Stronglifts can't squat
This article outlines the main reasons why you can't squat and how to fix them. From there you will learn about the personal experiences I had when I started with Stronglifts 5x5. In the end, you will find useful resources to help your thought process to become a better lifter. If you have any questions leave them in the comments or write directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why can you not squat?
The barbell squat can be intimidating for beginners. The deadlift is a more natural movement. Grabbing something to pick it up is something familiar. Putting a long piece of metal on your back to sit down is not a familiar movement. The main reasons for not squatting are:
- Lack of strength
- Lack of mobility
- Lack of confidence
A standard barbell weighs 20kg. If you are a beginner who does weigh 40kg to 60kg that can already be a challenge. One of Stronglifts biggest flaws is that it does account very little for individual differences. If you lack the strength to comfortably handle a barbell work with bodyweight and kettlebell movements. Once you can do 5 Turkish get ups with a 12kg kettlebell with perfect form revisit the barbell. Pavel Tsatsoulin’s simple and sinister routine is excellent for this progression.
Some people lack the necessary mobility to do a barbell back squat. Especially if you work a lot in an office. There are several ways of fixing this. My two favorite ones or either Yoga or a routine of kettlebell squats and wall squats. If you prefer Yoga you can do one of the hip opener routines on YouTube. Pick something that especially focuses on stretches around the lower back and hip joints. I like this one from bohobeautiful. If you are not flexible enough for Yoga or think it is for women (which is silly, but anyway), you can do wall squats and cossack squats. This routine is described in detail in Pavel Tsatsoulins and Andy Bolton's book Deadlift Dynamite. A good read for beginners on powerlifting.
Take a light kettlebell and do 3 x 10 on each side of cossack squats. Follow this by 3x5 wall squats where you try to get as close to the wall as possible with your feet in a wide stance. Then squat down. Improving your mobility will take time. Be patient. While you are improving your mobility squat as low as you possibly can while keeping tight in your Stronglifts routine. This also stretches the hips and lets you progress.
A lack of confidence is usually caused by two things. The first is that you feel the urge to put too much weight on the bar as a beginner. It is ok to start with no plates. This also makes your first three months of Stronglifts less intimidating as the weights are pretty light. The second reason is that you do know a proper safety set up. Find one of the more experienced lifters in the gym. Ask them nicely how to set up safety pins. Then let them demonstrate how you safely exit a failed barbell back squat. The safety pins should be set up just a little lower than you can squat. By leaning slightly forward you can exit safely by crawling out of the rack. The most important thing is to avoid a panic. Don't drop the weight to the safety pins as it may bounce uncontrollably. Bring it to the pin as slowly and controlled as possible.
These three points will address your reservations with the barbell back squat. It is too good an exercise to pass in the gym in my opinion. There are also alternatives you can use.
How I felt when I started Stronglifts
I was in your position too. In my teenage years, I was afraid of the barbell back squat and did not do it. Instead, I bench pressed a lot. Twenty years later I still fight with the imbalances I created back then. My bench press sits at 150kg while my maximum back squat is 170kg. My bench press is great and my squat is measly.
When I started with Stronglifts I also felt intimidated by the people around me in the gym. Some looked at me sideways or smirked because I exercised without any or small plates in the beginning. Pay no attention to this. You will be stronger than most of them 1 - 2 years down the line. Especially the ones who show no respect for someone who is starting out. Trust in the process. Continue to improve and build a solid base.
Put the focus on correct execution of the squat. I focused too much on how many plates were on the bar. This lead too injuries down the line and having to rebuild my movement pattern from scratch. Take the time, in the beginning, to make every single rep a perfect one. This will pay dividends in the future.
The biggest mistakes with the squat to avoid
The biggest mistakes with the squat I did during Stronglifts were:
- Not consciously working on squat form
- Using a belt too early
- Focusing too much on weight increase
The first is the biggest one. When you do not read a lot about squatting and want a quick result Stronglifts 5x5 sets you up for not enough reflection on your training. That is not the programs fault and the result of our culture. The Stronglifts 5x5 provides extensive information on how to perform all the lifts. I did not read it. I assume most other beginners will not, too. You download the app and get going without a coach. That is one of the biggest selling points of 5x5. That it is simple and anyone can do it. I encourage you to read far and wide on strength training.
The second has to do with my hernia which I got shortly before I traveled to the States to get engaged. I had started to wear a belt once I started squatting bodyweight for repetitions. I thought that was a great idea. When I progressed to 120kg for repetitions I hurt my abs very bad. I don't know whether it was a hernia, but I definitely could not squat under load for a month. I also developed weaknesses in my core which I still try to remedy now. Belts are good. As long as you do not want to compete safely yourself the money for everything except weightlifting shoes in your first two years of training.
Problem one and two were a direct result of me only focusing on what was on the bar and not thinking about how I moved it. The sooner you understand that weight training is not just about the plates, but also about how your body interacts with the weight, the better for your overall development as a person and a lifter. I did haöf and quarter squats left, right and center and felt good about it. Put the focus of the weight and into execution. The rest will come from this. Here are some coaches to follow that I found in the last four years:
Very strong and good coaches for beginners are from my perspective:
Their tone of coaching is very neutral and professional. They look at their coaching from many different angles and stay calm. I wished I found them earlier as these three channels are something you have to dig a bit longer for.
Very strong coaches for intermediates are from my perspective:
This group also had a big influence on me. However, I find that their material is more geared towards entertainment in case of supertraining06 or is very specific and extreme in the case of Chris Duffin and Stand Efferding. My personal opinion is that some of their advice has to be reflected on by beginners, which they might not be able to do. Their material is also presented in very long videos which might be too much for you to start with. Great resources for intermediates who get stuck on a plateau. Supertraining06 has the best and most diverse guests on their show in my opinion. Chris Duffin does the maddest experiments. Stan Efferding knows how to get lean while lifting heavy.
You can squat with practice
You can do everything if you put in the time and effort. The squat is a great movement. When done perfectly it will fill you with pride and joy. The weight will add up over time when you follow Stronglifts 5x5 and switch to a different program after a year or two. Be brave and courageous. Luck and wealth favor the ones who dare to do it.
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