Posted: October 6, 2012 by Jim in Random Thoughts

Why in the world are we killing ourselves with squats? What’s the deal with all of these percentages and reps? This isn’t math class, is it? Are we seriously going to squat this much for three months?

This past Tuesday, we embarked on an ambitious three-month strength building program that focuses on the back squat and front squat. Some of you may be wondering, “why?” In this week’s rant, I want to talk briefly about our program. There are two overarching philosophies as to why we are focusing on the squats. The first is personal and the second is more scientific. This will help explain the why and how of our program.

The “why” of our program centers on a deep belief of mine about strength. As Coach Rippetoe says, “strong people are hard to kill and generally more useful in life.” My first CrossFit coach, Chad Pittman, used to say that “strength is the glass into which you pour your fitness.” Stronger people are generally happier and healthier people. Research has shown that serious strength training provides the following life benefits:

  • Improved muscle strength and tone
  • Better weight management
  • Prevention and control of health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and      arthritis
  • Pain management
  • Improved mobility and balance
  • Improved posture
  • Decreased risk of injury
  • Increased bone density and strength
  • Reduced body fat
  • Increased muscle-to-fat ratio
  • Boosted  metabolism (burning more kilojoules when at rest)
  • Improved sleep patterns
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Enhanced performance of everyday tasks.
  • Decreased risk of depression
  • Reduction of anxiety/worry
  • Improved aesthetic  value of your butt in jeans (okay, I added this one)

Building muscle is especially important in women and older athletes. Strength training is vital to helping build muscle mass and bone density. When I say “strength training,” I’m not talking about doing a bunch of kettlebell swings and running forever. I’m talking about serious, aggressive, dedicated, heavy barbell lifting. Please hear me emphatically: no matter who you are, you need to be stronger. This doesn’t mean you have to lift a house, though that would be cool. This means that your training should have at its core a methodology to take your current strength and increase it progressively over time. There’s a lot of programs out there claiming to use “CrossFit methods” in a variety of “killer WOD’s.” Some places have incredibly long WOD’s with lifts sprinkled throughout that leave you daily with that beat down feeling. But unless they have a dedicated focus on barbell lifting and increasing your strength, I would argue such a program is ultimately inferior.

On side note: one of my clients has a friend who trains with another practitioner in town. This trainer informed the nice lady that they don’t lift “heavy” because he doesn’t want his ladies to “bulk up.”

Amy squatting LIKE A BOSS

This person desperately needs to be fired or perhaps horsewhipped, or both. Just take a gander at the ladies at CrossFit Infragilis. They do not look like dudes. The male body produces 10 times the testosterone that the female body generates. So, unless you’re pumping some substance into your body, or out working a man by over 10 times, you have nothing to fear. In fact ladies, if you’re not lifting and instead killing yourself with lots of “cardio” and being tricked into believing the two billion kettlebell swings and wall balls you’re doing every week constitute weight lifting, then I’ll hazard two guesses: (1) you’re probably beginning to look frail, and (2) I bet your butt doesn’t fill up your jeans in a good way. Make no mistake: squatting does a booty good.

So, why have we chosen the squats for the next three months? First, I consider the squat to be the King of all functional movement (BTW, I consider the deadlift to be the Queen). The deep squat is our body’s natural sitting position. A recent study at Duke University also found that no other weighted movement builds greater muscle mass than a full squat. Additionally, the authors found that “Squats create an overall anabolic environment in the body that maximizes gains from other exercises.” According to Men’s Health, because squats involve a large muscle group and require a tremendous amount of energy, they trigger the release of extra testosterone and growth hormone in the bloodstream. That’s a good thing as these two hormones help keep coritsol from wreaking havoc in our bodies. Additionally, the ability to squat heavier will also translate to more capacity on other lifts, such as the clean.

In my personal and professional experience, I have seen no other exercise improve someone’s quality of life more than the full squat. In my

The deep squat is a perfectly natural position for humans. Ask JoJo!

opinion, everyone needs to squat. First, learn to do it properly. Second, get that lift consistently good. Then, work to get heavier a little bit each time. If you’re an Infragilis athlete, this is going to happen from now until the end of the year.

Now, just how do we plan on executing this? You’ve already noticed that when we are following our squat program, you’re given an exact number of sets and reps at an exact percentage of your 1 rep max.

The term hypertrophy is defined as the increase in the size of a muscle through increasing the size of the component cells of the muscle. Huh? Though killer WODs, such as Fran and Helen are very demanding, they are not ideal at increasing the size or strength of the muscles. The increase in the size and raw strength of a muscle occurs best through progressive overload training in such a way that causes hypertrophy. Simply put, progressive overload training involves increasing the weight and repetitions in a systematic way in order to stimulate hypertrophy and, thus, muscle growth. By carefully varying the repetitions and the percentage lifted, the athlete will ultimately see gains in both the size (mass) and the strength (endurance) of the muscle. Two variables must be manipulated for this to happen most effectively: volume and intensity.

In terms of strength training, volume refers to the total number of repetitions multiplied by the resistance used as performed in specific periods of time. Intensity is defined as a percent value of maximal functional capacity, or expressed as percent repetition maximum.

“So you’re saying, Jim, that I should just lift heavy all the time? Great, I’ll add two-a-days.”

Wrong. In fact, unless we’re Bulgarian professional lifters who spend all day lifting heavy stuff, eating whole buffalo at a time, and growing beards like a boss (including the ladies), trying to “max out” too often can and often will lead to overtraining syndrome. Overtraining almost always manifests itself in a decline in performance, and often results in injury. In order to prevent this, the volume and intensity of our lifting program will be systematically varied in order to allow adequate recovery. In other words, don’t go lifting “extra” on your own. If you’re coming to class regularly, and following the prescription thoroughly (which includes a good nutritional foundation), then this will work. There’s no need to “dabble” with other things. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

Here is a great article on overtraining.

Please note, we’re not lifting so much only for the sake of increasing our strength. No one wants to sit in the gym, rub their ever-expanding gut, brag about their 20 minute mile while saying, “but I can squat 400 pounds one time.” On the athletic field, no one cares how much you can squat when you lose. We are getting stronger to improve our overall performance. In the next three months, we’ll still run and row…a lot. We’ll still do pull-ups…a lot. We’ll still jump rope, and get upside down for handstand push-ups, and all the rest…a lot. We want to improve our overall health and fitness every time we’re in the gym. So, strap in and, as we move forward toward the end of the year, remember to trust your program, eat big (and clean), and REST.

  1. Angela Knue says:

    Great article as usual but when are we gonna do more ‘Queen’ movements??? It has been like FOREVA and she is getting jealous lol.

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