12 Reasons to Squat Year Round

15

If you browse the forums much you know I’m a crusader for squats. I like the exercise. In fact I like it so much that for most of the athletes that I work with I actually keep it in the training plan for the entire year with a minimum frequency of once every 10 days and an average frequency of just under 2 times per week. Here’s a list of my primary justifications for using the exercise year round and with fairly regular frequency. Note that it’s the list as a whole rather than any one point taken out of the context of the list that makes me such a regular user of squats.

  • Endocrine Boost: Because squats involve so many muscle groups and can be safely performed with maximal and near-maximal loads, it’s easy to use squats as a means of boosting endogenous anabolic endocrine profiles. This can have profound effects on other aspects of training ranging from recovery and adaptation to hypertrophy.
  • Workout Efficiency: Because squats use all the ‘major players’ in the muscle world of athletic development, using squats means you probably don’t need to do endless leg extensions, leg curls, leg presses, lunges, etc.
  • Mobility Enhancement: Squatting is a great means of both developing and diagnosing deficiencies in mobility at the hip and ankle joint.
  • Reinforcement of Appropriate Recruitment Patterns: As mentioned above, squatting involves all the major muscle groups of the lower extremity. Just as important, however, is the fact that squatting recruits these muscles in a similar fashion to what is observed in most athletic movements. The co-contractions, isometric stabilizing contractions, switching, and eccentric / concentric cycling are very similar to what is seen in only slightly varying degrees in a wide range of activities including shot putting, vertical jumping, and sprinting.
  • Squatting is the Ultimate Functional Core Training Exercise: Squats, perhaps more than any other loaded exercise provide a high intensity contraction of the core musculature that is anteriorly and posteriorly balanced. Unlike other exercises that also require a val salva maneuver for core, the training stimulus on the core is not primarily focused on the back extensors and unlike ab-specific exercises, squats actually recruit the entire abdominal musculature (as opposed to just Rectus Abdominis) in a similar quasi-isometric contraction to what would be required in more sport specific movements like sprinting.
  • Squats are Easy to Test: The back squat is easy and safe to test at maximal loads as long as proper spotting techniques, and / or appropriate safety mechanisms like cages or safety racks are employed. Because the exercise can be safely tested at maximal loads, it makes it easier to quantify progress, assess the effects of a previous cycle’s training, establish new baselines for subsequent week’s intensities and volumes. Obviously these numbers are discretionary but the numbers and %s give you good baselines to work from.
  • Easy to Regulate Volumes and Intensities: Because you can pretty accurately assess the current state of physical capacity without as much concern for technique as other lifts it makes it easy to regulate volume and intensity in the squat. And because they can have such a profound affect on the overall training load they can be a great tool to modulate physical readiness for competition.
  • Easy to do Supra-Maximal Eccentric Loading Safely and without Expensive Equipment: Eccentric strength and what I call fast eccentric power are two of the keys to elasticity and speed. With a power cage, it’s relatively easy to train these two components using supramaximal loads in a manner that isn’t logistically possible or safe with other exercises.
  • Easy to Use as a Functional Movement Analysis Grid: I typically prefer to use something like the squat to assess functional mobilities, unilateral strength imbalances (watch for hip shifting or rotation of the bar), and core capacity than more common functional movement screens like the hurdle step that I don’t feel have much relevance to actual sporting movements. Heavier loads in the squat often expose these weaknesses and the nature of the lift (symetrical, relatively slow, etc) allows a coach to easily spot these deficiencies in a more applicable movement.
  • There are Endless Varieties: More so than any other exercise I know, the squat has more varieties to play around with. You can vary the tempo (fast, slow, slow eccentric and fast concentric, etc), add pauses at various points, add multiple pauses, change the depth of the squat, vary the stance (staggered, half, quarter, deep, single leg, etc), vary the bar position (high, low, front, back, safety, overhead, etc.), and on and on. This has important ramification because variety is an important aspect of training and can often push continued adaptations. Having a lot of varieties of one exercise allows coaches to use the same exercise in a different variety and introduce variety without having to completely switch exercises and introduce complete unknown variables in to the training program. It also allows you to more selectively choose which variety you want to target a specific biomotor ability, strength quality, or muscle group. Want a huge CNS primer? Perhaps heavy half squats are what you want. Need to increase Glute activation? Maybe you want to do squats with a really wide stance and a low bar position. I could write a book on this one but hopefully you get the picture.
  • Interesting and Useful Progressions: Because of the endless varieties of squats that are possible, it’s easy to come up with squatting progressions that complement what you’re doing on the track or what you’re trying to accomplish with your strength work. You’re working on acceleration on the track….perhaps you want to do something like inertial Squats which place an emphasis on overcoming an athletes inertia in the same way that they have to in the first couple steps of acceleration. I like to set up squat exercise progressions that develop strength qualities that complement and are requisite to maximal development of subsequent strength and power capacities.
  • Soreness: Squatting seems to be one of the few exercises that doesn’t do well with layoffs. For example, if you take 10 days off from squatting and then return and do another squat workout you inevitably get sore…regardless of whether the load was light. While strength gains typically take much longer to drop off this soreness can be very disruptive to training. So if you care about all of the above points and don’t want to disrupt training for a couple days, it’s worth your while to keep some form of squatting stimulus in the training program on a regular and frequent basis.
Mike Young

Mike Young

Founder of ELITETRACK at Athletic Lab
Mike has a BS in Exercise Physiology from Ohio University, an MSS in Coaching Science from Ohio University & a PhD in Biomechanics from LSU. Additionally, he has been recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a Level 3 coach by USA Track & Field, a Level 2 coach by USA Weightlifting.
Mike Young

@mikeyoung

@AthleticLab Owner. Strength/Speed Coach. Former MLS Fitness Coach. Sport Scientist. Entrepreneur. Coach Educator. Fitness Enthusiast.
Just Fly Performance Podcast Episode #32: Jay DeMayo https://t.co/wY5Iqt0qLq via @JustFlySports https://t.co/CJtOZzF8x7 - 3 hours ago
Mike Young
Mike Young
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