Ending the Barbell Squat Delusion : Message from a Reader & Powerlifter

The following is an e-mail from a reader and competitive power lifter. I thought it was really good and have decided to post it here with his permission. It’s easily the most well thought out and written e-mail I’ve gotten as a result of my posts concerning the barbell squat.

The title of this post and the image are my own. The e-mail is posted as originally received with the exception of bolded sections, which is of my own doing.


Dear Anthony,

I realize I’m late to the party, but I felt compelled to offer a little feedback on the squat controversy stirred up as a result of your anti-squat articles.

I’m a competitive powerlifter in the AAPF. I lift AAPF because it’s drug tested – to validate the integrity of my lifts, and because I can lift raw in that organization. Now comes the bomb; Even though you said that the comments you made applied to people who squat for exercise, and excluded the squats application in competition, I STILL agree with you, and think the squat is a stupid exercise. For that matter, so is the bench press, but at least with it you can press from a stable position without any serious danger (I bench in the rack with spot pins), and it does develop strength without too much risk (I also use a narrower grip so I don’t over stress my shoulders).

Back to the squat though…

Speaking personally, I bought into a lot of the “squat, or you’re a pile of shit” and “the squat is the king of exercises” rhetoric. I began competing in 2010 – had lifted for 6 years before that – and had given the squat try after try after try in my training cycles. I always blamed myself for my lack of progress in the lift, mostly attributing it to needing skill development or flexibility. It was self delusion.

In October 2011, I squatted 402 lbs in Montgomery MN at the fall classic (AAPF). Not outstanding by any means, and it was a real grinder to boot. That’s when I began to question it’s value. I experienced low back pain (something not present when I left the squat out of training, even though I kept dead lifting), and would get headaches from the pressure I was putting on my upper spine.

Despite that, I kept backing off the weight, and trying again. But every time it was the same thing. Apart from the nagging low back injury and headaches, I had developed a mild pain / tick in my right shoulder also, which would go away when I left squatting out for a cycle or two (even though I still benched). I would still justify it, not wanting to cut it out of my lifting. Writing this now, it’s almost like I had a learning disability…

I’ve made the decision now to compete in the push-pull, which is offered in the APF/AAPF (and many others as well). I train my bench and dead lift competitively, but my routine has a lot of bodyweight moves, stretching, playing outside climbing on shit, etc… so as not to be exclusively a specialist in those two lifts.

One final note on my experience with the squat is this; It made me feel like shit. When I squatted regularly, I felt ‘leg heavy’ and bloated, and fat. I felt like my posture was all fucked up, and that I was curled forward somehow. I know this is subjective, and critics would immediately question my form, skill, and motivation. Yet, I want to underline, I included squats or squat variations for 6 years prior to competing the first time, and kept attempting to “give them chances” through the last 4 years. I’ve watched every video from every powerlifter I could find. I attended an Elite FTS seminar in London Ohio with some amazing powerlifters present (Matt Kroc, Brian Carroll, Dave Tate, Jim Wendler, etc)… this all in addition to me actually practicing the move based on what I learned. Despite all that, I still had problems, and have thus concluded the following;

I enjoy lifting, and the sport of powerlifting. As long as I can bench and deadlift without pain, or the feeling of “fucked-upped-ness”, I will. But I will not work through nagging bullshit discomfort for 364 days out of the year for the sake of 3 attempts at 1 lift on 1 day at the annual meet in Fargo, ND. There are hosts of alternatives to squatting – you’re right about that. Hill sprints, pushing a prowler, or dragging a sled, shrimp squats, etc… but barbell squats are a bullshit move, at least in my opinion. If one can do them, and they legitimately have no issues as a result, then fine. Go for it. But I hardly believe squatting is a measure of how much of a man or woman you are…


About Anthony Dream Johnson

CEO, founder, and architect of The 21 Convention, Anthony Dream Johnson is the leading force behind the world's first and only "panorama event for life on earth". He has been featured on WGN Chicago, and in the NY Times #1 best seller The Four Hour Work Week.    His stated purpose for the work he does is "the actualization of the ideal man", a purpose that has led him to found and host The 21 Convention across 3 continents and for 6 years in a row. Anthony blogs vigorously at TheDreamLounge.net and Declarationism.com.

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11 Responses to Ending the Barbell Squat Delusion : Message from a Reader & Powerlifter

  1. Bill DeSimone June 4, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    Heh heh heh

    • SquatsWork July 3, 2014 at 11:56 am #

      Injuries per player hours: Soccer:6.2, Rugby:1.92, Basketball:1.03 , Track-&-Field:0.57, Generic Phys-Ed:0.18, Football:0.1, Squash:0.1, Tennis: 0.07 , Badminton:0.05, Gymnastics:0.044, Weight Training,(barbell squats in the program):0.0012, Competitive Powerlifting: 0.0008, Competitive Weightlifting: 0.0006, Volleyball:0.0004. How about this?: If you don’t like soccer, don’t play soccer; If you don’t like barbell squats, fear them, or don’t see progress being made with them, don’t trust the equipment, the coach, or yourself: Don’t do barbell squats. It’s a free country. You don’t have to squat. You don’t have to make shit up

      • Anthony Dream Johnson July 3, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

        In a free country, I also have the right to not falsely equate exercise with athletic activity.

        • Camilo October 26, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

          I’m late to the party but,

          There are many types of squats using barbells… One of those is the Front Squat. The way the pressure is exerted to the body, is rather different. I won’t rip your right to criticize the Barbell Squats in general, is just that I still remain skeptical about your arguments, because I think, from a general perspective, those lack structured argumentation and substance, because of a very strong confirmation bias.

          An anecdote like this one has its share of plausibility and I may consider legit (I’m still thinking about it, if it’s actually the exercise itself, the form, the genetics, etc.), but your analysis of such a letter that you, yourself, posted, is absolutely lacking. Look at the emphasis of your quote:

          “[…]Yet, I want to underline, I included squats or squat variations for 6 years prior to competing the first time[…]”

          I believe he should specify which ones. There are many forms and rep schemes which actually do not lead to good results, and that could be also the source of his frustration. You know, it is fallacious to think that the time he took training is completely flawless and productive.

          I’m also a self-learned person regarding this, with a little bit more than 8 years knowing about failure before doing something productive.

          With all due respect, I just wonder what’s your grudge against Barbell Squats in general, as it is still not clear whether this is more of a post-traumatic projective behavior, or rather, to generate an echo chamber regarding this particular topic, using Tu Quoque, Ad Hominems and No True Scotmans with people who actually disagree with you, even in the slightest.

          There are inherent risks with ANY kind of exercise you do. This is why there are techniques to reduce risk when lifting heavy weights, of any kind. At least, in my own experience, as a CrossFitter, Heavy Weight training has helped me a lot.

          Also, an important part while doing ANY kind of exercise, is resting, resting, resting. Any kind of overload from any discipline and any type of workout, is about to 100% certain to bring injuries and disaster.

          Kind Regards.

  2. D June 21, 2014 at 5:41 am #

    Some people have poor genetics that result in knocked knees, excessively pronated knees or knees. Others have scoliosis from mild to sever. All of these defects are terrible and I would wish them on no one, but the fact remains that people have these defects.

    Bearing the aforementioned in mind, I have to wonder if this powerlifter isn’t suffering from one or more of them? He may well be executing the squat perfectly in text book fashion, but his body is just not up to the job of executing a squat without causing him pain due to deformities.

    The deformities can be slight, but under the pressure of immense weight and torque…. well, he was in pain.

  3. Robyn bunting July 16, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

    @squatswork. Your stats relate only to acute injuries. The argument against squats is that they may well cause chronic damage. You also present no source for the stats. They do not look very plausible anyway.

  4. Ed November 8, 2014 at 5:31 am #

    Well said Anthony sport is not systemic exercise.

  5. Ed November 8, 2014 at 5:38 am #

    Yes- shut up and squat means.Do not think,do not evaluate nor consider long short term consquences of what you are doing{sustainability}.If my chance you still have intellectual reservations and physical issues you must be {yawn} doing it wrong.Some ancient Greeks believed that the brain was a sponge for cooling the blood.Some peoples responses to real issues with squats act as if for them it is true.

  6. Ed November 8, 2014 at 5:42 am #

    Acute injuries as they appear often are a response to long term but more subtle damage,niggling pains etc than suddenly blow up.

  7. James January 3, 2015 at 9:57 pm #

    From my point of view as a physiotherapist, the barbell squat definitely has the potential to be an unsafe exercise. In a very large proportion of cases, it is undoubtedly performed in an unsafe manner, and catastrophic injuries are relatively common as a result.

    However, when weight is distributed through a neutral spine, the weight is generally distributed throughout the pelvic arch. As such, the lower body is the main source of contraction, through the hip extensors, knee extensors, whereas the active muscle groups are statically contracted, which is actually relatively safe.

    Problems do arise when the spinal column is not straight, leading to excess shear forces on the spine, or when neural activation patterns are incorrect, leading to incorrect pelvic tilt, which is a common source of catastrophic hip injury during squatting.

    • Mike February 8, 2015 at 9:42 am #

      Look, its very simple as far as building legs in the most congruent way..First, look at the large muscles in the legs and buttocks including tendons and also large bones of the femur and the most largest joints of the hips..Always in human anatomy, the greatest kinetic forces are where the strongest support systems are as far as loading and lifting objects..And its near this support structure..

      Putting a thin in circumference barbell well away from this area where the vertebrae has gotten smaller and smaller from the hips is almost backwards..The greatest barbell squat is about only 1300 lbs with belt,suit & wraps..The greatest hip and harness lift is 3515 lbs (again weight below the hips) and greatest backlift is 5340 lbs (weight straight across the entire back)…Therefore, the best congruent load for legs should be near the hips or below it or straight across the entire back where you can use the arms too like in a backlift..

      Food for thought..If I want to get the fastest car, why would I put a smaller horse power motor in it? Doesn’t make sense right?..Well, using a barbell squat as my kinetic work force over say hip belt squats or hip & harness lifts or backlift is using a smaller horsepower..A way smaller horsepower of kinetic energy for building legs at that..Just toss the barbell squat out..Use the exercises highest on the weight chain as far as kinetic force just like an elephant is on top of the food chain..I am going to use a higher horse power to build my legs up, not a smaller horse power of kinetic force,,The smaller horse power is the barbell squat..Its as simple as that..

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