c/o Charles Poliquin: It’s time to finally put an end to these fallacies about this great exercise We’ve all seen it. Massive iron plates loaded to the max on the 45-degree leg press – sometimes augmented with the weight of a dedicated training partner riding the sled like a cowboy at a rodeo. This obsession with monster leg presses inspired one equipment manufacturer to develop a machine that could handle 6,000 pounds of plates! But equally as impressive as the weights used are the elaborate rituals that are often associated with this exercise: knee wraps tightened to an excruciating degree, a weight belt cinched to create a waistline which looks like someone that Jessica Rabbit would admire, and the loud grunting that accompanies each slow, painful rep the trainee grinds out, finally reaching a crescendo with an ear-splitting ARGHHHHHHHH as the exhausted trainee pushes out the final half rep and allows the sled to slam down against the safety supports. The appeal of such a heavy-duty exhibition of ego is at least partially responsible for the fact that many weight trainees choose almost any leg exercise over the squat. After all, hoisting a ton on the leg press is far more impressive than a measly 300-pound deep knee bend. But anyone who has ever painstakingly inched out from a rock-bottom squat knows how much harder it is than pushing an angled sled a few inches, regardless of the poundage. The fact is, nothing is more difficult and more result producing than the squat – nothing. If the squat is not a major component of your leg training workouts, you’re probably listening to the “myth-information” that surrounds this exercise. To set the record straight – and to get you back in the power rack – I present for your consideration the eight most common myths about the squat. Myth #1: Squats widen the hips. The hip-widening myth originated from bodybuilding guru Vince Gironda. Even though Gironda contributed many valuable insights into weight training, there’s no scientific or empirical evidence to corroborate his belief that squats widen the hips. In fact, when the gluteus maximus (one of the prime movers in the squat) develops, it grows back, not out, because neither its insertion nor origin attachment is at the hips. If squats did widen the hips, Olympic lifters, who devote as much as 25 percent of their training volume to squats, would be built like mailboxes. Myth #2: Squats are bad for the knees. Not only are squats not bad for the knees, every legitimate research study on this subject has shown that squats improve knee stability and therefore help reduce the risk of injuries. The National Strength and Conditioning Association has published an excellent position paper on this subject with an extensive literature review, and data from the Canadian National Alpine Ski Team suggests that regular squatting reduces not only the rate of injuries but also the time it takes to recuperate from injuries that do occur. When I was hired to work with the Canadian National Women’s Volleyball Team, I found all of them suffered from varying degrees of an overuse injury called patellar tendinitis, or jumper’s knee. I believed the problem was partially caused by a structural imbalance in the lower quadriceps muscle called the vastus medialis oblique (the teardrop-shaped muscle that inserts at the knee). To correct it, I had these athletes perform Petersen step-ups and then gradually progress into full squats. Only one athlete still had jumper’s knee after less than three months of proper training. Providing you don’t relax or bounce in the bottom position of the squat, you’ve got nothing to worry about. When you relax, the knee joint opens up slightly, exposing the connective tissue to stress levels higher than their tensile strength. Does that mean you should never pause in the bottom position? No. It simply means that if you pause in the bottom position, you must keep the muscles under tension, holding the static (isometric) contraction. In other words, don’t relax at the bottom of the squat and allow your connective tissue to stretch out like a piece of saltwater taffy. Myth #3. There’s only one way to squat. Whether you switch from doing squats with the barbell on the clavicles to having it on the traps or whether you use a Zane Leg Blaster instead of a safety squat bar, you’ll force adaptation and growth. Most bodybuilders like to squat while keeping their backs as vertical as possible, a technique that increases the forward movement of the knees; powerlifters tend to squat by bending more from the waist, so there’s minimal forward movement. And, in an effort to handle as much weight as possible, powerlifters often don’t squat as deeply as bodybuilders do. From the field of biomechanics and neurophysiology, we know that the depth of squatting, degree of leaning forward, and knee-motion patterns affect muscle recruitment patterns. We also know that the more you vary your exercises, the more motor units you can recruit. What this means is that bodybuilders would benefit from squatting as powerlifters do because they would tap into a new motor-unit pool, and the greater the motor-unit involvement, the greater the muscle growth. Conversely, squatting deeply as the bodybuilders do would enable a powerlifter to increase the development of the vastus medialis oblique and hamstring muscles – thereby increasing knee stability. As Tom Platz, a bodybuilder who set the standard in leg development, says, “Half squat, half leg!” Myth #4. You should squat till you puke. It seems there are weight trainees and coaches who believe that exercise intensity can often be measured by how much you regurgitate. This bizarre belief was discussed in Samuel Wilson Fussell’s controversial book, Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder. There is obviously no truth to this myth, and most vomiting can be prevented by proper conditioning and by choosing the rights foods before a heavy workout. For example, scallops leave the stomach much faster than fatty pork chops.