TLS Trivia Question #5

TLS Trivia Question #5

Question: The squat exercise…

  1. is dangerous for the knees
  2. is dangerous for the back
  3. serves no purpose
  4. done properly, is a prerequisite motor skill that improves nearly every movement that facilitates and preserves an active, independent life, from work to sport to recreation to old age. Also, squatting burns a large amount of calories.

Answer:  Perhaps the exercise deemed by so many people as evil has more to do with its capacity to build supra-human strength than its positive contribution to life, work, and recreation, or its reliability in extending independence and physical function into old age.

People (even many personal trainers who should know better) possess a preconceived bias that the squat exercise involves a 200-pound barbell, but never even imagine that this compound exercise often starts with just body weight, perhaps even assisted by a chair.

Another reason for rampant bias against the squat exercise — especially the back squat — is that it provides the body with inherently high mechanical leverage so that large weight can be lifted. Given time and training adaptation, experienced lifters can squat hundreds of pounds, with top weight regularly exceeding 1,000 pounds.

With this kind of weight lifted, it’s easy to see why so many people — even so-called professional fitness trainers — suffer a cognitive dissonance: they think the squat exercise must be for meatheads only, yet they don’t think about what they had to do to take a shit in the morning.

Done properly, the squat exercise is no more dangerous to the back or knee as any other exercise deemed benign and safe — except that the squat exercise can be considered the king of all exercise because in single, primal motion it positively stimulates the entire musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, and endocrine systems.

The problem with the squat is that too many bozos in the gym (or people working with under-qualified trainers) perform it with improper technique or progress inappropriately with aggressive weight.

Done well and with proper progression, the squat can be a stand-alone exercise that stimulates the entire body for amazing functional strength, functional longevity, and, because of its significant stimulus to the other systems of the body, improved health.

The answer is D.

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23 Responses to TLS Trivia Question #5

  1. Dale says:

    As a personal trainer, if I had my druthers, never mind having trainees do squats … I’d have every trainee on a squat-BASED program!

    Thanks, Johnny.

    • Johnny says:


      I love meeting and conversing with trainers like you.
      If you’re in Palo Alto, Ca., stop by our training facility!


  2. Harshathlete says:

    Hey Johnny,
    Great post! As a runner, I neglected sqautting for a long time since it would get in the way of my running ( since the legs take at least a day or two to recover )…..

    I have been doing squats since the start of this year.. What do you think is the proper form for squatting. Do you stop your squat when your quads are parallel to the ground ( aka like you are sitting on a chair ) ? Or do you go over lower ?

    I usually stop right when I am parallel to the ground. I have also been using a squat machine as opposed to barbells because the machine forces me to have proper form and I can squat more weight without the fear of dropping it on my last rep.

    What do you suggest ?

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Harshatlete,

      Great question. Squat depth depends on several things.

      If the person has current knee symptoms, then I play around with squats that are more shallow, and progressively work toward full range if it doesn’t trigger pain.

      If the person is healthy, then I make the person squat all the way, butt to heels.

      If, let’s say, Sarah doesn’t have the flexibility to squat all the way down without rounding her back, I still make her squat all the way down to her haunches, primal style. Definitely past parallel.

      The range of motion then adjusts as she starts to squat with weight — medicine ball, dumbbells, barbells, etc. The heavier the weight she is squatting with, the more keen I become to her back position. If the weight is appreciable, I make her go down to only where her back can maintain her “neutral” confirmation… her own expressed “S curve” in her standing position.

      But I still make Sarah learn to squat ALL THE WAY down to her haunches when she’s not loaded. The ability to squat all the way down will do her a lot of good for the rest of her life. The weight you choose to prescribe, once she acquires the full range of motion, is entirely up to you and her, but it should be appreciable.

      By the way, the lack of flexibility to squat all the way down generally has more to do with a lack of ankle flexibility than hips, knees, hamstrings or back. It’s a common misunderstanding by many people. Think about how Sarah can flex her hips fully, and flex her knees fully, skin-to-skin and all, but ask her to squat all the way to where her hips and knees flex fully and she lifts her heels, falls on her haunches, or cannot even get past parallel.

      And think about what generally causes ankle inflexibility: long-term disuse of a functional range of motion… in the West, we need to squat only as low as a toilet.

      And yet, I still hear trainers reinforcing this wide-spread disuse with further disuse through “guidelines” and “rules” telling you to never squat past parallel… blah blah blah. A little common sense, coaching skill, and patience will bring clients to an entire different level of fitness, function, and health.

      Harshathlete, you got me going, now. I need to go make some Macha tea and calm down. 😉


      PS. I highly recommend you learn to squat without the squat machine. Use free weight, ask someone you trust to teach you, watch videos, etc. But you’ll gain more natural co-contraction of multiple muscle groups to balance the forces in your joints, and free-weight squatting also is mechanically more natural. Start slowly and progress.

  3. Harshathlete says:

    Thanks for the reply Johnny! I am going to start all over with butt to heels and much much lower weight.

  4. Riley says:

    Great post as always Johnny. I find squats have really helped strengthen my lower back and given my physique a more solid feeling.

    Johnny just a quick question……Is there an optimal diet? I know intermittent fasting works wonders with staying lean and fit, but are there foods we should be eating that are sustainable, healthy, and contribute to massive longevity?

    I am so confused with paleo, vegan, fruitarian ways of eating that I don’t know what works. Is intermittent fasting the sole answer?

    • Johnny says:



      Eat mostly whole, real food void of refinement and processing, and avoid overeating. Get adequate sleep. Find ways to lower chronic stress. Relax more often. Get some sunshine. Have a strong network of friends and peers — it doesn’t have to be big, but it should be significant. Enjoy life and the people around you, and sometimes that means enjoy a little bit of the highly refined and absurdly processed foods with your friends or family.

      Oh, don’t forget to smile and even laugh. (And hopefully you don’t have bad genes.)


  5. Audley says:

    As personal trainers, my wife and I both have all of our clients squatting in some form. If they can’t put a bar on their back, then front, dumbell or even ball squats are prescribed. Squats hit more muscles at one time than any other exercise. Overhead squats will strengthen your entire body.
    I attribute my years of squatting to keeping my banged up knees(hockey and other sports) as healthy as they can be.

    As we say in our household; Squats….we friggin’ love ’em!

  6. Dale says:

    Johnny –

    Thanks for the standing invitation. But aren’t you afraid that the anti-flexion police are coming after you ? 😉

    Seriously, I can appreciate the distinction between loaded and unloaded squatting. But they won’t even let us do third world squats anymore. 😦

    Love your site! It’s becoming a go-to resource for me, given that I agree with your IF and your contention that training is over-done and over-complicated.

  7. yannick says:

    I got injured doing squats like a dummy with 505 pounds, today my back is a lot better due to prolotherapy. I now squat again but i never go higher then 100 pounds, but my form for the squat is perfect.

    I also do bodyweight squats, and i follow up with leg press.

    Dumbell squats are great too, you don’t have to put a lot of weight to feel them.

  8. yannick says:

    Anyone wanting to look like a pro bodybuilder as serious mental issues. I have been around gyms my whole life, will be 39 in June. I started training at 16, back in 1988, when steroids where still legal in Canada and everyone in the gym was using them. I was deceive many times thinking someone was natural, and i actually got inspired by a few of them. I was doing the exact same exercises that they where, trying to lift the same amount of weight and taking my egg and milk protein shakes, and amino acid tabs.

    Yet is was far from looking like them even remotely. Today at 38 years old i went from 138 pounds at 16 to a decent 220 pounds. I still use creatine and glutamine as my PWO shake but i eat whole foods 99% of the time.

    Its really sad that many young people like me look at pro bodybuilders and some are ready to use all the drugs to look like that, but since its all fake the body will return to its normal look within weeks after a steroid cycle, i have seen this all so many times, and this is where the danger starts, because most of the people want to keep that look, and most of them identify there personality to that look, they get respect from others, they get lots of women, and when they start to shrink and get fat (quit common after a steroid cycle that people get fat due to testosterone making them eat so much), all the people start asking questions, did you stop training, did you injure yourself. And more.

    I love this website and i love all the articles because right now this is where i want to be, IF is amazing combined with paleo eating there is no way to fail.

  9. KevinT says:

    Saw this link today and it reminded me of this post and the one a few posts down.


    • Johnny says:

      Makes me laugh. What people like them don’t understand is that muscle activation pattern in such unstable exercise is merely random and “spurious” muscle activity. Rate coding (nervous signal frequency) and magnitude of muscular contraction is not that high, nor can it be under a destabilized environment, and metabolic output and usable strength development cannot be optimal. And, of course, risk is high.

      In training, one must consider the risk-to-benefit ratio. There is an inverse relationship between this ratio and intelligence. 😉

      Thanks for the link, KevinT. Had a good laugh.


  10. Jordan says:

    Hi Johnny,

    I was wondering which form of exercise is best on a weight loss (of course with proper diet), health and fitness levels: high intensity training (like hiit or very fast runs…) or steady-state cardio (more aerobic cardio)?

    Thanks in advance!

    PS: Can you please give an example of a workout that would burn the most calories (and fat) without spending the day running on a treadmill?

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Jordan,

      High-intensity training is superior for calorie expenditure and metabolic output. Even if both modes burn the same calories at the end, HIT (if done by experienced trainees and adequately intensive) tends to affect the metabolism differently and favorably to support fat loss.

      Example? Try 100 burpees in as little time as you can.

      In the end, though, eating less is still the best way to lose weight/fat.


  11. Jordan says:

    Thanks Johnny for taking the time to answer.
    Now, on the fitness level I’ll can concentrate on what represents the best investment, which is, if I understand well, HIT. (By the way, I like to run quite fast for let’s say 10 minutes and sustain a high pace, is that ok and good enough to mix things up with burpees? And maybe repeat it a few times throughout the day)

    As I have a similar frame as yours (although I’m not as lean), I’m quite interested by your meal plan. I know that you generally start eating at 4.00pm but what do you eat until you go to bed and how frequently? Also, if you can give some meals examples it will be greatly appreciated, as it could give me (us) a clearer idea of the meal composition itself.

    Thanks again Johnny!

  12. Hi Johnny!

    Quick question…I read a little while back that you most of the time don’t get the daily minimum requirement for protein in your diet. Did you notice any difference in strength levels when eating less protein?

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Cookiemonster,

      I have lifted more weight in the past, but even today I still pull quite a bit. My lifting status is by choice and by training effort, and not by eating style. When I made the decision to abandon my focus on protein intake, my lifts were still up. In fact, I sometimes cycle (rather randomly) my heavy lifting periods with light, and have noticed that my training plans have never been affected negatively and, in fact, often see increase in strength even through protein-intake inconsistencies. If I were competing for maximum lifts or for PRs, then I may concentrate on protein intake a little more — but that would mean I’d have to first be performing circa 98% of my physical potential. That has not been my goal for a long time, since my current focus is simply staying healthy, staying lean, and being able to get the hell out of my own way. However, I’ve known some good friends who can tear up a barbell in meets without any regards to macronutrients or achieving specific minimum intake, while others who bomb in training and in meets even though they calculate protein intake with specific timing, powder type, etc.


  13. Jordan says:

    Hello Johnny,

    I would like to have your advice if you don’t mind…
    In 3 weeks, I’ll have a very important event and I’d like (have?) to be in great shape for it. Lately, I was a bit lazy in terms of fitness and my diet was even worse. I’m trying to get rid of 10 pounds so here’s my question:

    What would you do in my place? How a typical day (for the next 3 weeks) of yours would look like to maximize the chances to reach my goal? I mean, in terms of diet and fitness.

    PS: I am aware that one has to watch himself continuously and should not rely on quick fixes or crash diets. That’s not a long-term intention of mine and you’ll bet that once I’ll reach my goal I’ll try my best to keep my best figure.

    Thanks in advance Johnny

    • Johnny says:

      You can definitely lose 10 pounds in the next 3 weeks.
      It won’t be all fat.
      You’ll lose fat, fluid, glycogen, etc.

      I think you already know what to do.
      Eat less, minimize salt, move a lot, do a lot of exercise, even extended exercise.

      I don’t promote this kind of weight loss. But I personally have lost 10 pounds in less than 3 weeks.
      It wasn’t sustainable. But I met my weight class for a weightlifting competition doing the above.


  14. navi says:

    love your blog, but HATE that photo of that scary looking stepford-grandma (and the anorexia one!) – so PLEASE post something else so I don’t have to see it when I check for new postings! (if that is your grandma, sorry). I do notice that blog posts (yours & others) with great accompanying photos (like you looking awesome) get many comments, whereas those with really painful to look at photos (anorexia girl) or boring photos that make you want to shoot yourself if the world ever gets that beige (grandma in pale yellow with orthopedic shoes) get very few posts. For this post, for example, you coulda had some old dude or dudette doing squats & looking energetic and fit and awesome & made the same point.

  15. navi says:

    ok, so i just looked over your previous posts, the photos, & the corresponding # of comments, and I am totally full of crap with my theories. But my hatred for that photo (which I have had to view about a million times (exaggeration) checking in for new posts overrides my ability to think logically (as in, my reptilian brain wrote this comment & I am not responsible).

    • Johnny says:

      Hi navi,

      Point taken!
      Thanks for the perspective.
      You’ll see less repulsive photos, but no guarantee of a complete elimination!
      (BTW, that’s not my grandmother.)


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