Do I Have to do Squats?

The following is excerpted from an response I gave to a trainee who said that he really hated squats because they gave him so much pain. He had heard many people say that squats were valuable, so he wanted to know if he still “had” to do them even though they made him dread going to the gym. –DC

I have to ask this question… is there a reason why you feel you have to trash yourself on the first day out with the squats? Why not just start with one set using moderate weight?

I think I understand why you hate squats. There’s an unwritten gym-rat code that says you have to go for max intensity all the time, and if you’re not sore on every inch of your body afterward, you’re somehow unmanly. This is extremely counterproductive. Not only will you stop making progress, you’ll get injured. If dummies in your gym are encouraging you to do this, you have to ignore them.

The best lifters (no, not the average alpha-males you see in your gym) know that you need to pace yourself, and when starting a new exercise, you shouldn’t try to do a whole lot on the first day. Don’t worry, you can ramp it up as you go along. The technical name for this is periodization. The basic idea is that you start with low intensity, and gradually increase intensity from workout to workout. Then you repeat the cycle, going back to low intensity, but you start slightly higher than you did on the first cycle. This gives your body recovery time even though you’re exercising regularly.

The only guys (or gals) that can get away with maniacal intensity and still make progress are the ones on the juice.

Sometimes I have ignored my own advice. My “trash myself exercise of choice” is the stiff-leg deadlift. If I hadn’t done them in awhile, I would pick up the barbell and do a whole bunch of them because they felt easy. I would be sore for nearly a week after totally trashing my hamstrings each time. I made this mistake more than once.

Hang in there, and don’t torture yourself!
Cheers, D

To the larger point, whether or not you have to do squats, the answer is no – I know of know legal statute that stipulates this. On second thought, maybe in Russia?

Seriously, many people think that squats are a dangerous exercise. That’s partially true, but misleading. Yes, if you use bad form, or if you’re carrying a huge amount of weight on your shoulders without being ready for it, doing too many sets, or all of the above, you could certainly hurt yourself. But consider this – whenever you get out of a chair, get out of bed, or even use the bathroom, you’re essentially doing squats. If your fitness level isn’t so good, these issues become noticeable very quickly! Having good lower body strength is extremely important, and it can be attained by using safe squat techniques, or alternative exercises.

For fit trainees who don’t have to worry about things like getting out of bed, squatting is an exercise that will work a very large number of muscles at once, and can build muscle quickly. Be sure to get some help in using correct technique and putting together a good program, and don’t start with too much weight right away.

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