Training Talk: Do You Really Need to Squat?

In this training talk, we discuss the barbell back squat. Is the exercise really necessary to build muscle? Or can you get away without having to do them?

Oh, this one is going to be good.

This is one of those topics that has no middle ground. You’re either all in or all out.

It just got real here at M&S because the topic for Training Talk this month is about the squat.

Now I know that you’re already tempted to just scroll to the bottom of the page and give us your opinions but I ask that you stay with us here because we’re going to present some topics that you might be interested in.

Then by all means, talk to us loud and proud about how you really feel.

The Squat We All Know & Love (or Hate)

It might go without saying that the version of the squat we’re talking about is the basic barbell back squat but just in case it isn’t clear to some of you, that’s the one. We’re going to get into other variations as well so stay tuned.

The barbell squat we’re all familiar with is obviously the first of the big three so like the bench last month and deadlift before that, if you’re into powerlifting, then you gotta squat. It’s everyone else in the iron community that will be getting all hot and bothered about it.

To Squat or Not

For some of us, there’s nothing like stepping inside the rack, getting under the bar, positioning it just right on your shoulders, standing up, and knowing you’re about to take some serious weight for a ride that will impress the spotters, witnesses, and all other lifters in the weight room.

Related: Training Talk - Training Traps with Shoulders or Back?

For others, it just isn’t worth it because of the soreness that lasts for days after and possible injury risk to the back, hips, and knees. There are other ways to train the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings like the leg press, lunges, extensions, leg curls, and others.

These movements target the muscles with minimum risk and a better chance of being able to move properly the next day. I won’t go as far as to say that no one is in the middle at all but I haven’t met many of them.

M&S Female Athlete Squatting to depth

This isn’t just a topic for the everyday gym athletes either. Elite, world-class bodybuilders talk squatting as well. Ronnie Coleman, eight time Mr. Olympia says he wouldn’t have been as successful as he was onstage if he didn’t work up to squatting 800 pounds. Yes, he’s recovering from surgeries now but as far as he was concerned, squats were a must to make it to the top.

Conversely, six-time Mr. O Dorian Yates never squatted with a barbell as long as he was Mr. O. He thought other movements served him better. Other champions like Arnold, Franco, and Lee Haney did squat.

Then, there are other champs like current Mr. O Phil Heath who doesn’t squat regularly or maybe at all now. So the debate isn’t settled here. Those lifters that do swear that going at least parallel is a must might have a plan like this.

Exercise Sets Reps
1. Barbell Squat 4 20, 15, 10, 5
2. Wide Stance Leg Press 3 20, 15, 10
3. Leg Extension 3 20
4. Platform Lunges 3 20
5. Standing Leg Curl 3 20

Do You Have to Go Parallel?

Let’s continue with the discussion for those of you that decided that squatting is a requirement and commandment of growth. The next topic isn’t any less controversial. In regards to training, some athletes feel that if you’re not squatting to parallel, then you’re just wasting reps, energy, and time.

To these folks, it’s better to squat 200 to parallel than 500 short of it. Have you ever heard the phrase “depth before dishonor”? This is where that came from.

There are others within that group that feel you must go even deeper. This is known as ATG (@$$ to grass). They feel that to maximize flexibility, range of motion, and full development, this is a must.

On the other side of that coin, there are other lifters who feel going down to parallel takes the emphasis off the quadriceps and makes the movement less effective for overall leg development. Instead, they will go down to ¾ parallel or even half.

While they can likely do more weight this way, their overall goal is to place as much stress on the quads as possible and try to make this compound movement more of an isolation exercise. Those folks might work with something like this.

Exercise Sets Reps
1. 3/4 Squat 3 12, 10, 8
2. Single Leg Press 4 15
3. Wide Stance Leg Press 4 15
4. Lying Leg Curl 3 20

Do Other Versions Count?

Even though we’ve been talking about the basic barbell squat, we all know that isn’t the only way to do it. There’s the dumbbell squat, goblet squat, and hack squat machine which can all be great for building the legs. (Yes, I know I left one out, I’ll get back to that in a minute.)

Plenty of people have made great gains with movements like these but not the barbell version. Are they any less “hardcore” than those who choose to squat with the bar? Are they fulfilling their potential or are they leaving growth on the table by avoiding the rack? Someone who’s doing these other versions might have a routine like this.

Exercise Sets Reps
1. Single Leg Extension 3 20, 15, 10
2. Goblet Squat 4 20, 15, 10, 8
3. Hack Squat Machine 3 25
4. Stiff Legged Deadlifts 3 15
5. Single Leg Curl 3 20

Do You Even Front Squat?

Then there’s this version. It matches the intensity of the basic squat and then raises it. The front squat is more difficult because the weight is in front of you.

Related: Training Talk - Should Arms Have Their Own Training Day?

It can be tougher to balance since it isn’t resting on your shoulders. It’s also directly over your quads when you go down so it hits them a little harder than back squats.

There are lifters who like to use both versions and there are those who feel like the front squat is the only way to go for them. If you’re a front squatter, then this might be a routine for you.

Exercise Sets Reps
1. Front Squat 4 10, 8, 6, 4
2. Dumbbell Jump Squat 3 15, 12, 10
3. Walking Lunge 3 15
4. Seated Leg Curl 3 15

Speak Your Mind

All right, I believe that is enough talking from me. Now it’s your turn.

Yes, you, the dude reading this while trying to look like you’re really working. Your opinions aren’t only encouraged but they are being requested.

Here are the questions we’d like for you to answer for us.

  1. Do you really have to squat to have great legs?
  2. Is squatting to parallel a must and why?
  3. Is the basic barbell squat the end all, be all or do other versions serve the same purpose?
  4. What else do you want to add?

You might be thinking to yourself, “he didn’t talk about this.” This is called Training Talk for a reason. It isn’t much of a conversation if it’s one sided, right?

If you think something important should be shared, share it. This is about you sharing information. That’s what makes the M&S community so special.