Thinking Outside The Box Squat
It was summer before 8th grade when our new high school football coach arrived in town. He had helped coach for a rival team that was a football powerhouse so he naturally was seen as our saviour to revitalize our football program. Well he barely won any games my entire high school career while he was there but he introduced me to the high school weight room where I had a chance to use real weights while forsaking my old, plastic K-Mart, garage sale, gym I put together.
The old football strength program “Bigger Faster Stronger” had box squats listed as an exercise to perform way back then I was 14 years old. The box squatting was a real spine buster as we would sit down to a high bench almost bouncing off to a locked out position. I could write a series just on bad coaching alone but let me just say we were doing it the way the coaches wanted. Luckily, my USPF/IPF world champion coach Ernie Fleischer, aka The Iron Sheik, eventually got ahold of me to help improve my lifting along with our new wrestling coach Ron Kauffman. Ernie also used box squats but a little differently. When he saw how I did if based on my earlier experience he growled in his deep raspy voice, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” Clearly, I wasn’t doing it the way Ernie wanted. No Ernie had us use a milk crate on its side to coach depth alone. There was no bouncing. Just feel pressure and that was the cue to drive the weight back up. His coaching helped me to learn so much and his strict approach to depth and technique made me the lifter I have become in many ways. If we couldn’t pass the IPF for depth then it wasn’t a good squat to him. I also might mention this was before the IPF decided that the deepest squat should win as seems to be the current trend with them.
Living in the midwest and not far from Columbus I was drawn to read different articles about Westside Barbell and all the amazing numbers they put up. I went back to using my old milk crate again to work on squatting for my speed days. I worked on my good mornings and max effort squats. Equipment was limited so I made due with what I had. Box squatting in that fashion worked well to add some reps in a different style while working my mobility. In an Inzer Z suit I managed over 800 weighing 238 years ago. I attribute that training to a lot of good mornings, varied depth squats and ab work. I also was very meticulous on training my technique.
Many people have no idea that I lifted in single ply but honestly single ply then was pretty much being able to put on my suit by myself in about 5 minutes. So it was very different to the material now. Cost and time is why I was no longer interested in geared lifting. I also train alone so dealing with a bench shirt by yourself can be an issue. I love training and to take 20-30 minutes to put on a squat suit just ruined the flow of my workouts for me. So raw it was and still is; luckily for me raw has really become huge for the masses which I am so thankful for.
While raw powerlifting is growing and here to stay it is funny that as methodologies like Westside/Conjugate are thriving with raw lifters, Westside/Conjugate really is for geared lifters. All of their influences point to that, from style of squatting, tricep work and deadlift technique. I think the good is a lot of back and ab training are emphasized which is fantastic for most lifters because these are neglected areas in powerlifting. The bad is neglecting areas like the chest, nor is there enough real training for the lifts performed in competition. The ugly part in my mind is following Westside/Conjugate emphasis of box squatting. This lift has no mechanical similarity for a raw lifter squatting. Yes a geared lifter sits back when he squat but a raw lifter drops. Sure, raw lifters stick their butts out yet the bar path is almost perpendicular to the floor. Box squats in my coaching opinion is an assistance movement at best for the raw lifter.
So why do people follow something if it isn’t optimal for them? Well that is a larger commentary on just the world in general but in this case I have several thoughts on the matter. First, even during CrossFit seminars Louie boasts numbers of 1000+ lb squatters and 700+ lb benchers not mentioning that these are also from lifters that are doing multiply which has zero bearing on CrossFit. Louie isn’t being dishonest but he is being deceptive if only omitting certain aspects of the lifters he is talking about. Second, the status quo with Westside in the mid 90’s up until now says: do speed work, train triceps like crazy and wear Chuck’s to lift in. So people wanting to be part of the genre did that without understanding of what they were doing; so the misinformation spread while becoming more ingrained in the mind of particularly newer lifters. Bottom line we like to belong. We like cliques. Third, in the same way we can throw the baby out with the bathwater we also can go all in because a system has some truth mixed with “lies” so to speak. Sure increased back training and working on the abs are great. Using bands and chains can have some great applications for a lifter. But then things start to get muddy with silliness. Teaching people to bench with their lats is just stupid. It is impossible and yet this idea continues to be promoted. Making people doing box squats all the time is a waste. And not deadlifting is foolish! Oh, you didn’t know that did you? Yes, Westside for a long time didn’t recommend deadlifting because good mornings and dynamic squats were enough along with some other assistance movements. After guys were squatting a grand and pulling 600 people began to really criticize Westside/Conjugate training. It is ironic because conjugate is by definition working on your weaknesses so to not have lifters practicing at least the deadlift for a three lift sport is just foolhardy. So many coaches using Westside/Conjugate ideas now have morphed training into something different from what Westside was years ago. Is that bad? Not at all because we should continue to learn and grow but when someone is so ardent in their position then suddenly does a 180, it gives pause that maybe just maybe that person doesn’t have as many of the answers as he claims.
Let me say that I have no beef with Westside/Conjugate. I practice the true definition of conjugate with my own clients as any good coach should. I chose Westside/Conjugate because I want lifters challenged to understand what and why they do what they do. It is just that simple. Many raw lifters need to educate themselves, question methods and understand approaches. They need to start thinking outside the box squat.