In powerlifting today, the squat is the first lift of the meet. The squat is really the domain of very strong men. I was never a great squatter and I have never trained the squat enough to become a great squatter. That being said I have done thousands of heavy squats and I know just about everyone would benefit from doing more squats.

Squats are hard. Squats are very hard. In order to properly train the squat you have to put some weight on the bar. Men load that bar with some serious plates so that it is a very challenging lift. I mean nearly impossible. The body is so much stronger than you know and the only thing keeping you from putting a couple more plates on that bar is your own fear and self doubt.

I remember squatting in the power rack at Gold’s in Vacaville in the late eighties when Big Clint walked over to us and asked, “You boys done warming up?” I am sure we were screwing around with 185 or some other nominal amount. Clint jumped into the rotation and the workout took on a whole new level of intensity. The first set was two plates for six or eight reps. The next time through the rotation was three plates and everyone dunked it at least five reps. At 315, Clint had to yell at us to get some more depth as we tried to trim that first rep a little short. I had never really squatted 315 before but I was doing it. I felt like my head would explode every rep but I was doing the reps. Clint knocked out about ten really easy powerful reps with five plates or 495 and seemed to just be getting started. My next turn in the rotation, Clint called for just a quarter more this time. I dutifully got under 365 with Clint taking up a position right behind me. Clint and I went up and down with that weight for at least three or four reps after I thought my legs were shot. I crawled out of the power rack and puked in my gym bag. I had actually done a real squat workout for the first time.

My first competition squat was my third attempt at the Fudpucker meet at Del Norte High School. I was lifting in the meet with my father and I had trained about six weeks for the meet. I had not lifted for a couple years, so I was definitely not very strong. I dieted down from 278 to 242 in the 30 days prior to the meet. I had squatted five times prior to the meet and had hit a very deep 315 squat in my last training session. I was sure I could squat 315 so I opened with that. My 365 second attempt felt pretty maximal and made me see stars. I called for 405 on my third and when I got under the bar it felt crushing. I started down slowly and was not even sure I could control the weight on the way down. Directly in front of me were Leo Stern and Bill Pearl standing and screaming at the top of their lungs. Jack Barnes was the head judge and just to my left and behind me was Tommy Overholtzer. Many other powerlifting greats were in that gym and they were all focused on my squat. The great Pat Casey hollered in a way only a man of his size could, “Take it down!”. I made my mind up that I was taking it to the basement. I squatted deep and strong bottoming out and rebounding up a few inches. The weight slowed and my body shook and trembled. I stayed with it and slowly but surely I was able to rise ever so slowly to lockout. My body was shaking so badly that I could not settle the weight at the top and plates were clattering. Finally, Jack screamed out the rack command and I took a small step with my left foot as the monolift racks came back into position and the spotters put the bar safely away. I had completed my first heavy competition squat.

Squatting is not sexy and it sure as hell is not easy. I do believe that heavy squatting will make you into a man. People who perform deep heavy squats are just a tougher more rugged breed of people. I mean the kind of squats that blow blood vessels and make you puke. People who are willing to voluntarily subject themselves to that type of workout are just going to be tougher than the average Starbucks customer.

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