An Ode to the Squat

There is simply no other exercise, and certainly no machine, that produces the level of central nervous system activity, improved balance and coordination, skeletal loading and bone density enhancement, muscular stimulation and growth, connective tissue stress and strength, psychological demand and toughness, and overall systemic conditioning than the correctly performed full squat.

So what else might there be to say? To offer just another note of agreement would be pompous; more to the point, I’m not sure I’m qualified to offer straightforward affirmation of Mark Rippetoe‘s quote above. Still, perhaps a few words about my personal experience with the King of Lifts won’t be remiss.

The squat, like the deadlift and the press, is an elementary lift. In the deadlift, you pick a weight off the floor; in the press you raise a weight above your head; in the squat you put a weight on your back, squat down with it, and stand back up. Simple. (Note: a correctly executed squat requires proper training and much attention to form.) The loading of the lifter’s body frame with the weight and the nature of the movement–squat down, stand up–contribute to the lift’s systemic impact (as eloquently noted in the note above). Moreover, in a squat you can ‘move’ more weight, more frequently than any other lift; deadlift payloads invariably tend to be higher, but in a week of lifting, almost nobody can deadlift as many times as they can squat.

But the real appeal of the squat arguably lies in the experience it provides for the lifter. While the deadlift and the press are elementary movements and as such are deeply satisfying to execute because of their intrinsic simplicity, the squat fascinates because it adds the element of intimidation to the movement of the weight. In the squat, the barbell threatens to crush, to drive down, to oppress. In standing back up with the weight, the lifter resists and triumphs.

Thus is the archetype at the heart of the squat established: you place a load on your back that could make your knees buckle and your back crumple if the body’s frame were not stiffened and prepared, and you move that load back up to where it can no longer threaten you so. And then you walk it back into the rack.

The lifter experiences apprehension as he steps out from the rack and sets up, well aware that he is about to make a ‘descent’ from which he might not ‘come back up;’ the nomenclature of the ‘hole’, the bottom position of the squat, acts as a vivid reminder of this possibility; they are often the things that we cannot climb back out of. As the lifter emerges from the ‘hole’ with a heavy load he hits the midpoint of the ascent, where the barbell’s formerly-seemingly-quick upward ascent slows. The moment of truth is at hand; can this barrier be transcended? The lifter soon finds out for himself. A few seconds later, the barbell is on the rack, and the lifter steps away, breathing just a little harder, amazed yet again, at how the simple act of moving iron through space can be physically and mentally inspirational.

6 thoughts on “An Ode to the Squat

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