Strong - "Having great physical power and ability : having a lot of strength"
In the last article, SQUATS ...IS IT REALLY THE KING PART I ("THE ATHLETE"), we discussed the different variations of Squats, the benefits and also the pitfalls. Now the focus of that article was geared towards the "Athlete". Specifically, geared towards an athlete with a small amount of time for getting ready to go into the season for his specific sport. In this article, we will give 3 scenarios for the "Averege Joe". Now, when we say average, it means the everyday normal guy or girl who works, has kids, and a busy lifestyle. These Joe's are looking to build muscle, tone up, and get stronger while also not getting hurt. This segment is not to be confused with the person who enjoys strict powerlifting but has absolutely no intentions on competing. For those people, I say stick to the back squat. But for everyone else, this might give you some alternative exercises for getting stronger and building solid muscle. **Also keep in mind, these scenarios are geared towards finding an alternative to the back squat. In everyone of the Joe's training they would be performing a lot of different exercises other than the ones listed. The ones listed are just in PLACE of the "Back Squat".
Scenario #1 "Leslie"
Woman walks into the gym and wants to lose weight and get into shape. Thats pretty vague, right? Well she is 5'3" has a body fat of 31% and has never done any weightlifting or any form for strength training in her life. She has done several spin classes and is an advent walker. After further assessing her, we see that she is very inflexible and has had an on and off again lower back pain. So let's get a task list together... If we are just looking at her strength and conditioning program (putting her nutrition aside), it looks like we have some options...
Option #1 - Spend 4 to 6 weeks on body weight exercises to strengthen her overall body weight strength base. Get her familiar with correct movement patterns and work on the inflexible parts.
Option #2 - First day in the gym give her a PVC pipe on her back to imitate the king of all exercises, "the back squat", in order to get her body primed because we are going to be using that exercise. Shortly after that, begin to put a bar on her back; then slowly add weight.
Option #3 - Take option 1 and after that, continue working on her inflexibilities, while at the same time assess which exercise will be best suited as a good option for building overall strength.
Now, none of these options are "bad". They all take things slow, and all will help work on her flexibility issues. With that said, to me, Option #3 seems to be a better choice out of the 3. See, when someone comes into the gym with little to no experience in strength training they will always get stronger no matter what exercise you choose. That's why so many people always see rapid results for the first 6 months. After those first months, the strength gains tend to slow down a bit. That is our body acclimating to the stress we are putting it through. For "Leslie", the most important thing that will lead her to her goal is her food (by far), but when it comes to her strength and conditioning, the fact that she has had on and off again low back pain makes me want to fix and assess that problem first before putting any spinal compression on her. Maybe a good lift would be dumbbell Bulgarian Squats, followed up with some reverse hypers to help give traction to her back. Or maybe some belt squats so there isn't any spinal compression on her back. There are plenty of exercises to choose from that will still make her stronger and help her reach her goal. I just don't think the Back Squat is a must in order for her to do that.
Scenario Number #2 "Jason"
Jason is a weekend warrior. He is 6'1" 200 lbs, with a body fat of 17% and 44 years old. He competes in Spartan runs, tough mudders, and all the other crazy things geared towards people hurting themselves so they feel like bad-asses while covered in rocks and mud. He comes into the gym because he wants to get "STRONGER". He has no desire to work on body composition (so he says) but does want to build "lean" muscle. So I simply ask him what he would like to get stronger at? He replies he wants his overall strength to increase. So at this point, I'm pretty sure he just read the most recent Muscle Mag and in it was probably some famous person talking about "overall strength" or he watched ESPN 5 and saw late night strongman competitions or something. So I take him through his assessment and stumble upon many minor injuries, low back, knee pain in both legs, an ankle issue, mid back pain when he sleeps and lots of tension in his neck. His flexibility is non-existent. So the approach I am going to take with him is...
Jason's Prescription: Spend the first 4 weeks addressing the "issues". Foam rolling, stretching out and tons of mobility exercises. As for his strength training to help him with his Weekend activities... Once I achieve a base level of flexibility, I would probably prefer to start with belt squats and leg presses/sled. With his knee pain and ankle issue, that will limit his ability to squat with most loads and use accurate form. The belt squat will be a wider stance which will shorten the range of motion and keep his shins more vertical (a bit easier on knee stress) while also putting no load on the spine. The leg press will isolate the lower body but will let him use a high weight to help increase leg strength. The sled is a great tool for quad and glute strength and development.... put a ton of weight on, and a strap, then walk backwards for a while (that will definitely help build those legs). All of these exercises will help build overall lower body strength which will impart help him with his weekend activities. But not addressing these issues will turn into a major problem down the road. So in this case the back squat would take a back seat.
Scenario #3 "Alex"
Alex is 38 years old, 5'11", 215 lbs with a body fat of 12%. Alex played sports in high school and college but stayed in the gym most of his life. He works a full-time office job and has 4 kids that all have extracurricular activities. He comes to the gym looking for something "different". He has been doing the same routine for the past several years and feels kind of stagnant. His goals are to get a little leaner, add some more size to his frame, and get stronger. His only glitch is... he can only lift weights 2 days out of the week. So in his assessment, I find that he has no major issues. No injuries or aches and pains. His flexibility is really good and right off the bat I can tell he has great genetics. Basically a dream client. Now for the training part: with only 2 days a week to lift, the simple route would be Monday and Thursday. That gives ample rest between training. Also I would opt for Full Body on both days. Monday would be Deadlifts for the lower body, and Thursday would be Squat on the lower body. But I would replace the traditional back squat with the Front Squat. See the back squat puts a huge emphasis on the glutes, hams, and low back (which the deadlift is taking care of on Monday). Where as the Front Squat puts a huge emphasis on the quads (which is what we will be missing). Some might argue that I am nit picking here but this is all from my experience. And I believe this is what would be better for Alex overall.