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Last updated May 20,2017, originally published January 13, 2015
By Joseph Strongoli, Contributing Columnist
Squats are not for the faint of heart. The body trembles and quivers
under the weight of a bar awkwardly balanced across pinched
shoulders, wobbling to and fro. Now that you’ve got your balance,
keep your back arched and squat down as far as you can. Congrats,
you’ve made it down to a squatting position. Now comes the hard part:
stand back up, and repeat!
Squats are one of the most integral exercises to any workout program,
precisely because they work out, as they say, “everything under the
bar”. Talk about a whole-body workout: the muscles of the thighs,
hips, buttocks, quads, hamstrings, abs, upper and lower back,
trunk/core, shoulders, and arms are all exercised when doing a proper
squat. In addition, bones, ligaments, and tendons are also
strengthened when squatting with good form. It’s not for nothing then
that another common saying among gym rats is “If you don’t have
squats in your program, you don’t have a program”.
Why Squats Matter to Your Health
As we've covered in other articles, men lose 3 times as much leg
strength as leg mass over the years. Your legs literally get weaker than
any other part of your body as you age. Squats can help to reverse
that. (Read more about how much muscle men lose as we age.)
Because we lose leg strength rapidly as we age, we become more
vulnerable to life-changing falls and fractures, according to a 2014
study from Korea. That study, from the Institute for Safety Promotion,
Inje University, Republic of Korea, found that a regular program of
squats, 3 times a week, 3 sets of 10 repetitions helps prevent falls.
How Much Weight Can the Average Man Squat?
Squatting is tough, there’s no doubt about it. It takes stamina, full-
body coordination and good balance while exerting with all your might.
The Squat is one of three lifts in the sport of powerlifting, along with
the Bench Press and the Deadlift.
The current International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) world record
squat is 490kg, or 1080 lbs., by Christensen Carl Yngvar from Norway.
Over a thousand pounds sounds impossible, but it’s the world record
set by a professional lifter. Amateur squatters should set their sights a
Lon Kilgore, a researcher at the University of the West of Scotland’s
Institute for Clinical Exercise and Health Science developed a system of
metrics to determine strength standards for a number of different
exercises. The metrics vary along 4 axes: weight, age, gender, and
level of training. There are 5 levels of training that reflect the level of
experience in weight training: Untrained; Novice; Intermediate;
Advanced; and Elite.
So where does the Average Joe fall into these categories?
Well, according to the CDC, only about 29 percent of Americans train
with weights enough to meet the recommended guidelines. That means
that the Average Joe is considered "Untrained".
And given the average weight of an American male over 20 years old,
196 lbs., Kilgore’s metric says that the average, healthy American
Untrained male should be able to squat between 120 and 125 pounds.
Not quite a thousand, but then again the average male isn’t a
professional weight lifter either.
For a man in the 196 lb. weight category, the Novice standard is 230
lbs., the Intermediate standard is 285 lbs., the Advanced standard is
390 lbs., and the Elite standard is 505 lbs.
Good Squat Form
Free weights are generally recommended over using machines, because
the machines help you to stabilize and isolate the motion. When using
free weights, that stabilization and coordination has to come from you,
and therefore the muscles have that much more work to do. Free
squatting is definitely the end goal, but starting out with squat
machines or even a Smith machine can be a good way to get yourself
acclimated to the unique stresses of this demanding workout.
Maintaining good posture, form and balance is important in not only
maximizing the effects of the exercise, but also in avoiding injury.
So what does a proper squat look like?
Here are all the components involved in a squat, and their proper
configuration (credit to stronglifts.com):
Stance: shoulder-width apart, from heel to heel (wider than toe-to-toe)
Feet: flat on the floor, turned outward 30 degrees
Knees: pointing in the same direction as the feet
Grip: medium width, with your back supporting the weight, not your
Back/Shoulders: Roll the shoulders back and down away from the
head. Allowing the back to turtle shell causes stress on the lower back.
Your back should remain arched with chest out and shoulders pinched
together at all times. Let the weight of the bar and it’s path maintain a
consistent position directly over your shoulders and arched back.
Bar: Rests between your trapezius muscles and rear shoulder muscles,
centered on the back.
Head: In line with the rest of your spine, without looking up or down,
but straight forward
Squatting down: push your knees out and hips back, keep your lower
Squatting up: push your hips straight up and your knees out, keep
your chest up.
Other Tips: Keep your weight over your heels when squatting. This will
help keep the torso upright throughout, so you don’t fall forward.
Go as low as your flexibility will allow: the lower you can go, the
better. Optimal depth is your hip crease below the knees. To help you
remember to go low, squat down onto a box placed behind you.
If you’ve never done squats before, start out with no weight, to
perfect the form. When you feel comfortable with the required
coordination, slowly add weight. Remember, there’s a difference
between the maximum amount you can lift, called a 1 repetition
maximum, and how much weight you can lift 10 times in a row. Your 1
rep max is your limit. Find your range on the table above and start out
at a lower weight to do 10 rep sets.
The International Powerlifting Federation’s Squat Records, by Weight
Sergey Fedosienko (130 lbs., Russia): 661.39 lbs.
Konstantin Danilov (145 lbs., Russia): 718.71
Jaroslaw Olech (163 lbs., Poland): 810.19 lbs.
Jose Castillo (183 lbs., Ecuador): 832.25 lbs.
World Standard (205 lbs.): 870.83 lbs.
World Standard (231 lbs.): 914.92 lbs.
World Standard (265 lbs.): 947.99 lbs.
Christensen Carl Yngvar: (265+lbs, Norway): 1080.27
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