Book Review – Super Squats

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