By Terry Grant
“For a hard gainer to get big, strong and very impressive is a truly great achievement – one done against the odds. It demands an indomitable spirit and hard-gainer character.” – Stuart McRobert
“Very few movements require the same degree of dedication, desire and determination as heavy squats. Squats are more than a physical strength builder and may be the only movement that builds a person’s character. Life is about standing up AFTER a heavy load takes you down.” – Dave Tate
Ever been to the gym and seen a skinny guy doing barbell curls in this weird metal cage looking thingy?
If you didn’t know, that’s called a Power Cage or Squat Rack… and it’s NOT for barbell curls… it’s for SQUATS!
My point is that sometimes we’re in the right place, but it must have been the wrong time. Yes, I stole that from a song!
The skinny guy doing barbell curls in the Power Cage IS in the right place… but it’s NOT the time for barbell curls; it’s time for squats and lots of them!
What the misinformed hardgainer doesn’t understand is that the foundation of mass building work out routines should revolve around two main exercises (that is if your goal is to get big and strong as fast as possible.)
These two basic strength exercises:
- Give you the most bang for your buck
- Stimulate the biggest muscle fibers on your body
- Flood your body with pure, unbridled Testosterone
- Make you physically and mentally stronger
- Create the demand for new muscle growth
- Dramatically increase your power and athleticism
- Make women want you and men want to be you
- And overall just make you one, bad-ass dude!
Anyway, if you haven’t guessed by now, the two exercises I’m referring to are….
Squats and Deadlifts (Master Them & Grow)
Squats and deadlifts are two of the most primitive movement patterns known to man. Every day you do some form or variation of a squat and deadlift. Whenever you go to sit in your chair, couch or even your toilet- You are doing a squat. Whenever you have to pick something heavy off of the ground (like moving furniture or a box) – you are doing a deadlift.
These are very natural and basic movements that the human body was designed to do and that makes them very functional and worthwhile movements to train; especially if your goal is to get bigger, stronger, and faster.
Many modern strength coaches and old time strong men alike hold squats and deadlifts in the highest regard. That’s because squats and deadlifts are the most effective exercises for building muscle mass and eliciting size and strength gains known to man.
Squats don’t just benefit your legs, they promote anabolism (growth) throughout the whole body and the same can be said about deadlifts. This is because they send an unmistakable demand for more muscle and the body responds by releasing more testosterone and growth hormone.
In fact, if you could only choose two exercises for your work out routine, these would be two excellent choices!
Because of their importance in the pursuit of size and strength, almost all of the successful bodybuilders and strength coaches I’ve studied and respect integrate squats and deadlifts into their training programs. This may also be the reason that these are two of the three BIG lifts in power lifting as well.
Unless you have a serious injury that prevents you from doing these two lifts, I highly recommend you learn the proper technique and incorporate them into your work out routines.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made over the years is NOT making strength gains and progressive overload my number one priority. Lifting the same weight over and over will get you nowhere fast!
Don’t take my word for it, here’s what Stuart McRobert, the author of Beyond Brawn and creator of Hardgainer Magazine, has to say on the topic:
“To build muscle mass, you must increase strength. It’s that simple. You will never get huge arms, a monstrous back, a thick chest, or massive legs without lifting heavy weights. I know that probably doesn’t come as a revelation to anyone.
Despite how obvious it seems, far too many people (and not just beginners) neglect power training and rarely make increasing the weights lifted in each successive workout a priority. You must get strong in the basic mass building exercises to bring about a significant increase in muscle size.”
In other words, if you build a solid foundation of strength… then size will surely follow.
9 Tips to Minimize Your Risk of Injury
You rarely receive the great rewards in life without being willing to face an equal amount of risk. With squats and deadlifts, it is no different. Although these two exercises offer the greatest return on your investment (of training time and effort); they also pose a huge risk that you must acknowledge and work to minimize.
Your biggest challenge is getting strong in the squat and deadlift WITHOUT seriously injuring yourself. Not only are squats and deadlifts somewhat risky for all lifters, they are doubly so for the ectomorph, whose smaller bone structure must hold up under the force of heavy weight.
That being said, I’ve picked up a few ways to minimize the risks (so don’t let me scare you off.) I recommend following the nine tips below if you are a beginner, new to squats and deads, or coming back from some time off of training:
- Bodyweight Prep Phase: Prepare your body for squats and deadlifts by spending a month or two (maybe more) working on bodyweight and dumbbell single leg exercises such as lunges, Bulgarian split squats, single leg Romanian deadlifts, step-ups, etc. This will help to build a basic level of strength and stability in the muscles, tendons and joints. Start with your bodyweight and add dumbbells as you progress.
- Mobility and Flexibility: Spend time on improving the flexibility of your muscles, as well as, the mobility and range of motion of your joints. Do mobility exercises for all of your joints, especially your ankles, knees, hips, and thoracic spine. Use static stretching to improve the flexibility of your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, glutes, and lower back. Doing this on a daily basis will greatly improve your life and longevity as you age. I spend 15-30 minutes doing this every morning and again in the evening on non-training days.
- Core Strength: Spend a month or two developing your core strength using exercises such as ab wheel rollouts, jack-knives, glute bridges, power wheel pikes, pallof press, suitcase carries, etc. By strengthening the muscles of the core you will be able to stabilize and protect your spine, which is very important. I’ll be covering this topic soon.
- Correct Technique: Study and learn the proper form and technique for squats and deadlifts. These are slightly complicated lifts because they involve the use of multiple joints and heavy weight. Practice the technique in addition to the bodyweight exercises mentioned above by using a broomstick or empty bar. Video taping your self can be especially helpful here. You may even consider hiring a coach to help you perfect your form.
- Progress Slowly: Practice your form with light weights at first and progress slowly into heavier poundage. Take it slow. One thing I’ve learned is that your muscles can grow stronger… faster than your joints, ligaments and tendons can. You must allow your connective tissues the ability to recover and get stronger as well or they won’t be able to keep up.
- Goblet Squats: Start with Goblet Squats and Deadlifts to learn and further ingrain proper squat and deadlift form and technique. I learned this method from Dan John and it makes it a lot easier to grasp the proper form. You can use a dumbbell or kettlebell, hold it in front of your chest and squat down between your legs. Use your elbows to push your knees out. Spend some time with Goblet Squats and Deadlifts before moving on to the barbell.
- Proper Warm-up: Always do a proper warm up of foam rolling, dynamic mobility exercises, key static stretching (the hip flexors, ankles, and glutes primarily) prior to engaging in your squatting or deadlifting session.
- Feeler Sets: Always start light and perform a series of progressive feeler and warm-up sets that allow you to work up to a heavy weight (I’ll explain how to do this in Part II.) Never jump right into heavy lifting without gradually preparing your nervous system, joints and muscles for the task. If you skip this you are asking for trouble down the road!
- Keep a Neutral Spine: To become proficient at squats and deadlifts you must learn to maintain a neutral spine at all times. Basically this means to keep the correct postural and spinal alignment that can safely support heavy loads and protect your spinal disks from rupture. The quickest way to injury is to allow your lumbar spine to round while you’re supporting tons of iron on your back. I highly suggest that you NOT do this! Learn how to maintain and keep a neutral spine throughout all of your exercises.
By incorporating the 9 tips above you will be able to minimize your risk of injury and reap the benefits of these two muscle expanding power lifts.
Wrapping Up Part I
If you’re goal is to pack on some serious muscle, then you MUST find the desire and determination to make squats and deadlifts the foundation of your mass building work out routines. By doing so, you’ll be utilizing two of the most effective, functional and proven exercises known to man.
People have been using squats and deadlifts to get big and strong for over a hundred years… maybe even hundreds or thousands of years!!! Thus, these classic exercises have a well-proven track record for creating strong, muscular warriors.
Yes, they are harder than the leg extensions and curls, however with each grueling rep you can rest assured you are forging new muscle and building mental toughness and strength of character while you’re at it.
In Part II, I’ll explain why you should develop a profound respect for the iron, develop a sexy squat and deadlift and how to work up to a top end lift safely. Stay tuned.