Written by Team MD
04 February 2019


Why Squats are the King of all Exercises



Pussification (noun): the state in which a society becomes less and less tough.


            This word’s originator is the famous comedian, George Carlin. Carlin was in concert and he talked about the “pussification of society,” in which men were becoming soft and to put in bluntly— he thought men were became “pussies!” Carlin laughs about when he was younger, he actually swam in the Hudson River— which was full of raw sewage— and not once did he or any of his friends get sick, because they were damn tough!


Much like Carlin’s comedy, there is a growing trend in gyms that is downright scary: some gyms have a “no grunting” policy that prohibits grunting when lifting heavy weights. This could be described as “the pussification of weight rooms!” What kind of society is this, where you can’t go to a gym and grunt?


In addition to men not being allowed to grunt, another growing trend that could also be placed in the weight room “pussification” category is the Smith machine squat. Weightlifting was founded on free weights! So why do bodybuilders do Smith machine squats? They are easier than free-weight squats, and the number of fibers activated in a free-weight squat is more than in a Smith machine squat.


Testosterone Increases With Squats!

dontsquat1Testosterone levels are also influenced by the amount of muscle mass activated in response to exercise. Overhead squats, jump squats and free-weight squats all produce large increases in testosterone.1,2 As much as the bench is considered a power movement, to get your testosterone levels skyrocketing, get under a squat bar. Although most people would rather perform a bench press than jump under a squat bar, the bench press is not going to increase testosterone production like a squat. The squat truly is the “King of All Exercises!”


Researchers investigated the effect of 5 sets of 10 reps of bench presses versus 5 sets of 10-rep jump squats, with two minutes rest between sets, in 12 resistance-trained men. Testosterone was raised higher following the jump squat (15 percent) than the bench press (7 percent). This suggests that exercises that recruit the most substantial amounts of muscle tissue will cause the greatest increases in testosterone.3 So forget about leg extensions— get under a cold, steel iron bar to get big.


The research also reinforces the order of exercise principles. Generally, exercises that recruit large muscle groups (squats, deadlifts and bench presses) should be performed before isolation exercises (leg extensions, lat pulldowns and pec flyes). For example, one study measured muscle strength changes in the biceps, following nine weeks of resistance training. One group performed a workout consisting of biceps curls only, and a second group performed squats prior to biceps curls. Performing biceps curls exercises failed to acutely elevate testosterone significantly. However, testosterone was significantly elevated when squats were performed first, and muscle strength increased more, when both lower- and upper-body exercises were performed.


These data provide support for performing large muscle mass, multiple-joint exercises early in a workout, and smaller muscle mass exercises later in the workout, when training to enhance muscle strength.


Dynamic power schemes, often employed to maximize explosive power and functional performance, also produce significant androgen responses. For example, total (18 percent) and free testosterone (30 percent) increased in response to half-squats performed with a load of 50 percent of 1RM.4 If you are looking to put on size and strength, walk right past that leg extension and to the squat rack.


Testosterone levels did not increase, pre- to post-exercise, in younger and older men who performed upper- and lower-body isolation-type (leg extension) resistance exercises on a Nautilus machine consisting of 3 sets of 10 repetitions.5 Contrary to these findings, there were significant increases in testosterone responses of older and younger men, after a high-intensity, large muscle mass squat protocol.6


Now you understand that getting bigger and stronger is all about activating more muscle fibers during a workout— and nothing is going to get those muscle fibers screaming like squats.


Squats Increase Total-Body Strength

 According to research, acute increases in anabolic hormones (GH and testosterone) can enhance strength gains. Protocols using moderate-to-heavy resistance, but multiple sets of 10-12-rep maximums and shorter rest periods (one to two minutes of rest between sets and exercise), have been shown to produce higher concentrations of both anabolic hormones than heavier resistance (1-5RM), longer rest periods (±3 minutes), and fewer sets (1-3). Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that the increase in anabolic hormone response is proportional to the size of the muscle being exercised (i.e., squats will always result in greater acute, anabolic hormone responses than leg extensions).11,12


Researchers from Denmark questioned whether the acute anabolic hormone response had any effect on increasing muscle strength. They had young males perform a rather unusual training routine. One group only did biceps curls. They performed 4 sets of seated biceps curls at 60 percent of 1RM, followed by 4 sets of standing biceps curls at 60 percent of 1RM. A total of 8-12 reps were performed in each set, with a 90-second rest between sets.


Another group trained both arms and legs. They performed the exact same arm protocol, but they included legs at the end of their routine. Four sets of seated leg presses at a 10-rep maximum were done after the biceps routine. The subjects performed the routine for nine weeks, and had isometric arm strength testing performed at the end of the study.


Resting hormone levels remained unchanged for both groups at the end of nine weeks. Plasma testosterone and plasma cortisol increased significantly in the group training arms and legs, but not in the group that just trained arms. Plasma GH rose in all exercise tests; however, plasma GH increased significantly in the legs and arms group.


The main finding of the study is that there is a larger relative increase in isometric strength when anabolic hormonal responses (GH and testosterone) are enhanced by training a larger muscle group, in addition to strength training of the arms.13 This indicates a link between the magnitude of hormonal responses and strength improvement, occurring within hormonal levels that can be activated physiologically.


Be a Man: Ditch the Smith Machine

             Free-weight squats are generally preferred over machines by bodybuilders and strength-trained athletes, because they are thought to provide a more unstable exercise, requiring a greater recruitment of trunk musculature. Go into any college or hardcore gym, and you will find loads of squat racks and very few Smith machines. Machines are easier to use by beginners, and require spotters less often than free-weight exercises. You may think you are getting a good leg workout on a Smith machine, but scientists will disagree with you.


Researchers from Canada hooked up sensors all over men’s legs, and had them perform free-weight squats or Smith machine squats. Researchers found 43 percent higher muscle activation during free-weight squats, compared to Smith machine squats. Activation of the knee extensors and hamstrings was higher during free-weight squats, whereas activation of the trunk stabilizers was similar across the two exercises. This indicates that free-weight squats may be superior to Smith machine squats for training the major muscle groups of the legs, and possibly would result in greater strength development and hypertrophy of these muscle groups, with long-term training.14


Become Plastic Man for Better Squats!

            dontsquat2 I am referring to the use of plastic bands, of course, for better squat strength. Another reason linear variable resistance— provided by elastic resistance— is beneficial, is due to what is known as the strength curve of muscles. The linear variable resistance provided by elastic tubing better mimics the strength curves of most muscles. A strength curve refers to the way a muscle’s or muscle group’s strength changes over a range of motion. Because of their anatomy, most muscles increase in strength over the range of motion, until a certain point.


Using squats as an example, as you squat from the seated position, the muscle gets stronger until about the halfway point of the range of motion. Thus, the leg muscle is weakest at the start of the exercise and strongest at the halfway point of the exercise. When doing a squat with a free weight, the individual is limited to how much resistance he can use by how strong the squats are at the beginning of the exercise (its weakest point). That means that during squats, the muscle is not receiving adequate resistance when the muscle is at its strongest point in the range of motion.


When performing a squat with elastic tubing, however, the resistance increases as the range of motion increases. This means the muscle is receiving greater resistance at its strongest point in the range of motion, and therefore is receiving more adequate resistance to better stimulate strength adaptations.


One study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported that when athletes used elastic band training, in addition to free-weight training, they had significantly more leg power than when they only utilized free-weight training.15


Another study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported that bands kick ass for increasing strength! Athletes were randomly assigned to one of three training groups: heavy resistance/slow movement, lighter resistance and fast movements, or fast movements with accommodated resistance, which consisted of incorporating bands. Three weeks of “accustomization” (12 training sessions) were included prior to testing, when proper exercise technique was taught and participants received basic fitness training. The results of this study demonstrate a definitive advantage to training with faster movement speeds, with the inclusion of bands for the development of lower-body power, among collegiate athletes.


These results support the notion that squats can be improved through the use of variable resistance training with elastic bands. This can be concluded based on the fact that those athletes training with bands increased both strength and power.16


Don’t Lean Too Far Back or Too Far Forward!

 If you notice, anyone who can squat with a lot of weight, more than likely has a big ass! Most bodybuilders want to keep a more streamlined appearance, so they choose a different squatting stance.


Many strength coaches and powerlifters will tell you to “sit back” for a big lift when you squat. Many powerlifters incorporate some box squats into their workouts, in which you purposely sit back on the box and then explode up. Sitting back will incorporate more gluteus maximus and allows these powerful hip extensors to immediately become a part of the lift, particularly increasing activation in a deeper squat. Without this posterior shift, squats will emphasize the quadriceps throughout the lift. The quadriceps are still a major component of the lift when you sit back, but now, the glutes can share the load— more evenly distributing forces throughout the lower extremities.6


A lot of powerlifters like to use a low-bar squat, in which the bar sits across the back of the shoulder blades. This technique is used primarily for development of hip and trunk extensor strength. The high-bar squat, which most bodybuilders use— in which the bar sits high on the traps— primarily develops quadriceps strength.8


You may notice that many lifters tend to lean forward during the squat— not a good idea, either. A study indicated that in recreationally weight-trained men, performing a restricted squat— where the knees are not permitted to move over the toes— results in greater torque generated at the hips, and less torque at the knees, than performing an unrestricted squat. Leaning too far forward in the squat (if the knees move forward over the toes) produces excessive force at the hips and low back. The researchers cited the need to keep the knees from moving forward past the toes, or to keep the shank as vertical as possible, when performing the exercise. However, in order to optimize the forces at all involved joints, it may be advantageous to permit the knees to move slightly past the toes, when in a parallel squat position.9


Only “Real Men” Squat Ass-to-the-Ground!

             When I think of deep squats, I vividly remember the picture of Tom Platz squatting— and he was rock bottom to the floor. Most bodybuilders are told to squat slightly below parallel, but some like to be “deep squatters.” You may be saying, “Only fucking pussies squat parallel… real men squat with their ass to the floor.”


What those real “manly” men are not telling you is that deep squats put more pressure on the knees. Researchers from Duke University examined the parallel squat, and also the deep squat, and measured shear force on the knees. Quadriceps, hamstrings and gastrocnemius activity generally increased as knee flexion increased, which supports athletes with healthy knees performing the parallel squat (thighs parallel to the ground at maximum knee flexion). Furthermore, it was demonstrated that the parallel squat was not injurious to the healthy knee. The researchers concluded that for athletes with healthy knees, performing parallel squats is recommended over deep squats— because injury potential to the menisci, and cruciate and collateral ligaments, may increase with deep squats.7


Front Squat Activates the Quads Just as Much as Back Squats

             There is the classic photo of Arnold watching the “Blond Bomber” Dave Draper performing front squats with 405. You don’t really find many people performing front squats these days, but you should start!


The two squat variations are similar in some ways, and quite different in others. The back squat results in significantly higher compressive forces and knee extensor moments than the front squat. The front squat is as effective as the back squat in terms of overall muscle recruitment, with significantly less compressive forces and extensor moments. The study results suggest that front squats may be advantageous, compared with back squats, for individuals with knee problems such as meniscus tears, and for long-term joint health.10


So rotating front squats with back squats may save your knees in the long run, but you still get the same quad activation.



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