Back Squats were on the menu today at CrossFit Empower.
Back Squats are recognized as the king of lifts when it comes to strength development. People love big long Hero WODs and grinders but for neurological and physiological adaptations the top 3 WODs are: 100m Sprints, 1 rep max deadlift & 1 rep max back squat. Nothing else compares.
Because you can load a back squat very heavy and because your body is beneath that load for the whole time, it stimulates unrivaled response.
But a study of teenage boys back squatting in a high school weight room showed most had significant inter-vertebral disc degeneration. So there is danger here. Of course teenage boys might not be aware of proper back squat mechanics. Heck, the majority of personal trainers are not familiar with correct back squat mechanics. So good coaching is important for this lift.
But beyond mechanics two other factors are critical to performing back squats safely:
1) Rest between sets! Your legs recover quickly, your core stabilizers less so. This lift relies on the ATP stored in your muscle cells. Once used, it takes time to replenish. The more trained you are the LONGER it takes! I use a clock to ensure that I do not lift again too soon. 5 minutes between lifts is my rule but if I am tired I will rest longer, especially before a big lift.
2) Use a planned progression! If you are failing, you are not training. Strength training should follow a calculated progression based on your tested maxes. For example yesterday’s 5 sets of 3 should have been completed at about 80% of your one rep max in order to elicit the desired training response. For example my sets went as follows: 255-260-265-270-275 which translates to 70%-75%-80%-85%-90% of my one rep max. These are challenging yet safe weights for me to lift.
The Path to Strength
Next time the 3 rep back squat shows up, I will refer to my recorded data and my lifts will be 260-265-270-275-280. I will end up lofting more but only slightly more. I will get stronger – SAFELY. It’s boring, it’s predictable. Not nearly as exciting as an earth shattering personal best. But also not nearly as exciting as permanent spinal damage.
If you are playing for longevity you need to differentiate between training and competition. Or shift your timeline. Think the tortoise and the Hare. Play cautiously today to win tomorrow.
That is not the mindset of every CrossFit gym in Vancouver but that is our approach here on Dunbar Street. We are committed to your long term health and success!
There is no need to fear the back squat (or anything else) so long as you approach it intelligently and please don’t let your ego do your lifting for you!
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