Older Athletes Should Squat
Never fails. People learn that I squat regularly and they say, “Oh, I can’t do that.” My knees. Or, my back. Or both. And perhaps there is some truth in their claims, although I have found that back pain is frequently hamstring or flexor related (fixable) and that knee pain while squatting is caused by bad form (also fixable). But since I’m not a doctor and I’m not your doctor, I’ll refrain from judgment. If you have real knee issues and real back issues, what they say is true: see your physician before starting an exercise program.
So let’s assume you’re cleared for athletic takeoff, and you’re not squatting. Here are six reasons you need to be squatting.
Efficiency. Squats are the “king of exercises” (unless deadlifts are!). They work hamstrings, quadriceps, calf muscles, glutes, and your core. They demand balance and coordination. Heavy squats improve bone density. And squats demand good mobility of hips, knees, and ankles. See those folks doing endless knee extensions and leg curls before moving to the calf raise machine? They would be out of the gym a lot faster, with better results, if they were squatting.
More core. The muscle recruitment pattern for squats requires a total functional contraction of the core. Not just the rectus abdominus, but the entire core musculature. Because of that, I find that my athletic movements, especially in running and sprinting, are greatly enhanced because of this functional strength. In other words, it’s just easier to hold my form because I do heavy squats.
Muscle recruitment patterns. Squats require the lower body muscles to fire in approximately the same way that they do when sprinting, jumping, and throwing. And that goes not just for the strength parts of the movements, but also for the stabilizer muscles.
Variation for more explosiveness. Lots of people are into plyometrics for explosive training, and I like them too. But pause squats (waiting two beats while in the hole before explosively rising) and squats with chains attached (which are lighter in the hole and get heavier as you rise) train explosiveness really well. And explosive movements are what nine of ten events in the decathlon are built on.
You know when you get stronger. It’s really clear. And if you have a squat rack, or good spotters, it’s easy, and more importantly safe, to test your max load.
Because of all that, it’s easier for me to train speed. I’m stronger in my lower extremities. My core is functionally strong. My muscle recruitment is grooved in. My balance and coordination is on point. I’m more explosive. And I’m getting stronger. With all that going on, acceleration drills and maximal speed training are much more effective. In other words, I’m not just getting stronger. I’m getting faster too.
I’ve been squatting correctly for about sixteen months (I joke that I started training with powerlifters because they got sick of watching me squat high), and my legitimate, below parallel squat has gone from 165 to 300 pounds, essentially from body weight to double body weight. Halfway through that period, I clocked my fastest competition 200 meter in five years. In training, my 60 meter time is much faster. I can’t wait for late spring and mid-summer to see where strength training, and squats especially, puts my times.
If you’re an athlete, and especially if you're an older athlete, you need to be squatting.