Ending the Squat Debate (Everyone is wrong?)

April 19, 2022 by VAHVA Fitness

Ending the notorious squat debate once and for all. What is the perfect squat? What is the best variation? What is the correct depth?

In the fitness and strength training landscape there are certain axioms people tend to follow without questioning their validity. 

There are also certain exercises that are considered almost holy that are always considered "the best exercises you can do."

Barbell Back Squat is certainly one of them. And the exercise squat in general.

In calisthenics circles where people try to stay away from weights, the back squat is replaced with either the pistol squat or the equally difficult "shrimp squat"

Both exercise we mastered a long time ago. Here's Eero doing pistol squats with 44 kg (97 pounds) and here's our shrimp squat video.

When it comes to the proper execution, certain axioms are always followed. These include: use a full range of motion, avoid using momentum and keep a straight back.

However, the fitness landscape has started to morph in recent years and some reputable and popular strength coaches have started claiming that the full range of motion is no longer good.

Rather, the squat should always be performed to a 90 degree angle and not just the squat but every other exercise as well.

This has created conflict in the industry where some people swear you should always squat to down to the bottom (ATG) while many now swear the squat should only be performed to a 90 degree angle.

We addressed this in one of the recent videos and articles: "Why you should not squat ATG?"

This is just one example. People, trainers and fitness enthusiasts alike, like to think that certain squat variations are superior to others. People think back squat or the front squat with the heaviest weight possible is the superior variation to all others.

In calisthenics, people consider the pistol squat the best because it has the most range of motion and it's also the hardest variation you can do. "Why to bother with regular bodyweight squats when you have pistol squats?" - this is what people like to think.

Me and Eero want to say that everyone is missing the point and showing just a lack of understanding of human movement and exercise science in general.

Recommended: "This Exercise Will Reveal Your Understanding of Exercise Science."

We were following many of these axioms in the beginning. We mastered all of these exercises already a decade ago. We were already doing nordic curls and pistol squats all the way back in 2012.

Do you want to know the truth? Here it is...

The Body Is a Reflection of Training

The perfect range or the perfect variation does not exist. In other words, the whole discussion is kind of pointless and fruitless.

In training, what matters is your aim and goal. When people ask you "What is the best squat variation?", you need to answer "For what purpose?"

Using the full range of motion is not by default the best. It has pros and cons like everything. Different ranges of motion simply develop the muscles that contribute to the movement in different ways.

Similarly, different variations that have different leg widths, angles/rotations also emphasize different parts of the body. We again come to the same question: "For what purpose?"

If your goal is to lift the most amount of weight and don't care about anything else, then the conventional back squat is probably the best depending on your body's makeup.

Our Variability Method allows us to emphasize different parts of the body in any exercise allowing us to produce more well-rounded and structurally balanced results.

For example, using a narrow stance in the squat where the feet are pointing directly forward will focus on developing the quadriceps. In this variation you cannot even go deeper than the 90 degree angle without butchering the purpose of the exercise (developing the quadriceps) and rounding the back.

By adjusting the width of your stance or the rotation of your hip you can emphasize different parts of the quadriceps and even different parts of the glutes. A wide stance with feet pointing outwards will generally work the inner thighs and glutes more.

So what variation should you be using? The answer is all of them and you should be focusing on the variation where you feel the weakest and can lift the least amount of weight.

This is contrary to everything mainstream fitness believes in. The mainstream paradigm is scared of weakness and appearing weak which is why they avoid the difficult and focus on the form where they feel and appear the strongest (on paper at least).

This is what ultimately ego training is. Lifting for your ego. Entire systems of training have been built to rationalize this intention.

In the end your body will reflect the level and standards of your training. You don't become the highest you aspire to be but the lowest standards you choose to accept.

You Don't Have to Sacrifice Yourself for Your Goals

General training programs work and are necessary in the beginning but the more advanced and better you get, the more individual your approach should evolve into.

The best way to achieve this? It's by cultivating self-knowledge and self-awareness. This is the true purpose of a teacher. 

Being a drill sergeant who pushes you in training like in Warrior 20XX is only one purpose of a coach. A true teacher teaches you more about yourself and gives you a better understanding of what you want to learn.

We do this by teaching the methods and principles behind the methods. Eventually, you become your own teacher. 

By cultivating this individual based approach, your training slowly becomes as effective and as precise as it can be.

Through self-awareness and self-understanding you can work with the body towards your goals and not against it.

The problem with YouTube and many teachers is that they give general advice. They may even say "this is the best thing you can do for X". Yet, they don't even know who you are. 

Injuries and joint structures are complex. There doesn't exist a single exercise to fix everything, yet this is what we are made to believe.

In the beginning, we suffered the many negative consequences of training. We were basically sacrificing important things (health, structural balance, real athleticism) for the sake of our egos.

Once I got shoulder problems, I listened to the advice available online and in articles and even visited a physiotherapist. The solution was to perform an infinite amount of external rotation for my rotator cuff but too bad my external rotation was not the problem - my internal rotation was the weak link (very few talk about this) among many other points.

By bringing your training to a higher level and cultivating self-knowledge of the body and mind, you can achieve everything you want to achieve without needing to sacrifice yourself in the process.

This whole Dualistic world view in regards to exchanging one thing for another no longer needs to exist. 

And this is what we can show you.


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samuli jyrkinen

About the author 

Samuli Jyrkinen

Samuli is the ninja behind the scenes (photography, videography, websites, program platforms and more). He has been training religiously for over a decade and has a firm grasp of physical and mental fitness. You will find our story here.

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