Monday, April 2, 2012

My Squat Story, Part 1

By Andrew McGunagle

The first time I ever squatted, when I was a skinny high school freshman, I got pinned by 135 pounds.

I wasn't this skinny, but I was pretty damn skinny.
I descended, couldn't get back up, and let the bar crash loudly onto the pins of the power rack. It was my first spring lifting session of my freshman year of high school. My freshman football coach and a couple of upperclassmen that were also lifting watched as I picked myself up off of the floor.

I had to ask one of the juniors to help me re-rack the bar.

I wish I could tell you that I regained my composure, nailed a couple of sets of five with that weight, and then went on to squat in the mid-four hundreds by the time I graduated from high school. Unfortunately, my squatting story isn't that simple.

You see, I loved lifting when I was in high school. The problem was that I did not know how to do it correctly and there was no one available to teach me. The lifting program at my school was a disaster; the only time it was ever organized was when we did puke-inducing Crossfit-style circuits the summer before my senior football season. After my initial squatting debacle, I erroneously stuck to high box squats and light front squats. My technique was terrible, my knees hurt, and I did not get big and strong. Not knowing how to squat wasn't my only issue, to be sure. But, it certainly was the missing factor that would have made the biggest difference.

Circuits sure did me good, lol.
Since high school, I have been lucky enough to learn a lot about lifting and a lot about squatting. When I first began to read articles online, I was influenced by the wide-stance, sit-back squatting that was, unfortunately, widely propagated on the interwebz. With this popular style of squatting, you can quickly squat (relatively) decent weights with minimal amounts of mobility. Due to my poor mobility, long legs, and past knee issues, I eagerly adopted this style. I couldn't squat like those perfectly-proportioned, genetically-gifted Olympic lifting guys, and I did not believe my long legs would ever allow me to. To be honest, I was content with that. I was squatting decent weights with what I deemed to be decent technique; I thought I knew what I was doing.

Until I met Ian and Jake.

Ian and Jake are a couple of guys that I met at my college's rec center. We had a couple of kinesiology classes together, and they seemed to know some stuff about lifting, so I asked them if I could meet them at the gym for a training session. They were a bit more muscular than I was, but our builds were comparable enough. Thus, I thought that I would have no problem hanging with them in the squat rack.

Boy, was I wrong.

My best squat at the time was 315 pounds. It was done with a feet outside of shoulder-width stance and my depth was probably just about at parallel. I thought that was cool, until I saw Jake do deep high bar squats with my max for sets of five and Ian do the deepest, cleanest front squats I had ever seen with something like 365 for sets of 3. I was simultaneously crushed, in awe, and curious. I had never seen such beautiful squats in person, and I immediately wanted to learn their secrets.
I thought this kind of squatting was cool...
...until I saw this kind of squatting in person.
Their secret, they told me, was really no secret at all. Read Mark Rippetoe's Starting Strength book, learn how to do his style of squatting, drink a gallon of milk every day, squat three times a week, and squat five more pounds than you squatted the session before.

Being the genius that I was, I didn't really believe them. I thought my legs were too long to ever squat with a fairly close stance. I thought I would never have the ankle mobility to shove my knees out. I thought linear progressions were for newbies, and that beginner gains only lasted for the first 6-12 months of your lifting career. I thought that drinking a gallon of milk a day would make me fat.

It took me about a year, but I finally did begin to understand that they were absolutely correct. About everything. I am here to tell you that doing squats and drinking milk works. Revolutionary, I know. But, my utter stupidity and my journey to rid myself of it can be very informative. I hope that my failings, and the time it took me to rectify them, can make the strength training process more efficient for you.

In the next part of this series, I will tell you how I relearned how to squat. I made a lot of mistakes along the way and, therefore, it was a long process. However, in the past year I have learned more about how to perform and how to teach the squat than I ever had in the past. My trials and tribulations can be your reward, so stay tuned for part 2!

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