Saturday, June 13, 2009


I know that newsletters in the email inbox can get pretty annoying at times, especially when the sender starts passing them around to others so they can clog your inbox with spam. Still, if there is one that I'd recommend you subscribe to, I'd advise you to get Bill Hinbern's from He leaves some good reading in my inbox pretty often.

Recently, the topic of squatting came up. He relayed some interesting information about John Grimek's 400 lbs squatting routine in his 80's. Grimek's heavy squatting was brought up as the culprit for his hip replacement and subsequent rapid physical decline. Of course, that brought up the possibility that heavy squatting is bad for the body and leads to problems with the hips.

Hinbern, and many others in a subsequent e-newsletter, deadpanned the idea that squatting leads to hip problems. After all, how many hips replaced by surgery are from people who lift weights? So therefore, that can't be the culprit. I'm not one to disregard anecodotal evidence but this line of thinking is a bit faulty. If we wanted to look at this objectively, we'd measure the number of lifelong squatters and then figure out how many of them have hip replacement surgeries. That would be a much more revealing look at the question.

That's not to say that I agree that squats cause hips problems. I think that improper squatting could lead to hip problems. While I think it's remarkable that someone in their 80's could squat 400 lbs, I question the practicality and the ramifications of doing so. If you read anything about John Grimek, you'll realize very quickly that the man was an anomolly, a physical marvel, who did things his way. Frankly, I don't see the point in doing heavy squats at that age and I can't help but think that kind squatting could have a direct effect on losing his natural hips. I can't help but think that the ungodly squatting that people like Grimek and Paul Anderson must have done would cause joint problems.

That's not to say that squatting is bad for the hips. Most of us don't squat the kind of weight that Paul Anderson and John Grimek did. Obviously, that kind of sustained, heavy load will take a toll on the body after time. You could even make the case that the back squat could have detrimental effects on the body. If memory serves me correctly, I remember that Dave Draper eschewed back squats in favor of the front squat. He felt that it's safer for the body to do. Mike Boyle feels the same way.

Ultimately, I think that we have to keep the long-term consequences of our exercising in mind when we train. Part of the point to exercising is to compress the physical decline of our bodies down to a minimum and not to add to it. Ultimately, exercises like squatting can definetly help with that. We just have to make sure that we're doing them properly. At the end of the day, any exercise can be dangerous and it's our job to manage it, keeping the risk vs reward to our body in check.


pierini said...

Justin, interesting that you blog about squats today and that is my blogflection for tomorrow.

Tomorrow is week 2 of a 6-week 3 times a week squatting program I am following, designed to increase my one rep max by 5 percent. I favor Olympic style front squats with good depth for my middle-age man knees. While the loads I carry are light to most squatters, they are heavy and challenging for me. Good form is a must.

My knees feel better doing what I am doing now than what they did when I was doing high volume BW squats. Volume is as much an enemy as load based on my experience.

I've discovered that if you don't use it you'll lose it. Barbell squatting has been good for me but do check back in 20 years to see if I might be saying something different.

Anonymous said...

Hey Justin!

Great blog!
I stumbled across your site while surfing around for bodyweight exercises.
You make lots of excellent points and I like the way you deliver them.

I have been working with machines, then free-weights, and now I'm starting bodyweight exercises.

I am constantly trying to improve my lifestyle and I really think that bodyweight exercises have a lot to offer.

I'm trying to create a weekly program for myself and I'd greatly appreciate a few pointers if you have some spare time.

Thanks and keep it up!


Scott said...

Hello, this is a very interesting blog. I never knew there was such a big following of Body Weight exercises, as you can imagine I am new to all this.

I am coming from a competitive cycling background and am looking to streghtne my very weak upper body.

But I have a question about squats w/o weights. Are you performing the basic squat motion, but just without weights? or are you doing Hindo Squats, I have seen videos of these online?

Thank you

Justin_PS said...

Hey Scott,

When it comes to squatting, I look at them as a family of execises rather than just one simple movement. I like doing the BW version of sissy squats, Bulgarian split squats, Hindus, and single leg (you'll hear them refered to as "Pistols") squat variations, and plyometric or jumping squats.

I also like to mix up the speed and stability of the squats that I do.