For a number of years, I silently mocked the guys I see in the gym who just refused to train their legs, aside from a few leg curls or extensions here and there.
I figured the reason that they only trained their upper bodies was because they were vain and only concerned with aesthetics and how they looked without a jersey.
“I run and I hit the bike, that’s all I need to do for my legs,” I’d hear whenever the conversation came up with one of these guys.
As I’ve gotten a little older and slightly less judgmental, I’ve really tried to talk to these guys about the importance of not neglecting your legs, and how training your entire body within your limits will impact everything, from building muscle everywhere to making the back, hips, and knees actually feel better.
What I’ve come to understand from these conversations is a lot of guys don’t do any lower body stuff because they’ve been force fed the, “shut up, put a bar on your back and squat, pussy,” mantra from the quarter squatting meatheads at the gym. And quite frankly, barbell squats feel like shit for a lot of people, so guys gravitate to machines or just don’t do anything at all. Or worse yet, they try their best to squat with a barbell but don’t have the requisite mobility to do them right, so they look like they’re in pain the whole time.
Let’s be clear: Squatting as a movement is important, and if you can’t perform bodyweight squats proficiently, you should be taking the steps necessary to be able to.
But the fact is, you can build big, strong, powerful legs without using a barbell at all. Goblet squats, kettlebell front squats, rear foot elevated split squats, and the like are things that I’ve utilized myself and with hundreds of clients and athletes over the years. They’ve gotten stronger, built muscle, and gotten rid of some of the nagging hip and back issues they’ve had hanging around for a long time.
After all, isn’t that what we train for?
Putting a bar on your back compresses the spine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s sure as hell not mandatory for getting stronger, either. Considering a massive proportion of the adult population has back issues, often times undiagnosed, when it comes to adding more compression, I don’t typically think the juice is worth the squeeze.
Personally, I love front squatting with a barbell, but if you can’t handle those for whatever reason, check out a few squat variations that I really like that you can still load heavy enough to stick in the 5-8 rep range, or whatever rep range suits your goals.
A big reason why these are often great options for people is the positioning of the bells makes you work harder through your trunk so you don’t round over and fall apart. If you do, you lose the bells, so there’s only one way to do them-correctly. This keeps you from tweaking your back and limping back to the leg extension machine.
By no means have I drank the kettlebell kool-aid and think that they’re the end all be all for everything training, but if you’re banged up and need a break from the barbell, or just want some other options to throw into your repertoire, they can be the right tool for the job. I have a number of other variations on my YouTube page you can check out as well.
Traditional squats aren’t inherently dangerous. They’re great for the right person at the right time. I’m just really tired of people trying to mandate that everyone has to do a specific lift in order to not be considered a pussy. Each lift we choose in our programs should fit us, our current abilities, and our goals, not vice versa. Sure, we can strive to achieve the necessary prerequisites to do other lifts, but no one lift ever made anyone, but they sure as hell have broken a lot.
Going forward, put some more thought into your exercise selection and find the ones that work for you right now, train them savagely, and keep getting better.
PS: I have no idea how to add a link to get back to the blog to read any of my other stuff, but if you click the main picture at the top, that’ll bring you to my home page where there’s a lot of other content available as well.