You Don’t Know Squat

By Hilary Achauer

In Coaching, Olympic Lifts, Powerlifting

August 05, 2015

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CrossFit athletes sometimes look to squat programs to increase strength—but are they effectively targeting weaknesses or merely feeding the ego and sacrificing general physical preparedness?

The first squat program Aaron Straker tried was the three-week Smolov Jr. cycle in March 2014. His goal was to build strength after an Achilles rupture. The cycle was so successful Straker decided to try the full 13-week Smolov cycle later that same year.

“It just buried me,” said Straker. The 6-foot, 200-lb., 27-year-old Straker didn’t finish the cycle.

Squatting is an essential exercise and the foundation of many movements in CrossFit. However, as with most things in life, more is not always better.

Ultra-intense squat cycles like Smolov have a specific purpose, they’re designed for a certain level of athlete, and they aren’t one-size-fits-all solutions. For CrossFit athletes—whose goal is improved health and fitness—a thoughtfully designed, constantly varied program and good coaching are enough to ensure athletes are increasing strength while maintaining other elements of fitness such as cardiovascular endurance, stamina, balance, coordination and agility. This has been proven countless times around the world as athletes improve 1RM numbers while reducing times on benchmark workouts such as Helen and Nancy.

Squat programs, with their promise of massive gains, are always tempting. But are they worth it? What type of athlete can benefit from a squat program, and who should avoid them?

Expert coaches from a variety of disciplines—Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, strength and conditioning, and CrossFit—weigh in on the squat-cycle trend and offer their analysis.

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2 Comments on “You Don’t Know Squat”


Chris Sinagoga wrote …

This is a great article Hillary. We follow and have never incorporated a squat cycle, or any biased cycle, because it does not fit our purpose. I definitely understand powerlifters doing it, or marathon runners doing CrossFit Endurance, or an impatient Games hopeful with a short timetable. But I completely agree with the coaches on here, it has to fit your purpose. Also, I don't think any program would be too much if the athlete does not allow for deviation in form.

On a related note, I wrote an article for our affiliate's site that really falls in line with the points you make here. Check it out if you get a chance.


wrote …

The only thing I would add to this excellent article is the importance of adding one-legged squats to the training. This is a good article expanding on the benefits of this exercise:

An additional advantage of adding these one-legged squats to the workout is the strengthening of the gluteus medius muscle can greatly reduce knee injuries.

Here's a short video by Steve Edwards ( about activating and strengthening the gluteus medius muscle. He says 90% of knee injuries could be avoided if the glut med was strong.

Also read this article by Steve Edwards:

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