7 Workout “Confessions” Of A Guy Who’s Squatted Over 500 lbs

By Jason Clemens / January 18, 2016
Lifting heavy weight

If you put four plates on each side of a standard 45 lb bar the total weight will be 405 lbs.

Add a fifth plate to each side and it will be 495 lbs.  You’d need to add an additional 10 and a 5 to each side to get to 525 lbs.  Simple math.   That was my personal best calculated 1RM (one rep max) for squats.  (I’ll explain “calculated in a minute)

I’m talking in language that any gym rat will know.

We speak in terms of 45’s, 35’s, 25’s, 10’s and 5’s.  Throw a 2.5 lb in there every now and then.  This is the language of a weight lifter.

Most of you reading this post know that already.

The sad thing as I look back upon the training I went through during my football days was that we never did a true 1RM.  It was a precaution to prevent injury.  I mean, there’s always an inherent risk associated with lifting weights, but when you do 1RM you increase that injury risk.  It’s just something that goes along with lifting really heavy weight.

So when I say “calculated” 1RM it is determined using standard max-out conversion tables.

My personal best was 405 lbs 9 times.

Those are squats that are only counted if you break the parallel.  Not easy to move that kind of weight 9 times for most guys!  That calculated 1RM is 525 lbs.

In many ways the endurance required to do that makes it more difficult than just doing 525 lbs one time.  I would have much rather done that and am quite confident that it would have went up very strongly.

As I said, I realize that this weight is not going to win any powerlifting awards.  But for most guys it’s way above anything they have ever been able to do.  So I figured I’d just give you some insights into squatting that you may not know.  Some of them may help to shape your current weight lifting routine.  These insights really apply to all weight lifting… so don’t think they are just meant for squatting.

But more so than that I just figured it would be an entertaining and “thought provoking” post many of you will enjoy.

Workout Confession #1:

Form Is Subjective…

Do you honestly believer that “proper” form is a real thing?

I have to say that I’ve lifted weights with some truly massive and incredibly strong individuals and the “form” is almost always different.

Sure. You don’t want to be “sloppy”.  But most of you intuitively know what “good form” is and if you are being sloppy or not.

I always laugh when an instructor tries to put their client in a squatting position that is awkward and uncomfortable for their client (other exercises apply here too) and stand-by as they struggle to cope with it.

It’s probably why their clients come to hate lifting weights!

Your form is yours.  It’s unique.  No, this doesn’t mean that it can’t be improved.   But generally speaking, not every one of you is going to naturally be able to keep your back in a perfect “upright” position when you squat.  You should keep it as close as possible.  But some of you (like me) will naturally need to allow your back to be at more of an angle in order to get those thighs parallel or below.

As Brandon Morrison points out in his article “The Myth Of Perfect Form”:

“… there is no such thing as “perfect form” because literally every body is built differently, and will alter the lifts to conform to their body type.”

Find your form, within reason.

Focus on keeping your head up and back as straight as possible.  But be comfortable with your positioning.  It should feel “right” and balanced to you.

Workout Confession #2:

Yes, Being Bigger Helps!

I’m telling you right now, carrying more mass makes moving heavier weight easier.

Generally speaking, the biggest guys I’ve worked with have almost always squatted and benched the most.  I said “almost”.  There are certainly exception to this and this doesn’t mean that all big guys you see at the gym can lift a lot.  Some of them are total pussies!  But if your strength has hit a plateau then gaining weight can make a substantial different.

I’m not talking how tall you are here. (I’ll get to that in a minute).

One of the single most impactful things that allowed me to lift quite a bit of weight back in my athletic career was the gaining of 50 lbs.

So if your main goal is to get stronger, generally speaking, putting on mass will help you accomplish this.

I have to tell you though, that I’m not a huge fan of super fast weight gain because that usually means you’re putting on a sizable amount of fat.  This is quit common – a guy gains 20 pounds very quickly and is able to lift a substantial amount more weight in the gym.

Author Dresdin Archibald points out in his Breaking Muscle article “Does Being Fatter Help You To Lift More”:

“The intramuscular spaces have filled with fat, and as a result, the muscles are now attached to the bone at a different angle – a more advantageous one.”

Again, doesn’t mean I’m a fan of gaining fat.  Not really beneficial if you want six pack abs!

However, if you are super skinny and having a hard time getting any stronger, then obviously bulking up would go a long ways when it comes to adding strength.

Workout Confession #3:

Weight Belts Are Over-Hyped

Jason squatting

My take is simple, weight belts train your core muscles to be weaker.

Your body is made to support weight.  You lift weights to make it stronger.  If you wear a weight belt every time you lift heavy weight what do you think is happening to all of your support and balance muscles?  They effectively don’t grow as strong because they don’t have to.

I never wear a weight lifting belt when I squat or do any other lifts.

This freaks some people out.  Many of the “experts” would never recommend this.

“Oh, you have to protect your back.”

The truth is that if you practice a solid form in your lifting your back and other support muscles will be better off than if you wear a belt.  You will literally train them to carry heavier weight and become stronger.

I must confess that in my earlier days when I first started lifting I always wore a weight belt.  It wasn’t until I began my college athletic career that I stopped for the simple fact that our strength and conditioning staff opened my eyes to the idea that I didn’t need it.  More so than not, I learned that it can actually be far safer for you not to wear one.

Especially when it comes to athletics.  An athletes best friend is a strong core section when it comes to movement and balance.  You want those muscles to be well trained.

Workout Confession #4:

Once Every 7 Days Is Enough!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be squatting or doing other lifts more than once a week.

For some guys it works.  However, for those of you who are doing it multiple times a week because you think you have no choice if you want to grow, you’re probably making a mistake.

One of the major issues among chronic “hardgainers” and other guys who just can’t get stronger is an ingrained idea that “more is better”.  If you believe that lifting weights builds muscle and strength you’re wrong.  Your gym time doesn’t build muscle, it breaks it down.  Rest and recovery is what builds muscle.

If you just can’t make gains even though you’re in the gym all the time, you’re just doing too damn much or not eating correctly or usually a combination of both.

You need to improve the quality of your gym time, not the quantity.

If you have a serious gym session that kicks your butt (in a good way), it’s going to take your body some time to recover.  I’ve never squatted more than once a week and my weight has always progressed vertically provided that I’m eating right and getting plenty of rest.

Workout Confession #5:

Short Upper Legs Make It Easier To Squat

If you think about the mechanics of squatting (and other lifts) your bone structure is a major determining factor of how much weight you can move.

Your knees act as a fulcrum and the upward force is applied when you contract the leg muscles.  The length of those muscles is literally determined by the length of your bones.  The longer they are, the more contraction force those muscles need to exert in order to drive the weight up.  It’s physics.

As Lee Boyce C.P.T. wisely points out in his article for Men’s Fitness “3 Training Tips For Tall Guys“:

“A 6’5”, 240lb guy squatting the equivalent of his body weight on the bar, won’t have the same ease as a 5’7 160lb guy doing the same thing. The tall guy has to travel much further in both directions, creating much more work (force x distance) performed per rep.”

So here’s a little secret for some of you taller guys who want to make squatting easier.

A slightly more forward back angle will make it naturally easier and probably far more comfortable for you due to the “balancing” effect.

Much of the problem that tall guys have when squatting is balance.

I mean, it’s much more difficult for me to balance that weight on my shoulders being right around 6’2″ as it is for a guy who is 5’9″ do to the fact I have to come down much further to reach parallel.

Having a more forward angle really helps.

No.  This does not mean you practice bad form.  I mean, you want to keep this within reason.  But here’s the thing, have you ever noticed if you watch a lot of powerlifters squat that they absolutely do not keep a perfectly perpendicular back angle?  The reason is that it’s not a natural position.  When your body squats the back naturally lowers so you can keep your balance.  It naturally must come forward more when you put heavier weight on your back in order to balance the weight.

Now, if you have super long upper legs, as many tall guys do (mine are very long for my height), it makes no sense to try to battle that by keeping your back perfectly straight!

I see so many gym trainers trying to force their tall clients to do this.

Most of these people end up hating the squat!

Never forget the following, no matter how tall you are — you want a natural comfortable position that allows your body to properly balance.  If you feel like you are going to tip over you need to correct your position.  The flexibility will come as you train and that will allow you to easily keep more upright.

Workout Confession #6:

No, Squatting Is Not The Best Leg Exercise For Some People

Yah, sure, I’ve put the major emphasis on squatting for this article, but the same thing goes with other lifts too.

Not all of the typical “musts” are always the best for each of us.

Squat, bench and deadlift are usually preached as “must” exercises.

This is something that has taken me a long time to come to terms with.  Throughout my athletic career I constantly trained the major “core” lifts.  Squat.  Bench.  And Olympic-style lifts like push-press and hang clean. (We never did do deadlift though).

Some lifts just have a “God-like” aura about them.

The internet is loaded with “bro-science” about how you must squat and you must deadlift.  Most of this spews from the mouths of “dudes” who have never competed on any major athletic level.  They just spit things out they’ve read or heard from other fellas at the gym or so called “experts”.

One of the most amazing things I’ve learned throughout years of training is that I can get really strong and gain very quality size even if I omit some of the common “must” lifts.

For instance, I don’t do deadlifts much anymore.

I’m telling you right now that I did them quite heavy for a years time and from a physical standpoint, they added some very serious mass to my back and whole body.  For many guys they can be a true Godsend when it comes to gaining mass and strength.

But, the truth is that many guys injure themselves doing deadlifts.  I admit that it usually stems from being idiots, but there was a reason our strength staff omitted them from our training regimen.

There are always substitutes for lifts.

Workout Confession #7:

Squatting Is A Total-Body “Mass” Gainer

Squatting is a total body lift.

Many of you think squat and you simply think it works legs.  I’m telling you right now it literally makes your body thicker from head to toe.

One of the major things you’ll notice by placing the emphasis of your workouts on compound movements like squat is that your size is going to come far quicker and easier.  A lot of guys don’t think like this when they train.  Sure, bicep curls can get your arms bigger, but squatting will too.

Same thing goes with other lifts like military press and one of my single favorite mass builders – hang cleans.

As Eric Helms indicates in his article for Simply Shredded “Mass Attack: Compound Movements for Symmetry and Size”:

“Compound lifts allow you to use heavy weight, target multiple muscles, and follow the natural movements of our bodies in order to develop symmetry.”

If I were to design a mass building routine for a skinny guy I would strip all isolation lifts out and we would lift 4 days per week focusing on heavy compound lifts.  Even if we never did a single bicep curl I guarantee your arms would get way bigger!

One of the single greatest things that attributed to my ability to squat over 500 lbs was the continual focus on compound movements.  Everything from hang-cleans to push press to lunges all made me much stronger and able to support a massive amount of weight on my back.

Conclusion

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to ask below.

Hope you found this article useful guys.

I guess the last thing I want to say here is that if you are currently depressed with your gym results, I’m telling you right now you can quickly improve them by focusing on these insights in this article.

They took me some time to learn do to all the b.s. out there, but they really do work.

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