Book Review – Super Squats

by Josh Hanagarne on November 12, 2010

super squats stossenI’ve been trying to figure out what I think the mental equivalent of heavy squatting is – strength training for body and mind, and all that. I’m not sure. My fascination with the squat began way back when I was a skinny kid. At the gym in Elko there was a giant guy named Lolo, the only man I’ve ever seen in person who could lift weights in a very low-necked wrestling singlet and not have anyone laugh at him. This was because he spent most of his time in the squat rack. Lolo would put at least four plates on each side and then squat, putting his butt on his calves, up and down, over and over, and sometimes he would whistle when he did it. Lolo was a fan of Randall J. Stossen, author of Super Squats, which is sold on the Ironmind website.

Then there was me. I would put 135 pounds on the bar and, after wrapping the barbell in a towel (weak!), I would dip down an inch or two before I started tottering all over like a giraffe trying to take a drink. Kind of like this but even more awkward:

Lolo said that the 20 rep squat was the best way to build muscle. The best! The onlyest! Nothing else was even worth doing, in his singlet-bedecked opinion. It was hard to argue with him. The man was a monster, but he was also very kind to me and never made me feel stupid when I asked him questions. When I asked him where I could read more about this magical movement, he pointed me to Stossen’s work.

Summary of Super Squats

The full title of this tiny book is Super Squats: How To Gain 30 Lbs In Six Weeks. The book is slim and could easily be reduced to a pamphlet, if all you were interested in was the 20 rep squat program.

Here it is in a nutshell (the kind of nutshell you’ll be able to crack with your glutes if you do the program, or so the legend goes…)

  • Your workout is one set of 20 squats
  • You choose a heavy weight that you can squat ten times, except you make yourself do it for 20 reps
  • You do this by sucking in a bunch of giant breaths in between reps while you “rest”
  • Add weight next time
  • Drink your milk fool!

That’s about it. This information is presented in the first chapter. The rest of the book puts the history of the squat in perspective, has some fun anecdotes about strongmen old and new, and gives some ideas for assistance exercises.

I enjoy Stossen’s writing style. He’s never hard to understand and his love for all things strength is undeniable and infectious to this librarian.

Me and squatting

I gave up on squatting back then because someone told me I was too tall for barbell back squats. I took that excuse and ran with it, ignoring the guy, Lolo, who obviously knew something about building muscle, and listened to someone else who looked like me. But I was able to let myself off the hook.  Later I would run into books by Mark Rippetoe–author of Starting Strength and Strong Enough? among other–that said if you’re not squatting you’re a weenie. But I clung to the excuse. I’m too tall. I’m too tall. Danger!

Then I tried front squats and everything was better. I no longer had an excuse. Holding the bar in front of me kept my back upright, it made my long femurs less relevant in the movement pattern, and I could still reap the benefits of the back squat, or so the legend went.

The thing was, squats were still really, really hard for me. They were harder work than I wanted to do. But then something happened that made it easy, and now I’m as much an advocate of the squat as Lolo ever was, after a few conditions are satisfied. I’m speaking about myself right now, not for all the clients I train. They don’t all have squatting as a goals.

I came to love squats because I found a way to get the benefits and make them feel easy. That was Gym Movement.

I squat whenever:

  • It tests well–leads to an increase in range of motion

That’s it. I have muscle building as a goal. I believe 100% that squats are a superior method for packing on the pounds as long as they test well, they actually fit into my goals or the client’s goals, and they can be performed safely, meeting the lifter where they are at.

I no longer believe in fixed rep ranges, so I am not able to follow the program, because I do not follow any programs to the letter, ever. I am guided by my testing. However, I am happy to report that my testing and my Gym Movement parameters often lead me into high-rep squatting ranges. The difference is that I never strain, I use very little effort, and I’m never out of breath. So far this has allowed me to remain injury-free, reach my physique goals, and sustain a high rate of growth in terms of strength.

If you want to work hard, Super Squats will give it to you. And if you are able to follow it to the letter, I have no doubt that you will put on some muscle, unless you get hurt, which I believe is highly likely. I felt the same way about Return of The Kettlebell.

I view this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, the way I view all fitness/strength books, DVDs, and programs now: as a framework for more testing. But I don’t look like Lolo, either, so maybe I know nothing. I’d rather be pain-free than right. We might be wired differently.

Josh

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Boris November 13, 2010 at 10:56 am

Great book.

Following Super Squats, or Smolov, or HIT, or Heavy Duty, or DogCrapp, or WS or whatever to the letter is a big mistake for most people. It took me an embarrassingly long time and large mess of injuries to figure that out.

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Josh Hanagarne November 14, 2010 at 11:19 am

Boris, did you actually try this program? If so, how long were you able to do it for?

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Boris November 15, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Super Squats – to the letter? No. I’ve had close friends and training partners do it and last a couple months, and I’ve done my share of high-rep squat work. I think most people probably come to the same conclusions – you’ll gain weight, but there has to be something else as effective that doesn’t annihilate you.

Just about everything else I’ve tried to the letter at least once.

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M. Winchester Sr. May 16, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Boris,
PLEASE post a video (or link to a video) of your or your friends knocking out a set of Super Squats w/ at least 225lbs.

As I said in review I think less than 5% probably more like 2% of global population can do a honest 6 wk cycle of as few as 8 Super Squats w/outs. The only more intense form of training is negative-only which w/ squats is basically impossible (ignoring static-only since no movement occurs and thusly no protein degradation occurs which means no tissue growth).

I’ve seen a juicehead HUGE MF do a real set of 20 Super Squats w/ 375lbs which left him in a pile on the floor gasping for air unable to do ANYTHING for a couple of days. No pullovers, no presses, no curls no NOTHING. I’ve seen a video of another juicehead doing 18 Super Squats (he claimed 20 but obviously couldn’t count) w/ 405lbs and he couldn’t walk afterwards. Platz has video of supposedly doing 23 squats w/ 500lbs but at least 4 plates were fake. Now maybe Kaz standing behind him at his peak could squat 500lbs for 20+ but not Platz.

Lies, lies, lies and more lies.

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M. Winchester Sr. May 16, 2011 at 12:37 pm

In 20yrs of lifting I’ve basically seen & done it all & regardless of who says it ANYONE, repeat, ANYONE who legitmately do an honest set of squat w/ Strossen’s “minimum” which is 150% of bodyweight is one tough person. The mental & physical strength required to make it through 20 full squats w/ 225-315lbs is probably only posessed by less than 5% of the global population…it that much. I can clearly remember knocking a 20 rep set of honest Super Squats w/ 315lbs 3yrs ago like it was yesterday – thats how much of an impact this sorta stuff has on the human mind. Anyone who says they can casually knock-out 20 full squats w/ 150% of bw is full of shit. It is THE hardest thing the avg person will ever do. Although I’ve never had the honor of trying I suspect that making it through BUDS (basic underwater demotion school) is one of probably less than 3 possible things which are harder, and thats probably under-estimating Super Squats by a significant amount.

Anyone who thinks I’m wrong is welcome to post video of themselves raw squatting (belt only) 3 plates on each collar for 20 full reps w/ a nice pretty smile in the hole on rep 20. I won’t hold my breath because regardless of who it is (Tom Platz, Casey Viator, Ronnie Coleman, Derek Farnsworth, Chuch Vogepohl, etc.) by rep 20 that person will barely be conscious.

Strossen’s “30lbs in 6 weeks” claim is possible but highly unlikely. Not due to his training technology fault but the fac that less than 2% of population could acheive it. The only way I know ANYONE could handle 6 freakin weeks of honest, real Super Squats is w/ a loaded gun to they’re head every w/out past week 3 or maybe 4. I don’t doubt that 30lbs is possible I’ve just never been able to do it nor has anyone else I know of. I don’t even think many DEV-GRU nor Spesnatz team members could handle a 6 wk cycle of as few as 8 Super Squats w/out.

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M. Winchester Sr. May 16, 2011 at 2:24 pm

To add to the above I’d guess that the rare individual who indeed legitmately can do a honest 6 week / 8 w/out minimum cycle will more than likely be limited to no more than 3 of such cycles in one particular year, even w/ juice (which is stupidly counterproductive btw). < This person w/in that hypothetical year will have changed they're appearance by such a dramatic degree they're own mother might not recognize them transforming this person "overnight" into a thickly muscled bodybuilder regardless of starting condition.

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Aaron August 14, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Josh-

I’m a tall guy too (6’4″) and I’m looking into doing 20 rep squats. I’m still firmly within novice territory, so I don’t really know if the squat is a movement that I’m “built” for, so I’ve been looking for other (tall) people’s experiences with the program.

Could you explain what you mean by Gym Movement and testing? The link you posted isn’t working anymore.

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M. Winchester Sr. May 17, 2011 at 10:47 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BV8sNlVkL9o
^ Here’s Justin Harris 405×19. He’s about as big as the avg IFBB heavy/super heavy competitor. Even as large as he is I think anyone w/ experience would judge most if not all reps of his set at least an inch high which dramatically reduces the results. Judging from his level of fatigue I don’t think Harris would have made it much past rep #25.

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