My Road Back to Squats

Coming back to something you were once very good at, but now, you are starting again from scratch is never easy.

Once upon a time I was a full-time personal trainer and my whole identity was wrapped up in fitness, strength and being strong. So you can imagine how humbling it is to be writing a blog post about how pleased with yourself you were today because you did barbell back squats for the first time in over 6 months, and you managed 40kg on the bar for full, deep sets of 10!

I would have been happy with any number, but I was expecting to get 5 or 6 reps. So you can imagine getting 10 reps, and not to failure! It’s a huge win for me, and I’m excited and fuck it, that’s cool!

About two or three years ago, when I still had a 9 – 5, I attempted exactly this lift with exactly this weight and my back severely cramped at the bottom of the squat and it really, really hurt. It also scared the living daylights out of me, and I didn’t attempt back squats for a very long time afterwards. I was literally afraid of them. Afraid of squats. Isn’t that just so sad?

I mention my 9 – 5 job because I think that my back may have cramped like that because I was sitting down for so many hours a day. There may not have been a predictable reason. But I do think that sitting at a desk all day is the devil! It weakens the posterior chain like nothing else.

I don’t think that everyone needs to barbell squat, and certainly not everyone needs to barbell squat with a heavy weight. You can and should if you want to and if you can complete the lift safely. Squats are important, but there are so many variations, that unless you’re a strength athlete (i.e. a powerlifter, olympic lifter, a few other niche sports perhaps), you don’t have to put a heavy load across your back and move up and down. You just don’t. Don’t listen to any internet trainers or meatheads at your gym that tell you that you do. For most people, a few sets of goblet squats or even just body weight squats interspersed in your workouts are sufficient.

Why do I do squats? Because I like them. They’re a full body movement that takes strength and skill to execute well, they’re a big calorie burner, they “tone” (hehe), and they keep your back and your legs strong. I think foundational movements like the squat, the deadlift and the push up are important to achieve and maintain competency because you can’t complete them without a strong and healthy back, strong legs, knees, hips, core. If health is wealth, you have nothing if you don’t have a healthy back and good, strong legs to take you everywhere you want to go. Squats will help you keep stay strong, healthy, resilient and moving well.

What about if you can’t back squat? What if you have an injury or a limitation that makes barbell squatting problematic? You can do bodyweight squats, squats holding dumb bells, goblet squats, curtsy squats, box squats. Probably other squats too, haha. There are also a myriad of other awesome leg exercises as well. If your mobility and range of motion are limited (meaning, you can’t sit deeply into your squat and maintain good posture), then I actually advise you NOT to squat with a barbell at all and just work on increasing your range of motion safely. So do bodyweight squats, goblet squats and you can also squat to a box at your target height, and over time, your range of motion and competency at the movement will improve. I strongly recommend getting a good trainer to help you when or if you decide to graduate to a barbell. Remember, you don’t have to squat with a heavy barbell on your back. That’s probably the biggest squatting mistake I see in the gym day in, day out: people with low skill and poor range of motion, squatting with loaded barbells and no safety rails or usually without even a spotter.

As for me, I’m looking forward to building my squat up over the next few months from 40kg. I’ll probably be satisfied when I can manage 75 – 85kg for 6+ reps. I won’t be using rep ranges lower than that. I’m not obsessed anymore with hitting a target triple digit number. Probably in the new year I’ll switch to my true favourite lift, possibly of all time, my beloved front squat!

Do you like squats? What’s your favourite squat?

Health is wealth my friends, I’m treasuring mine.