weight training: squats: first thirty degrees: a waste of energy

Are you one of those people with thin legs? has your ass been growing steadily under your squat programme, but not your thighs? If yes I might have an answer for you. If, on the other hand you have naturally good quads then don’t bother- you can do two sets of leg extensions then read the paper while your thighs swell.

I think that in the first decade of training, with many people, there’s a form problem; there’s also a mind to muscle connection problem. you might think you’ve got it right because, after all, all you’re doing is moving your limbs to and fro. Not so. Lets take the archetypal gym newb- they have six years of experience; enough so that they can swagger around. They know what they are doing, and the size of weight they pick up reflects that. I saw two of them the other day. They approached the squat rack and put nearly three hundred pounds on the bar (130 kilos) without even warming their knees and hips. they have the stance right, but then they start squatting, and hardly move past a forty degree angle. well done guys! another ten years and your legs will be equally as normal as the day you walked in the gym.

Alright. I’m going to get to the point now. Lets go through the squat movement. Lower back arched so that the curve of your lower back could collect rain water if you bent over. The feet are positioned slightly wider than shoulder width and the toes pointing outwards at about twenty degrees. Without any weight, keep your head up, and bend at the knee, keeping your feet flat on the floor, and the weight displaced on the heels when you sink down. Your abdomen, and dangly bits! should be free of pressure because your legs fold towards the shoulder rather than directly towards the chin. Now, you’ll reach a pont where you can’t sink lower without relaxing the lower back muscles, thereby allowing your spine to bend the ‘other way’. This is your natural squatting position. This is the important bit: When you press back upwards you’re pressing on the heels and you’re only going to move upwards so that your legs reach an angle of thirty degrees from the standing position. This will keep the pressure on the legs.

With this (very subtle) change in technique you will effectively take out the top part of the movement. Why do this? >>

  1. Your legs aren’t doing much work in the first thirty degrees. you use this range of motion all the time when you walk or run. Whenever you do a squat through the whole range of motion you’re effectively having a break everytime you stand up, and letting your legs rest.

  2. The first thirty degrees of the squat motion is a butt movement; It is a lower back movement. As you do the first part of the squat movement, your posture goes through radical change- essentially you are moving the lower back forward to compensate for the weight on your shoulders to help your balance. The quadriceps are barely in the equation at this point. Everytime you straighten up you are having to perform this unneccesary complicated part of the squat.

the bottom line (no pun intended) is DON’T STRAIGHTEN UP. the principle described here is similar to the one employed when doing dips. you shouldn’t straighten either your arms or your legs. While with dips straightening the arms means taking a rest, with squats this also means complicating the movement, and thwarting your attempts to build the thigh muscles. If you choose to do squats the way I DON’T recommend, then why not do deadlifts instead?


i dont do squats tho.

just 50 push ups a day, since i was 13.

Hmm, amoeba here, sweep there.

What about the hamstring involvement in the first 30 degrees?

thanks for a new twist on squats…i will try your technique after this months routine is through

great. I hope you get a decent payoff, brad.

>> considering I use deadlifting (straight leg and bent knee) and leg curls to further strengthen my hams, the benefits from hamstring involvement, during the first thirty degrees of a squat movement, are insignificant.

Also, since the deadlifting movement contains the initial movements, involved in a squat, I don’t think it’s worth the extra effort considering the extra gains your going to get on your quads from the technique mentioned.

Well, let me lay out a case that the whole squat movement is better than a partial squat movement.

First off, let me state that I don’t train for size. I don’t really care how big my muscles are as long as they’re strong.

That said, the reason to do full squats instead of deadlifts is because the amount of work you need to do to balance the weight is significantly greater. This aids in core strength and in balance.

Secondly, if you give the quads a break between reps, you can squeeze out more reps in good form. On a high-volume set, keeping the last few reps as good as the first ones is a bitch, and anything that helps that is a plus in my book.

Third, one of the advantages of switching between muscle groups in a lift is that it trains your body to work as a whole, not as a collection of parts. This is why I really love the olympic lifts–you’d be hard pressed to find anything that involves more coordination of various parts.

Lastly, let’s not forget that strength carryover outside the training ROM is somewhat limited. If you skip the first 30 degrees of a squat, you’re not going to get any strength gains in the first 15 or so degrees.

Finally, the hamstring benefits from full squats are well-known and don’t bear repeating here.

Whadd’ya mean, ‘core strength and balance’? my cerebrum is on auto, and I know when I am going to fall over. Besides: the point isn’t balance, it’s quad development. Since you’re not bothered with big quads {which, incidentally are a symptom of strength}, why take issue here?

true. perhaps we could use the ‘standing part’ to give ourselves a short rest? what do you call high volume? with what amount of weight?

you mean the ‘clean and jerk’?

wrong: Inexperienced people regularly use three hundred pounds without warming up, and don’t complain. Besides, the deadlift will give you the lower back and hip strength. ten years ago I could ‘use’ 300 pounds, but my legs looked like twigs, and I wasn’t really strong- just disillusioned into thinking I was.

Yes. I know them all too well. They don’t bear repeating because (I repeat) straight leg/bent knee deadlifts and leg curls are more beneficial for hamstring strength and development, in my experience.

You’re able to balance because you have practice balancing. Proprioception and balance require training like any other bodily function.


Volume refers to the total number of reps done, not the amount of weight (which is referred to as the intensity).

As a guideline, it’s high-volume if you’re reaching fatigue with less than 80% of your 1RM.


Cleans, snatches, push presses, and their variations. The clean and jerk is a floor clean, front squat, and push press in that order.


Pardon? What does this have to do with range of motion (ROM)?

Here’s an example. If you fully extend your arm and flex your bicep hard enough, you’ll gain strength at the bottom of a bicep curl. The strength you gain there will carry over for about 15 degrees up (gradually decreasing), but after that it will be as if you hadn’t trained.

That’s why a full ROM is beneficial in every lift.

I have one more argument against using a limited ROM in the squat, but I’d rather quote it directly from the source, and I’m having trouble finding that. I’ll post it later.

btw, it’s also possible to place more emphasis on the quads in a full squat by keeping your legs close together.