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The Best Squat You're NOT Doing!

Life does not always go as planned. There’s an old poem by author Robert Burns which laments “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men” and how they don’t always go according to plan. In this tale, a mouse works hard all year to secure enough food in his house for the long winter ahead. Just as he’s about to settle down for the long winter’s nap, an unaware farmer runs the plow through his field and wrecks those plans. The best laid plans, of mice, or of men, so often go awry. 

We lifters aren’t all that different from the poor mouse in the story. We have dreams of building incredible physiques. Time, experience, wear ‘n tear, and often minor tweaks when we’re not even lifting, can create scenarios where we cannot train as we wish. The most common injury facing experienced lifters making plans is to the lower body. Many bodybuilders and strength athletes comes from an athletic background, and they’ve been playing football, soccer, or other sports for years.  Often, this leads to knee problems. This is fine as they find workarounds in their sports. But when the time arrives that they’re ready to climb up on that squat rack and throw down some serious reps in order to see some new muscle growth, they’re often too war-torn from the years of stress to complete standard squats. 

The squat is a hugely beneficial movement, and one that should not be missed, except only the most stringent of circumstances. The squat builds up the muscle groups of the front thighs, hamstring, glutes, hips and calves. The overall growth hormone release from squats creates growth in the full body. If injuries prevent you from training with standard squats, and you can find any way to modify squat position in order to complete them, then you should do that. One such exercise is known as “Landmine Squats”.

Completing landmine squats is easy. Using the landmine tool (or just a corner of the room), connect one end of the empty Olympic barbell to the corner, and the other end will be coming to you. Let the bar rest against your chest, and maintain an upright torso.  Add one to three 45-pound plates to that end of the bar. Brace it with your hands interlocked beneath it… and squat! This may remind you of the “old school” way to do T-bar rows for the back, when no T-bar machines were available! 

You’ll still be pushing your glutes, thighs, and calves to move a heavy amount of weight. The only difference is that your back and knees will be absorbing much less impact and pain as a result. Soreness will be lessened, and you’ll be able to train longer and harder following squats as a result. You’ll still be targeting your key leg muscles, but you’ll have more energy in the tank for follow-up exercises such as leg press, leg extensions, lunges, and hack squats. 

How often should you be using landmine squats? When you train with standard barbell squats, you should be training legs about once per week. You’ll need the 6 days following the workout to recover and repair your body from the intense damage that squats inflict.  Landmine squats can be performed more often, however. Many athletes try to use this movement twice per week. More than likely, you’ll find it works well with the “every 5 day” routine, meaning you use it every 5 days instead of every 7.  You’ll recover faster from using landmine squats than you do from standard squats.

Taller athletes often benefit from the landmine squat as well. The use of a small 1-inch or even ½ inch block underneath their feet may also provide enough assistance for them to complete this movement without the very dangerous “tipping”. Taller athletes do have problems staying vertical and balanced during standard squats.  Landmine squats, with or without the heel widget, can come in handy. 

If you’ve been looking to move from standard back barbell squats to the very challenging front squats, landmine squats can be used as that bridge between the two.  You’ll be employing the mechanics of the front squats, but the stabilization resulting from the braced position will help you to develop the balance, control, and core strength required for this movement. Try it for a brief amount of time, and decide if it is right for you.  Once you can complete the movement, you can then move to the front squat. 

Volume control is the reason many lifters move to landmine squats. Simply put, you can train with more sets and more reps when you use landmine squats (as compared with standard squats). Your joint inflammation will be minimized, and pain won’t be as noticeable. Overall, as you age, the use of landmine squats is a great tool which can help you to maintain some leg mass while cutting back on heavy squat time. 

If you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans! If squatting is wisely on your training agenda, but injuries to your joints, joint pain, or problems with mobility are stifling your efforts, then landmine squats might be right for you. Work them into your workouts, replacing standard squats a few times each month, and record the results that you see. If upper leg volume begins to drop, then you may want to move to higher volume or more follow-up sets with other movements. You can also use landmine squats as a quick break for your body from standard squats, and then return to that familiar exercise once you’ve given your back and hips and knees a chance to heal. Good luck!

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