How to Squat

When it comes to lifting and powerlifting, I say this is the hierarchy:

  1. Deadlifts
  2. Squats
  3. Everything else…

Typically speaking, I encourage you to first strengthen your legs (strong legs as the more masculine thing) and to make your leg strength your priority. Typically if you get a 4 plate deadlift (405 pounds+) or a 3 plate squat (315 pounds) your upper body will also naturally become very strong and buff (you must shoulder that weight, or lift it).

Anyways, here are some of my thoughts on squatting:

1. Ass-to-grass squats

First of all, I say when you are warming up, always go ‘ass to grass’ (which means, squat alllll the way down, until your ass is about to touch the floor). This builds your hip mobility and strength. And as a consequence, ultimately your ‘one rep max’ will increase.

2. How to progress in weight

Typically this is what I will do:

  1. Do a dynamic bodyweight warmup. This means doing the ‘pigeon’ pose (Yoga), doing ‘dive bombers’, doing martial-arts styled leg stretches and warmups.
  2. First start off by squatting the bar (one repetition)
  3. Add a 25 plate to each side, and do one rep
  4. Take off the 25 plate, add a 45 pound plate, do one squat
  5. Continue doing this ‘ramp up’ (around 25 pounds increase at a time). I find you don’t need to do more than one repetition. One rep is enough.
  6. For your ‘one rep max attempt’ (attempting to lift the maximum amount of weight, for a single repetition successfully) I say it is around 99.9% mental. I typically will walk around, stretch my legs, do some random stretches, hype myself up. Some mantras I got (Ronnie Coleman) are ‘Lightweight baby!’ or ‘MURDER’ or ‘KILL’ or other images I get of Hercules (Farnesse Hercules) and I think about strong legs. I then breathe heavily deep and in, get strapped in, and then release a ‘power grunt’ and try the rep. If I get up, I’m happy and I stop. If I fail, no biggie, I put back the weights and try again next week.

Belts, straps, and knee wraps are silly

A lot of guys will say that you gotta use some sort of silly waist strap (or else you will hurt your back or lower back). I have never had an injury in my lower back from squatting. In fact, the benefit of using a ‘power squat rack’ is that if you cannot lift up the weight successfully, you can ‘bail’ and just throw the weight behind you. With squats, the power is in your legs.

The downside of using knee straps is this:

Yes, it will help you squat more weight, but ultimately you are preventing your knees and the tendons in your knees to get stronger… and as a consequence, long-term your ability to increase your one-rep maximum in your squat will be diminished.

In short, don’t use silly straps and knee wraps and all this other nonsense when powerlifting. It will end up becoming your Achilles heel; and truth be told, it is all just a marketing scam. Marketing scam how so?

The thought that you must use a lifting belt, knee wraps, specialty lifting shoes etc is a form of ‘fear marketing’– you buy it because you are fearful that you might ‘hurt yourself’, whereas the opposite is the truth.

Foot position, and width

Another thing a lot of people argue about:

How far should your feet and knees be apart, and pointing which direction?

For myself, my feet point around 45 degrees to the left and the right. I first try to get into an ‘Asian squat’ position (the ass to grass position without any weights on my shoulders) and I just try to see naturally where my feet and legs go.

Considering we all have different heights, pelvises, etc … just do what is comfortable to you.

Below parallel, at parallel, or above parallel?

I say when you are warming up, always go ass to grass (as below parallel as possible). However when your weights go higher, just try to go at parallel. And truth be told, even if you go a bit above parallel… who cares. As long as you don’t do squatting or powerlifting competitions, how low you go doesn’t really matter — it is up to you.

For myself, I like to squat the gym not to somehow ‘prove’ myself or ‘how good my form is’ to others. I just do it for fun, to get a great adrenaline high and pump, and I like the idea of pushing my ‘one rep max‘ further. So don’t ask others for commentary or critique of your form; just do what feels good for you and whatever you enjoy.

How often should I squat?

For myself when I am lifting and squatting heavy, I recommend once or twice a week. I typically found this split to be good:

  • Monday: Deadlift
  • Tuesday: Squat
  • Wednesday: Heavy dumbbell press or benchpress
  • Thursday: Deadlift
  • Friday: Squat
  • Saturday: Whatever random exercises you want to do (go to the park, do rings, muscle ups, etc)
  • Sunday: Kettlebell swings and home workout stuff.

This is more intense, and requires you to sleep a shitload, eat a ton of meat, and to just limit yourself to one heavy lift per workout session (in a single day). Otherwise a simpler setup can be:

  • Monday: Deadlift
  • Wednesday: Heavy dumbbell press or benchpress
  • Friday: Squat

And the days in between, you can do whatever random fun workouts you enjoy (chinups, park workout, etc).

What are your fitness goals? And why do you lift?

The reason I enjoy lifting is multi-fold.

  1. First, it gets my ass out of the house. I am more at peace when I am at the gym (I see the gym as my zen temple), and I like to chat with my friends at the gym, or to meet new strangers to talk to with and engage with.
  2. I love the adrenaline high and the pump I get from lifting. To me, lifting weighs is as good as sex.
  3. I like pushing my body and physicality to the limits and beyond. I also often get some of the best creative ideas while lifting at the gym (or chilling in between sets) than if I were just at home all day.

On listening to music or not listening to music

I used to listen to music religiously while lifting and no longer do so. Why? I found ultimately:

When you gotta lift to music, you are a slave to the beat and rhythm of the song, and to find that cadence or timing is harder than if you just listened to your body and lifted when you were ready.

How long to rest in between sets?

Honestly just listen to your body. Don’t use a watch. I never workout with a watch or a clock or any of those strange fitness watches or heart trackers whatever. Your body knows best.

My heuristic:

When in doubt, rest longer.

I best prefer to rest by just walking around, clearing my head, using the bathroom, etc.

gym selfie

Just keep practicing

What I love is that strength is something that comes to you naturally the more you practice. I also love too that strength building is one of the most egalitarian things out there:

It doesn’t matter your race, ethnicity, gender, height, etc … any human being (if you have a heart beat) can improve your strength.

To compete in strength with others is a suckers game. Just compete against your (past) self; the more robust form of competition.




Deadlifting 420 pounds (four 45-plates on each side, with a 2.5+5 pounder)
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