If you have spent even a modicum amount of time training in a public gym you know that they are rife with guys who absolutely have no idea what they are doing.
You know what I’m talking about.
It’s the guys doing strange exercises in the corner of the gym that you have never seen done before (or thought was humanly possible). Despite the guttural sounds that are emanating from their mouths you have no idea what muscle group they are targeting. You figure that at least they are working hard at something, whatever it may be.
Then there are the guys who look like they are literally being attacked by the machines themselves. You have no idea if their spastic, jerky movements are voluntary or if they are actually suffering from some kind of seizure. You look to other gym-goers for a cue on how to respond but realize that no one else seems to be quite as alarmed as you. You decide it’s best to ignore the flailing and carry on with your workout as usual.
To be fair these are just a couple of extreme examples. They are certainly not as common as seeing completely sane, well-intentioned guys perform exercises incorrectly. Even with the wealth of fitness related information on the internet so many guys get it wrong. I don’t blame them, however. Exercise form is a highly contentious issue. Just take a look at any Youtube video of someone performing any kind of basic barbell exercise. You will have a litany of responses from the form police informing the poster that what he is doing is completely wrong and that he will likely destroy his back, knees, hips, etc. if he continues to execute the lift in the same fashion.
In fact, this is no more evident than when it comes to the back squat.
The back squat is probably the most incorrectly executed lift in gyms across America. Although I don’t have the space in this article to go over how to properly execute the back squat (and its various iterations), what I do want to address is one of the most common contentions people have with the lift: proper depth.
Arguably the most important aspect of a correctly performed back squat is that the lifter at least reach parallel if not break it altogether. In fact, it’s common for guys today to do very deep with squats, e.g. ATG (Ass To the Grass) squats. As such, anyone who doesn’t at least hit parallel is committing a huge sin and is simply a clueless newb.
Well, I disagree.
In this article I want to defend the quarter squat (aka the half squat).
I’m sure most of you are familiar with this movement and have seen plenty of guys ignorantly perform it in the gym believing that they are doing proper back squats, which they are most assuredly not.
For those of you who don’t know, the quarter squat is actually a legitimate lift that has been used by many strength athletes as a way to improve their full back squats. In fact, I first came across the movement in the classic strength training book, The Strongest Shall Survive by Bill Starr. Before then I just assumed that the quarter or half squat was a completely useless (and dangerous) way of doing squats, but I have since come to learn otherwise.
Believe it or not, one of the best ways to overload the muscles of the legs and hips is by doing heavy quarter squats. The reason being is that the range of motion of the quarter squat is half (or less than half) the range of motion of a full back squat and therefore allows you to utilize more poundage. Whereas you might only be able to full squat with 300lbs, you will be able to use in excess of 350lbs+ in the quarter squat.
The benefit of this extra poundage is that it will build a great deal of strength in the hip area which is essential to developing good squatting power. In addition, the heavier loads will also help thicken and strengthen supporting ligaments and tendons. I also find that doing heavy quarter squats helps build confidence with handling heavier loads on your back that you may not be accustomed to.
However, the one big caveat with quarter squats is that they should only be performed by the more advanced trainee (at least a couple years of correct training under his belt). As we’ve discussed in our previous article, guys that are new to lifting are doing themselves a huge disservice by following more advanced protocols. Stick with the basics until they stop working, then experiment.
In my opinion, the safest way to perform the quarter squat is in the power rack. I suggest that you set the pins in the rack so that when you lower the bar down that they just graze the pins at the quarter squat level. You don’t want to have the bar rest on the pins, however. That would be considered a paused squat, which is a different lift altogether (and one I will talk about in the future).
In terms of sets and reps, Bill Star recommends a couple of options in his book:
- Work up to heavy sets of fives in the full squat and then continue doing 5×5 in the quarter squat. This would equal 10 total work sets. It’s advised that you only doing something like this 1x per week.
- Work up to 2-3 sets of full squats and then continue with 5×5 in the quarter squat. This is less taxing than the previous option. Once again, you may need to cut back some of the other work you do for legs (e.g. deadlifts).
Personally, I think even replacing you regular full squats with quarter squats for a short 2-3 week cycle would be beneficial in bringing up your back squat numbers. As an advanced trainee you will have to play around with the intensity and frequency to figure out what’s right for you. Remember, even with quarter squats you want to stay away from failure to get the most out of them.
The quarter squat is a lift that is usually met with universal derision among fitness enthusiasts. Most believe that the lift is utterly useless at best and downright dangerous in most cases.
Unfortunately, many fail to appreciate that the quarter squat can be a very beneficial movement for individuals looking to improve their full squat. Used wisely, the quarter squat can help the advanced trainee bust through plateaus by forcing his body to adapt to the sharp rise in load. As such, the quarter squat will not only serve to help strengthen the tendons and ligaments involved in the squat but will also help the trainee develop more power through the hips.
That is why I recommend quarter squat.
Here’s the staying fit!