009;18:1468-1476.
  8. Ostir GV, Kuo YF, Berges IM, Markides KS, et al. Measures of lower body function and risk of mortality over 7 years of follow-up. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2007; 166(5):599-605

Published by

Dr. Aaron Horschig

Doctor of Physical Therapy, CSCS, USAW coach and athlete.

8 thoughts on “Why You Should Squat Heavy

  1. I can only get to slightly above parallel while maintain my lumbar curve. To get bellow parallel my lumbar curve goes into flexion. (Butt wink) How can I improve this? What do I need to work on? Is it my ankles, hips or thorasic spine?
    If I had more ankle mobility and allowed more flexion at this point would this allow me to get where I want?

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    1. Gareth, butt wink is often caused by a lack of hip mobility. Basically the femur hits its end range of motion in the capsule and in order to squat deeper the pelvis is pulled under the body. To a point this can be bad, but if its only a small amount its not necessarily a horrible thing. I would suggest working on hip mobility. You can check our our blog entitled “The Squat Fix: Hip Mobility pt 3”.

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  2. I always c u and others (Kane ) forgot last name in a squat deep squat position, for periods of time. And I seen other people as well. Just curious on the reasoning. Is it to improve mobility, flexibility? Or just make it easier when u do squat. And is deeper the better? I tend to go atleast parallel. I noticed the deeper I go the more involvement of gluteus n hams. My max I can only go parallel.

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    1. I sit in a deep squat often as a way of expressing full functional mobility. Remember, the squat is a movement ever before its an exercise. While we can limit barbell squat depth to parallel (especially for powerlifting) we should all have the ability to sit in a deep bodyweight squat

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  3. I am wondering what the long term effects are of going heavy. I’m 26 and have been squAtting heavy since I was 13. Is it possible for my body to keep this up for the rest of my life? Obviously I won’t be as strong when I get older. But I have heard travis mash and others talk as if being a competitive weightlifter/powerlifter/crossfitter will have negative effects in the long run. I want to go heavy. But I don’t want be in pain every day when I am older.

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    1. Jordan! Good question – as long as good programming is used (with fluctuations in intensity, volume and frequency) AND you make sure not to push through pain when you do feel “off” you can most definitely squat heavy for the rest of your life!

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