Over the years, I’ve grown to love squatting. I love how this exercise challenges me, pushes me, and has given me very strong legs. At my peak, I was squatting 190lbs for reps, and it was thrilling to see the weights go up as I grew more proficient with the lift.
Eventually, a back injury reared its ugly head and all barbell lifts were put on hold, including my beloved squat (cue my month long depression).
Now this is where a lot of people, including medical professionals, might jump in and say “Well, of course you hurt yourself, Trish. Just stop squatting!”
I disagree with this reaction for many, many reasons.
The easy thing to do when we suffer an injury, especially to the back, is to villainize an exercise like the squat. SQUATS HURT YOUR KNEES! SQUATS HURT YOUR BACK! STOP SQUATTING AND YOU’LL LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER!
Not only is this advice incredibly unhelpful, but it does nothing to treat the root of the problem.
To Squat or Not to Squat?
There are instances where you might need or want to skip the squat, especially the barbell back squat. Here are a few:
- Your technique sucks
- Your ankle mobility needs work
- You have hip mobility issues
- You have a serious injury or surgery that makes this incredibly unsafe
- You have muscular imbalances that need to be addressed
Thankfully, most of these are easy fixes.
However, just because you can squat your own bodyweight with proficiency doesn’t mean you’ve earned the right to back squat.
It’s this fundamental truth that gets so many people in trouble, especially the general population who love getting after it in group fitness classes like CrossFit or Orangetheory. In these settings, there are simply too many bodies and not enough coaches to watch your every move. Plus, these places don’t offer individualized assessments (some might, which is awesome) to help you at the very least, improve things like ankle mobility, technique, and so forth.
Five Good Reasons to Squat Your Buns Off
Most people jump right into squatting thinking that because they’ve run marathons, are young, or can squat just find in their BodyPump class that they’re cleared to start the other forms of squatting.
Um, it doesn’t. Squatting is a skill, and that skill requires patience, practice, and effort with all sorts of squatting variations. Plus, you still need to hit all the other mobility requirements that I discuss in-depth in my free #21DaysMovMob education series (Sign up to join!). Those requirements are:
- Ankle dorsiflexion
- Hip mobility
- Anterior core stability
- Spine mobility
- Motor control
With that said, there are plenty of good reasons to keep squatting and develop this skill. They are:
- You want to improve performance in your specific sport (Mud wrestling, anyone?)
- It’s specific to your training, like powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting
- You want to develop quad strength and pack some meat on your legs
- You enjoy it (’*Raises hand*)
- You want to get better at it…for the ‘gram, for your man, for yourself….
Five Good Reasons Not to Squat At All
I can’t give you five good reasons to squat and not balance that out with five reasons NOT to do it all! So here it goes:
- You have yet to improve one of the five “squat requirements” (spine, ankles, etc)
- You don’t enjoy it
- You have had a serious injury or surgery that makes squatting too risky and/or uncomfortable to do
- You are training for overall health, fitness, and sexiness only
- You’re not built for it
In the case of #4, you can still develop leg strength and reach your general aesthetic and health goals without incorporating squats into your programming. Shocking, I know!
As for #5, some individuals aren’t genetically gifted for squatting. That’s not an opinion, it is fact.
For example, I have clients that are either too tall (too much ROM required), born with one leg longer than the other (very tricky), and others that simply have poor ankle dorsiflexion no matter how much we work on it (I can’t change your bone length or ligaments!). Some of them choose to squat anyway, knowing that it won’t be perfect or feel easy all the time, while others can skip it and do another variation instead.
Single-Leg Training for the Win!
Don’t give up on squats just yet! This post isn’t meant to be black and white on the squat debate, but rather to educate you so that you feel empowered with how you choose to train.
If you’re ditching squats, then single-leg training is now your new best friend. Coach Mike Boyle was the first coach to blow up the Internet with this debate many years ago and instead, advocated using single-leg training with his athletes (totally appropriate given his business model and target demographic).
In short, Coach Boyle found that squatting was far too risky for his athletes to justify doing it, and that he could still develop their strength and athleticism with single-leg training. What’s more, he pointed out that most athletes are springing off one-leg anyway, so if we’re going to talk about direct carryover into sports performance, why would we advocate so hard for squats?
I agree with Boyle on this one, which is why if you’ve determined that squatting is no longer right for YOU and your goals, you can swap them out for single-leg/unilateral exercises like:
- Bulgarian split squats (aka Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats)
- Lunges and split squat variations
This is a short list, and doesn’t include all the machines available to you at your Globo Gym for developing leg strength, muscle, and definition.
There are options for you. Don’t sell yourself short and ditch an exercise altogether just because some trainer on the Internet told you so. Squat if you want, but don’t be afraid to give it up for a while if it no longer appeals to your individual body or training goals.
Want to educate and empower yourself with a coach that gets you? Apply for Strength Lab coaching! Online coaching for action-oriented women who love zee weights, want to improve strength, technique, and movement with the help of someone who can guide, teach, and inspire them!