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By: Louie Simmons
It was around 1970, and I was reading Muscle Power Builder and articles by members of Westside Barbell in Culver City, CA. George Frenn was discussing how important strong legs were to breaking squat records. He recommended several exercises and methods that he and Bill "Peanuts" West had developed over the years. They pushed box squatting on different height boxes, good mornings, and even calf work to develop their immense back strength. They were responsible for the first 800 pound squat, by Pat Casey.
I realized they knew what they were doing. An old friend, Roger Estep, made the trip to Culver City and gained priceless knowledge. He brought back what he learned and shared it with a West Virginia group, later known as the Wild Bunch: Luke Iams, Jack Wilson, Chuckie Dunbar, and the rest of the guys in New Martinsville, WV. After talking to Roger, I was convinced.
About 30 years later, we at Westside in Columbus, OH, continue to improve on what Bill West's boys were doing by adding science and technology to the system. We know that the best way to squat is to box squat, but what about building brute leg strength?
Belt Squatting: This requires a special belt-squat belt. The weight hangs from the belt, allowing only the lower body to do the work. You may have seen our belt squat machine in our squat video. Belt squats can also be done on an incline; don't lock out your legs.
Incline Squats: do these with a MantaRay or on a flat surface.
Safety Squat Bar: do these on an incline or on a flat surface.
Front Squats - Free Squats: do these for high reps: 50-500 reps.
Hindu Squats: these are a variation of wrestling squats.
One-Legged Squat: do these with on leg supported behind you on a bench. This is also called a sprinter's squat. You can also hold on to a support for a little resistance. The hardest one-legged squat is done by balancing yourself unassisted.
When doing any type of squat, wear shoes with heels occasionally; this places the work more on the quads. Also squat as deep as possible. Depending on the amount of resistance, the reps are 5-12 per set. All of the above squats can be accomplished by holding a barbell or dumbbells.
One of these is Zercher squats. Their inventor, Ed Zercher, intended for the bar to be lifted off the floor in the crook of the elbows. At 181, I made 320 off the floor and an official deadlift of 670 in 1973. But at 198, I could no longer bend over far enough to hook the bar in my elbows. At that point, I placed the bar on the power rack pins and squatted from there.
Lateral Roll Squat: Start by squatting down as deep as possible. Next, roll your bodyweight to the right leg in a lunge position, then shift to the left leg, and stand up. Squat down again and repeat in reverse.
Frog Squat: Squat down with you hands over your head. Then place your hands between your legs and touch the floor.
Side-Stepping Squat: With a jump, step out laterally with both feet while descending. Stand up and repeat.
Uneven Squat: While squatting, place one foot on a box about 6 inches high and do full squatting.
The variety of squats presented here are intended for flexibility and agility. Something that most lifters are lacking. Many of these squats are illustrated in Twisted Conditioning by Bud Jeffries. This book has training tips for powerlifting, strongman competitions, and no holds-barred fighting such as Vale Tudo, of which I am a big fan. Other leg developers are pushing cars forward or backward and walking with a heavy wheelbarrow. Jesse Kellum likes this type of training at certain times of the year and his legs are just about as strong as I have seen. At Westside we use sled pulling extensively.
I hope some of the exercises mentioned here can raise your squat and deadlift. Some of the exercises are very old, and some are relatively new, but all are proven to work. It's up to you or your coach to place them where they can do the most good.
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