Death of the Squat

Over the weekend I had an opportunity to attend the Friesen Physio-Fitness Summit in Raleigh, NC. The summit was awesome; Pete Friesen (going on his 14th year as the Hurricanes Strength and Conditioning Coach) put together a fantastic line-up of speakers, including many of members of his sports medicine network. I’m in the process of putting together a write-up on the Summit for Hockey Strength and Conditioning now; there was a lot of great information was process. I was flattered that Pete said he reads all my emails (he must be the one!), and am really thankful that he invited me down.

Death of the Squat
One of the presenters at the Summit brought up Coach Boyle’s “Death of the Squat” idea. I really think Boyle’s words have been misheard, misinterpreted, and misunderstood to the point of completely bastardizing his point. As a disclaimer, if you know me at all you know that I’m heavily influenced by Boyle’s philosophies and teachings. In fact, his mentorship is largely responsible for where I am today as a coach. As such, I do feel an allegiance toward defending his ideas. With that said, that’s not why I’m writing this. Whether I agree with Boyle’s point about single-leg training (I do) isn’t as important here as making sure people understand what he’s actually saying about the benefits of single-leg vs. double-leg training.

First, he never said squats were dead. The “Death of the Squat” was coined by Pat Beith, who was responsible for marketing Functional Strength Coach 3. Frankly, it was a great way to use a controversial topic to stimulate interest in the product (a win for Pat). Unfortunately, many people took the attention grabber an umbrella statement about training. Boyle mentions that, at some point, the limiting factor in squatting becomes spinal stability, not lower body/hip strength. He doesn’t say that squatting isn’t a good lower body exercise; he doesn’t say it’s a back exercise.

An area of the body being a limiting factor doesn’t imply that it is weak either; it simply means that is the point of failure. If you consider the anatomy of the spine and supporting musculature, it shouldn’t be surprising that the legs can power up more weight than the spine can handle. In anticipation of this argument, it’s unreasonable to use elite level powerlifters (even if we look past the drug use and equipment use) as an argument against Boyle’s point about spinal stability. There are exceptions to every rule. Boyle isn’t basing his argument on a few minor exceptions, he’s basing it on his observations on thousands of athletes across the last 3 decades.

Take Home Message
This message can be interpreted in a couple different ways, but I look at it like this. Squatting is a great exercise to develop lower body/hip strength initially. When strength improves to a point where spinal stability becomes the limiting factor, the risk/reward ratio of the exercise is tipped unfavorably. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to push the limits of spinal stability in the interest of potentially adding some lower body strength, especially since there is a better alternative: single-leg training.

Single-leg training offers the benefit of being able to continuously overload the lower body, while minimizing the stress to the spine. The other primary benefit of single-leg training is that it capitalizes on the pre-existing neural pathways that drive athletic movement. I wrote about this in detail in my article Rethinking Bilateral Training, which I encourage you to check out if you haven’t yet.

We don’t do a lot of squatting at Endeavor because I think our single-leg exercises are more effective at improving strength. They also minimize injury risk. We mostly mix it in with our off-season athletes that will need to be able to squat well for testing purposes when they return to their teams. I apologize for the rant. I’m disappointed when I see smart people arguing against points that Boyle never made. Hopefully this clears up some of the confusion.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. Eric Cressey put up another great video post with answers to some common training questions and a few heart-touching stories. Check it out here: Show and Go FAQ

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