I Squat, Therefore I Am

NOTE by Mehdi. This post was written by StrongLifts Member Scott (“Cleave“, 44, USA) who lost 90lbs total and increased his Squat to 285lbs for 5×5 even though he struggled just getting up a flight of stairs when he started out.

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I love the squat. I really do. But it hasn’t always been that way. It was like the first time I had a beer or the first time I had coffee. It’s an acquired taste.

I remember back to high school; I was on the football team and we had a large weight room with several squat racks, bench press’s, and a lot of barbells and plates. I was big, about 230lbs, 6ft 1 and played guard and tackle. I had fairly strong legs from playing ice hockey from the age of 9 and I could bench 300lbs when I was a senior. Our core workouts consisted of the bench, squat, and deadlift. We had a coach that knew what he was doing when it came to lifting.

But for some reason I never squatted. It was hard and took a lot of effort. I could put a ton of plates on the leg press machine but I had trouble squatting a respectable weight so I avoided it. I spent my time hovering around the bench press with the rest of the linemen instead.

I think part of it was ego, because I really couldn’t do a proper squat. I could deadlift and bench press with the strongest guys on the team but the skinny guys were better at squats. I really don’t remember us “bigger” guys ever doing squats, at least not many. I didn’t understand the squat, or lifting for that matter back then. I figured my legs were strong so who cares about squatting.

Fast forward 25 years: as I researched about lifting I kept finding article after article about how important the squat was. I think I always knew that barbells were better than machines; even those times I was doing my nautilus routines I could see those “big guys” lifting barbells. It was funny. The gyms would have this huge facility full of machines and exercise bikes and treadmills, and off in the corner the lifters would be segregated into this little 20×20 section.

It took until I reached my 40’s to have the maturity to check my ego and admit that I had to work on the squat. I have to start with the bar. I have to work on technique. I have to squat and I have to do it right. It doesn’t matter what I look like. I’m not going to be concerned that there’s smaller guys lifting more than me; I’m going to take the time to learn the squat and learn it right.

I started StrongLifts 5×5 with just the bar at 42 years old, and I struggled. Yea…even with just the bar I had terrible form. Throughout my life I rarely squatted to pick anything up, I always bent down. I’ve worked behind a desk and been over weight. I’ve done things that have been counter productive to a good squat. I squatted and I squatted and I struggled. I stalled at 65lbs, really! I hovered around 75lbs for the longest time. I would hurt my back and cut back to two days a week. I read and reread everything about the squat. I bought a pair of Chuck’s. I watched videos on proper squat form. I started working with a trainer doing mobility work, just so I could improve my squat.

After months of struggling, the weight started going up. When I finally put 25lb plates (95lbs) on the bar I was so excited to be done with the 5’s and 10’s. And then I stalled, again. I was stuck at 95lbs. Really! But I kept at it. I de-loaded and kept going. I finally made it to 105lbs and could move up to the 35lb plates! I worked my way up to 125lbs and I stalled. So, so close to 135 and the “wheels!” This time I was able to push through and after an extra day off I loaded up the bar with the 45’s and got it! I’m officially on the “big boy” plates!

There must have been something mental about 135lbs because after that I worked my way up a little smoother. I had another hiccup at 155 but pushed all the way to 175 before I stalled again; funny how the stalls are always 5 or 10 pounds from the next big plate.

So, why the squat; why put myself through all this? Because I had to; the squat is the foundation of all weight lifting. I want to be strong and I want to be proportionally strong. The squat will even things out over time. If you have one leg weaker than the other, squat for a while and it will even things out. It will give you a butt if you don’t have one and will trim your butt if yours is too big.

The squat is the single most important movement you can do. Think about it this way; when you place that bar on your back it affects ever single muscle in your body. You want strong legs and calves? Squat. You want a strong back then squat. You want abs, SQUAT!

Today I am sore from last nights squats. Five full sets of five where I had to really struggle on the last couple of reps. Perfect! There are few things in life as satisfying as when you’re tired and sore from hard work. I am hobbling around the office because my legs hurt so much but, Man….I love squats!

-StrongLifts Member Scott aka “Cleave”