The so-called king of all exercise has a long and fascinating history dating back to the 1800s and includes some of the most famous names in iron sports history.
King of Exercise
People call squats the “king of exercise.” But this is something more. This is the first exercise you have ever done without anyone teaching you how to do it.
You invented this movement yourself – we did it all in our early childhood, when we first had to pick up a toy from the floor. At the time, we didn’t know that this movement even had a name, but we knew that we could quietly rest while squatting for a few minutes.
Some of us stop squatting with age. In some cultures, this remains the default resting position, and you’ve probably seen people sitting in this position on the streets, steps, and train platforms.
But others do the so-called “dead squats” putting a huge load on their backs. They squat to break records or build superhuman legs.
Squatting as an exercise has a unique history that predates bodybuilding, powerlifting, and even Olympic weightlifting.
Its roots go back to the days when strength training was the domain of professional strongmen who performed incredible weight tricks in front of the general public.
The squat had many supporters, but only four people really helped develop this movement and bring it into the modern mainstream. To complete the iron sport history lesson, here are these people and their unique contributions.
You probably don’t associate this famous person with squats. Today, he is best known as the first bodybuilder and the inspiration behind the Sandow Statue, a prize awarded annually to the winner of the Mr. Olympia title.
His legendary physique was the result of training with heavy dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells using a wide variety of presses, barbell snatches, and push presses.
In his seminal 1894 book The Sandow System of Physical Growth, he also gave one of the earliest printed recommendations for the use of squats to develop the quadriceps.
In a description that is still true today, he wrote: “With your knees bent, lower your body vertically to your heels, keeping your back straight and pulling your chin in. Stand up and repeat the movement until your muscles hurt. ”
Where did Sandow learn to squat? Strength coach John Brose theorizes that this must have happened because of his mentor, legendary strongman and teacher, Professor Louis Attila.
But whatever the source, Sandow’s squat was just the beginning. Doing the side dumbbell squat was an easy exercise, more suited to strengthening the body and giving flexibility and mobility to the knees and hips, rather than increasing strength.
However, Sandow’s worldwide fame for his strength and, just as important, his physique has inspired countless young men and women to follow in his footsteps.
It took another 30 years for someone to push the upper limit of being able to squat with a heavy barbell. The reason was simple: how to put it on your back?
We advise you to read the Parimatch Blog.
Henry “Milo” Steinborn
German-born strongman and wrestler Henry Steinborn was arguably the world’s first squat specialist, while heavy squatting was relatively unknown.
He was also most famous for the 170kg snatch and clean and jerk that remained unmatched for years – but today he is best known for the squat that has become known as the Steinborn Raise.
The Steinborn lift is a heavy squat without assistance, when an athlete tilts and places a weight-loaded barbell on his back from one side, squats several times, and then removes it from his back, tilting it to the other side. Thus, Steinborn lifted over 227 kilograms, which is unthinkable to do now in a modern gym.
Steinborn has remained an active public athlete and wrestler for decades, but his main contribution has been to cement the squat as the main exercise for strength training.
Paul Anderson was the strongest man in the world by any measure. At a time when the Olympic record for lifting the barbell on the chest + bench press was 150 kilograms, he easily lifted more than 182, participating in international competitions in Moscow.
At the 1956 Olympics, he took gold by lifting 187.5 kg. on the barbell lift to the chest and clean and jerk, fighting an inner ear infection and a temperature of 39.5 degrees.
By all accounts, he also lifted 2721 kg with his back, which is recognized in the Guinness Book of Records as the heaviest weight ever lifted by a person.
But like Henry Steinborn, Anderson is best known today for his ability to squat with weights.
He trained relentlessly, squatting with 250 liter barrels filled with tractor fuel in a hole dug in the ground at the center of his shin.
He squatted in full range, but also practiced partial range of motion, and also got up with a weight from a lower position while at rest, barbell on stops – starting position, what is known today as “Anderson squats.”
His all-round approach to training has led to unheard-of squatting results, including a registered 422-pound squat in 1965 and a personal 544-pound squat performed in training.
He has also done more than anyone else to popularize the back squat as a standalone exercise.
By the 1970s, thanks to the innovators listed above and the growing interest in physical fitness, squatting became mainstream.
The new sport, powerlifting, and its top athletes like Pat Casey have shown that squats deserve to be used outside of Olympic lifts.
People could now mail order racks and barbells and read magazines about how to squat to increase strength and improve their physique. During this time, a new generation of bodybuilders have redefined what it was possible to do using squats to develop legs.
Tom Platz’s training volume was pure bodybuilding, and what it led to, namely leg development, still inspires young athletes.
Competitive bodybuilders have been known to avoid squats in the 1960s for fear they would make their waists and buttocks too big.
However, golden era athletes such as David Draper, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Franco Colombo were skeptical about this claim, regularly engaging in high-rep heavy squat sessions to build a strong and muscular lower body.
Tom Platz has taken the love of squats to the next level. He was taught to squat in an Olympic style, including former gold medalist Norbert Shemansky. Platz’s technique had a great impact on the up and down movement of the body strictly in the vertical plane, the depth of the squat below parallel with the floor and the position of the bar on the top of the trapezius muscles.
These athletes showed the world the capabilities of the human body. They did squats with ease, even with kettlebells that were supposed to break them. Together, they helped solidify what has become one of the basic rules of strength training: if you want to be big and strong, you need to squat.
But these four names were just the beginning of the conversation. Start digging through history dating back to the 1930s and you will come across many other names – and countless workout programs – that will help you get stronger.
You will admire the men who fell in love with squats and lifted breathtaking weights – 360, 450 and even 540 kilograms. You will be seduced by classic high-intensity procedures such as 5×5, the peculiarities of S. Yu. Smolov’s training, or “Breathing squats” 20 rep.