The Squat …For Everything?


Written by Peary Rader in Ironman magazine in 1971, the following article details the great man’s love of the heavy squat as a means of hypertrophy. Despite his own opinion on squat mechanics (see our ‘Magic Circle‘ article), Rader was unwavering in his claim that heavy squatting was the most effective training for all. An interesting read and timely rallying call for effective training!

I want to dwell on a topic which I feel is of great importance of every reader of this article, whether his interest be in big muscles, great strength or superb condition and health. We want to dwell more at length on the latter though we wish to emphasize the others as well.

We have often called the squat the “King of Exercises.” We call it this because we truly believe that this is so. Many, many years ago, back in the late thirties and early forties, the squat first came into prominence when Mark Berry promoted it extensively, first in the old “Strength’ magazine then his “Strong Man” magazine, and later in this “Physical Training Simplified.” During this time, also back in 1936, Iron Man began publication and its primary object for many years was the promotion of the squat as a superior exercise. If you have old issues of the muscle magazines of those days you will be able to follow the history of the squat as an exercise which had more to do with the progress of bodybuilding and weightlifting than any other exercise. The specialized use of the squat as an assistance exercise had more to do with bringing America’s lifters to the top than anything else. At one time the USA held most of the world’s lifting titles and most of the world records. Early in the promotion of the squat by Berry, Bob Hoffman was opposed to the use of the squat and would not permit his men to do anything lower than a quarter squat, and not much of this, for he felt that the squat slowed the lifter, etc. You will find this too if you into old issues of his magazine. However, as the years passed, he was convinced of the value of the squat; and began promoting it.

America reached a peak of fame in lifting and then other nations discovered the squat too, and they began to catch up. In due time they forged ahead and instead of following our training methods alone, began development of their own and today you know the sad story, as the USA stands near the bottom of the lifting world with no prospects of regaining our high position until we drastically change many things. This does not mean that the squat lost its value, because it still is the primary assistance exercise throughout the world. We have made rapid progress in lifting in America, and fro a record of 400 in the clean and jerk in those days we have gone up to a record of 490, made by Ken Patera recently.

In the bodybuilding field many men began gaining muscular body weight at the rate of a pound a day. There were those, of course, who felt that an ideal physique was one with all upper body and no legs. These people kept away from the squats, much to their later regret. They found that physique judges demand maximum leg development as well as maximum upper body development. Men who wanted to be big could become as big as they wanted to be with special diet and heavy squatting. It was also found that heavy squatting developed the chest and that it also stimulated metabolism and that the upper body gained much faster when the bodybuilder performed heavy squats.

Heavy squats still remain a key exercise of bodybuilders and perhaps the greatest new star of the bodybuilding world who will undoubtedly become the greatest of our time if he continues, young Casey Viator, finds squats one of his key exercises, and performs high repetitions with heavy poundages, recently doing 20 squats with 400 lbs., then 12 more with 435, then 50 with 235. Quite a workout you must admit. We could cite many other instances of such use of the squat by great bodybuilders as well as those of us who are less famous.

I do not want to make this story overly long as I want everyone to read and heed our message. That message is that every lifter, bodybuilder and health culturist should make high repetition, heavy poundage squats a regular part of his training program. Now I don’t mean that this should take precedence over everything else, but you should realize that this squat exercise can be a lifetime favorite.

Today we hear much about cardiovascular exercise – exercise which has the primary object of increasing the condition and strength of the heart, lungs, and circulatory system. We are told that if we give proper attention to exercise for this purpose we can assure ourselves of greater immunity form heart attacks, etc., and other circulatory disorders.

We are told that only such exercise as can give us a sustained great increase of heart and lung action for considerable periods can give us this improved circulatory condition and strength. Apparently tests have shown that the standard barbell program does very little in the way of cardiovascular improvement because most fellows do a set of exercises then rest before another set and thus never develop a sustained increase in heart and lung action and usually the increase that is stimulated is never very great. It is therefore apparent that while barbell exercises as usually practiced are ideal for strengthening the muscles and making them more efficient, do very little for conditioning. We have presented other ways of using barbell exercises which will improve the cardio-vascular condition but they have not been as popular as they should have been because most fellows want results that are visible to others. Cardiovascular condition is not something that is visible to others. Circuit training or PHA (Peripheral Heart Action) systems are excellent or such conditioning.

Running is one of the most favored exercises for cardio improvement. In discussing this with a man involved in tests for conditioning, he emphasized that jogging as practiced by many people would improve your condition some, but that if you wanted real improvement you would have to run much faster and harder than jogging. The latter does not stimulate enough demand in most people after initial improvement. Very long distance running is not as valuable as medium distances because in long distances you must conserve your energy and be very careful to avoid heavy exertion since you would wear yourself out too soon. Thus the high heart rate and heavy breathing would be kept as low as possible.

How fast a heart and lung action is recommended? Thus far nothing is apparently positive about this, but it has been suggested that a heart rate of 140 to 150 maintained for a predetermined period is most beneficial. This is a pretty fast rate and much faster than you will find in long distance runners. I understand, of course, that thus far much of this is open to argument, for while some researchers have carried on a lot of work to prove their point, others seem to have done just as much to prove a different point.

A very common mark of good cardio vascular condition is a low pulse. Runners have been found to have a slow pulse. They have a quick return to their normal pulse after exertion. Now it would of course be best to carry on experiments where careful scientific checks could be made on a man’s exact condition but we have found that men doing high repetition, heavy poundage squats seem to have a much slower pulse than those who follow standard training procedures of several sets of low repetitions. I used to follow a program of high repetition squats with heavy poundages, never doing less than 20 to 30 continuous repetitions. These were about 6 to 12 deep breathes taken between each squat. In fact after 5 or 6 squats we were forced to take a lot do deep breaths between squats or we could not continue. This was a forced system and after stopping the squats we were panting to maximum of 5 or more minutes before we could begin to return to normal breathing. Of course this also made enormous demands on the heart and circulation over a considerable period of time. This, of course would not be equal to a 5 or 10 mile run but I would say it would equal at least a good fast mile of even two mile run at the top speed you might be capable of. Anyone who has not gone through this can begin to realize the tremendous workout you can get. If your ‘re physically able to do any other exercise after completion of such a session then you’re not working it properly.

As evidence of what this did for me at that time, I recently found a doctor’s report on an examination I had which showed a pulse rate of 45. This was back in 1941. At that time such a pulse rate was not given the consideration it is today. Since that time I changed my training program to lower reps, etc. This was unfortunate as my pulse rate eventually returned to about 70 again. It was unfortunate that at that time I did not recognize the meaning of my low pulse rate. I remember how surprised I was when I went to the mountains and found I could run up and down the Rockies like a goat, while people who lived there were laboring at their climbing. While I was gratified at this, I was young and did not really realize what a prized possession this endurance and condition really was. At that time, like most young fellows today, I as more interested in how much I could clean and jerk or how big my arm or chest was. Today a big arm or chest has but little meaning personally but that endurance and low pulse rate would mean a lot to me.

The whole purpose of this article is to emphasize the importance of adopting high repetition, heavy poundage squats as a lifetime habit whether you want to be a champion lifter, a great bodybuilder, or just enjoy the best possible physical condition all your life.

It seems we have about made the cycle now and over the years have returned to the proven methods used years ago.

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