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Dan Graziano 05-31-2011 10:46 AM

Squatting Variations
I recently wrote an article on my blog titled 'Why Do You Back Squat?"

I have been able to program these into my WODs with my athletes by substituting any bodyweight, or front loading squat variation and have got some really good positive feedback since it challenges the body in a different way than I had been accustomed to in my past 2 years of CrossFitting myself and as a CF Coach the last year with my athletes.

Soon I will be posting some more variations of popular WODs implementing different tools as well as incorporating exercises that involve working in all 3 planes of motion that I feel we are missing out on with traditional programming. I have seen my benchmark WODs go up significantly since implementing different tools and planes of motion, as well as my CF total.

Interested to see your thoughts on implementing more transverse plane and uni-lateral movements and how it relates to programming on WODs. Any questions or feedback, I would be more than happy to discuss.

Ryan Ferry 05-31-2011 02:03 PM

Re: Squatting Variations

Just read your blog post and, while there is a valid use for front loaded squats in any well rounded program, I think you may be missing the mark in defying anyone to come up with a valid reason to use the back squat to get stronger.

At no time in the recent past have I ever heard that because you load the weight on your back you are thereby restricted from using the muscle and strength gained from that exercise in any other movement for the rest of your days. I think simple linear progression in the back squat and deadlift are the most direct way to increase strength and muscle mass.

I'm a big fan of the sandbag, and I gather from your blog post that you either make them or sell them. My cynical mind wants to believe that you don't advocate this style of training for the sole purpose of promoting your product....but I'm skeptical of anyone that thinks you can derive just as much strength from holding a bag in a bear-hug squat as you can on a properly executed back squat in the high bar or low bar style.

Chris Mason 05-31-2011 05:07 PM

Re: Squatting Variations

Back squatting allows for greater loads to be used thus stressing the muscles of the hips, lower back, quads, and glutes to a greater degree than would otherwise be possible. In other words, greater load equals greater adaptation which equals greater force production capacity of the involved muscles and thus greater demonstrable athletic ability as defined as running speed and jumping ability.


Dan Graziano 05-31-2011 07:08 PM

Re: Squatting Variations
I am happy to clarify my points as I know it may seem different for some people and you bring up several issues, so let me address those.

Do I sell the equipment: Let me ask you a question first, if my concepts and ideas were valid and rationale would it matter? The fact of the matter is that I do not make nor sell the equipment I am endorsing. I started attending some of Josh Henkin's workshops and found the information very relatable to myself and my clients. So much so that I have help instruct courses because I think this can be a very valuable tool for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts. Whether or not you buy product is irrelevant to me as the concepts are very important and the only way we create further innovations is to question if we are doing things optimally.

Back Squat for performance?: I wasn't really sure if you were trying to state that the back squat is necessary for performance or not. There are studies that state that EMG activity for front to back squats are rather similar and there are studies like this one "An electromyographical comparison of trunk muscle activity during isometric trunk and dynamic strengthening exercises" that states

"The ES (erector spinae) activity was significantly (p < 0.01) greater during the FS (1.010 0.308 root mean square value [RMS (V)]) and SM (0.951 0.217 RMS[V]) and compared to all other exercises, although there was no significant difference (p > 0.05) between the FS and the SM exercise. The FS may be a useful alternative to isometric exercises when strengthening the ES, because it results in slightly higher muscle activity levels when using only a light to moderate load. Because of the dynamic nature of the FS, this may also be more beneficial in transferring to activities of daily living and sporting environments." This is also using the back squat in the study.

You have people like Dr. Stuart McGill who states in his book "Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance" , "The traditional squat exercise with a barbell on the shoulders produces non-functional activation patterns of hip extension and spine stabilization for many athletes. Gluteus medius activation is too low and gluteus maximus activation is relatively low until quite deep in the squat position." He goes on to say, " squat activates the gluteus medius immediately to assist in the frontal plane hip drive necessary for leaping, running, etc. together with sooner integration of gluteus maximus higher in the squat motion.

Purpose of the sandbag and other alternative tools: You will see my point wasn't to replace what we are use to doing, but make for a more well-rounded program. The bear hug squat was an example of teaching proper body alignment and movement patterns to those learning squatting exercises. The more upright posture and load being displaced through the body, the sandbag is used as a teaching tool just as much as it is for load. Load is not load, so yes, even someone strong could benefit from doing this exercise with a highly loaded bag, even being a strength athlete myself I have found doing this with a 160-180 pound bag to be very stimulating.

Of course there is an end point of loading with this movement, but we can focus on other variables such as speed, ROM, and changing the body position, or the position of the load. These are often variables we miss in our programming and can be applied to training tools other than sandbags and I think would lead to more interesting evolution of movements and programming.

Ryan Ferry 05-31-2011 07:35 PM

Re: Squatting Variations
Dan ,

I appreciate you clarifying that you don't profit directly from the product you mention as "My Ultimate Sandbag". It always makes me leery of someone's "article"' pronouncing the benefits of a product when they stand to gain a hefty sum from the subsequent sale of said miracle item.

Now, on to the remainder of your points...

I didn't get a chance to review the study but, again, I'm leery. EMG readings obtained by labrats when there is no mention of who the study was performed on (trained vs. untrained) and what the definition of those types of squats are (I've seen many studies where the squat wasn't defined and even participated in a few that had people doing half squats at best!).

At the end of the day, suboptimal glute activation until the bottom of the ROM or not, as Mr. Mason points out, you can load WAY more weight on a properly performed back squat than you can a front squat. More weight means more muscle worked and gained. More muscle means more strength, period.

A dude with a 400 lb back squat will have no problem with lifting an 85 lb dog, none. A woman with a 225 lb back squat will easily be able to handle the transition from grocery bags at her sides to overhead on the shelf.

As far as athletic performance goes, the glute activation issue becomes a moot point when they are required to perform the movements inherent in their sport during drills in practice. I think too many people complicate the issue and add too much to their programs when they have not exhausted linear progression available to novices and get Really. Effin. Strong.

My personal experience has been as a collegiate level football and rugby player at a bodyweight of between 195 lbs - 225 lbs at a height of 6'2". I clowned around with a bunch of added exercises and did not fully develop my linear strength gains. Performance suffered and now I'm sitting here typing responses to you and not playing on a national or professional team. (If only the coach put me in...we coulda won state!) Since getting smarter, training some of my own people and working myself through linear progression through to currently using Wendler's 5/3/1, I have never been stronger in my life and my athletic performance, both at work and at play, has come back to the level I previously enjoyed as a younger and ....bouncier athlete.

Nothing personal man, I just think people abandon/neglect the hard work and add in too much before they need to.

Damon Stewart 05-31-2011 09:17 PM

Re: Squatting Variations
For athletes few things beat being strong. If I take one of my HS athletes squatting 450lbs+ and put him through a sandbag squatting workout he's going to wreck it. The same wouldn't be true for a weaker athlete if we included what we consider to be heavy back squats into the programming.

Geoff Archibald 05-31-2011 10:20 PM

Re: Squatting Variations
How heavy are the sandbags? We do goblet squats with kettlebells every once in a while. 2.5 pd is as heavy as we've got. I do like the idea of working with awkward objects. Gets you out of the square and straight movement rut.

Ryan Ferry 05-31-2011 11:36 PM

Re: Squatting Variations
(How heavy are the sandbags? We do goblet squats with kettlebells every once in a while. 2.5 pd is as heavy as we've got. I do like the idea of working with awkward objects. Gets you out of the square and straight movement rut.)

I want to be sure that it's clear I don't disagree with using odd objects in conditioning work. I use a heavy sandbag myself, but the blog post originally referenced seemed to question why getting bigger and stronger was necessary when you can do more "useful" and "functional" stuff with sandbags. They have their place, but are no substitute.

Dan Graziano 06-01-2011 09:25 AM

Re: Squatting Variations
While for some people sandbag squats are a great tool for others like myself or you guys commenting I think it is a must we use them in a supplemental capacity. Especially if you work with athletes, sport is never played in the sagital plane or on two flat feet so we need to train like that.

Points that are important here:

-Develop or re-enforce proper postural alignment
-Develop or warm-up muscles to get below parallel without compromising postural alignment
-Build strength throughout the erector muscles in the back
-Build strength through all planes of motion to most simulate life and sport more accurately
-Using these implements will stimulate muscle activation differently thus making your back squat go up

Dan Graziano 06-01-2011 09:38 AM

Re: Squatting Variations
Geoff the sandbags very greatly in weight depending on what is loaded inside the fillers, sand is usually used but if you want to experience a different feel try birdseed, lighter but moves differently. Goes back to load in not a load principle. But if you really want to know they can go from 20-180 pounds depending on the size of the bag and what its limitations are. Anytime I post a video I will be more than happy to weight the bags from now on for you number guys, just remember though, because you squat 450lbs in a static bilateral position, doesn't mean you can squat 450lbs or 9 bags of sand.

KB Goblets are great I love them. What I want you to try now is a staggered stand using the same weight. So place your left toe so it matches you right heel, hip width apart. Spike the left toe for added stability, but focus your right heel into the ground while grabbing the floor with you right toes. Hinge back on your right leg to 90 degrees and explode through clenching the right glute. This is what I am talking about, you just took a great exercise but made it better by working uni-laterally. Practice this for a few weeks and see if you have not got stronger in your front squat or even your back squat, you might be surprised.

If you are skeptic try it out. I used to be very skeptical as a young and dumb powerlifter and trainer who had little experience with anything else. I started implementing chains and bands, Russian manuals, etc. I read things with science backing it up. Sometimes it worked sometimes it did not. That is what I want from you if you are skeptic, try it! If you have a specific application ask me for an opinion and judge yourself if you think it might be worth it.

I will be posting this afternoon or evening my version of Isabel using sandbags and kettlebells. Two innovative ways to help improve the original. Looking forward to getting some good feedback again from the video and post with that.

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