A few days ago, a Womens’ Health article entitled “Why Ariana Grande’s trainer never wants you to do another squat again” appeared in my Facebook feed. Just the title pissed me off so much that I had to read it, and then I had no choice but to come up with a response.
Let’s dig into this steaming pile of asinine nonsense and discuss, shall we? The article leads with a star-studded list of trainer Harley Pasternak’s clients, because of course it does – how else are we to know who the good trainers are if we aren’t fed a list of their celebrity clients? Forget about things like legitimate credentials or experience, what we really need to know is how many healthy, sexy twenty somethings they can keep looking healthy and sexy. Not really a difficult job, but hey – if Harley Pasternak is good enough for Ariana Grande he must be good for everyone…and according to the article he is “adamantly opposed” to doing squats. Why? “Squats aren’t a great glute exercise at all, so I don’t do squats with my clients.”
Wait, what? Adamantly opposed to…to squats? SQUATS? Arguably the most functional, useful, variable compound exercise there is? I mean, raise your hand if you ever sit down from a standing position. Yup, just about everyone. Now raise your hand if you ever stand up from a seated position. Yes? Then some variation of a squat should damn well be in your exercise program. Also if you ever pick up groceries, children, pets, boxes, luggage, etc off the ground, get in or out of a vehicle, sit on the toilet (or, god forbid, have to use a portapotty at a festival; that’s next level strength training right there), training your squat is useful and will enhance your quality of life by making you stronger, healthier, and more capable.
Squats are great – they’re one of the cornerstones of any good exercise program. They’re also infinitely variable, so any trainer worth their basic certification should be able to come up with a selection of appropriate variations on the squat for every client. Squats are also efficient – they rival only the deadlift in terms of getting bang for your exercise buck. Even a simple bodyweight squat (also known as an air squat) can fire up 80% of the muscles in your body. The main muscles used to move your meat sack through a squat are the quads and glutes, but again, even the lowly bodyweight squat can’t happen without the help of the hamstrings, calves, and core muscles. Add weight to the upper body and you’ve got everything else working too. And if overall strength, muscle building, cardiovascular development, and calorie burn (read: fat loss) aren’t reasons enough to keep squats in your exercise program, here’s a scary little spiky fish to swallow: the NUMBER ONE reason why people end up in extended care later in life is that they can’t get from seated to standing without assistance.
“Pasternak notes that for squats to be effective, you need to add a lot of weight onto your back using a barbell. “Loading your spine with all that weight, putting your shoulder girdle back to hold the bar, that’s all really tough on your body,” he says.
A lot of weight to be effective? Effective at what exactly? I’d submit that that statement is patently untrue on all levels. You don’t need any weight at all to get a good burn going with squats. Don’t believe me? Hop up out of your chair (oops, you just did a squat) and do 100 bodyweight squats for me, right now. I’ll wait.
Done? Are you breathing a little harder? Feeling pleasantly warm in your legs? Congratulations, you just did an effective set of squats.
Now, let’s talk about putting a barbell on your back, because that’s a little more complicated. First of all, barbell back squats are not appropriate for everyone. IF you have the requisite mobility in your shoulders to hold the bar correctly, a good base of strength, and healthy joints, there is no conceivable reason to not do back squats. Tough on your body? Excuse me, but did you come to the gym to lift weights or have a fucking tea party? Of course exercise is tough on your body – it’s supposed to be work; that’s how you get stronger.
Pasternak also notes that: “when you’re doing an exercise like a squat, which involves two legs at once, it’s really hard to tell what percentage of effort your left side is exerting versus your right. “The stronger side will continue to get stronger, the weaker side will continue to get neglected,”
Um, yes – UNLESS you (and/or your trainer) are paying attention to what you’re doing, in which case both sides will get stronger. Fact: EVERYONE is stronger on one side than the other. Everyone. We are all special little snowflakey collections of mileage, injuries, weirdness, and one-side-dominance. No amount of time spent in the gym doing any exercise at all is going to change that, so let’s just check that excuse at the door and get about the business of getting stronger.
Bottom line (pun intended): squats aren’t just a great glute exercise, they’re a great exercise. By all means if getting an instagrammable ass is a priority for you, supplement with lots of other butt stuff. But don’t write off the squat because some idiot celebrity trainer is too lazy to learn how to coach a squat (with or without a barbell) safely and effectively. Do your squats, friends!