Which Squat Helps Your Beatdown More?

October 27th, 2009  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  11 Comments

From Stephan Kesting’s Grapplearts newsletter (no URL, so I’ve reprinted):
In 2003 I released a DVD called “Dynamic Kneebars.” Because it was (and still is) the only resource dedicated solely to the topic of kneebars – the king of the leglocks – it was a very successful, widely distributed video.

At the end of the DVD I have a short bonus section covering the five most useful weight training exercises to develop a killer kneebar.  And it’s no coincidence that the very first of those exercises is the barbell squat.

If you can only do one weightlifting exercise then it should probably be the squat – it’s a great exercise for your legs, and the legs are so very important in jiu-jitsu and grappling.  Also the squatting motion itself is a very sports-specific movement.

The squat also strengthens your torso, because your core muscles really have to work in order to stabilize the weight of the barbell on your shoulders.

Finally the squat strengthens your whole body.  I’ve been told by more than one coach: “if you want to get a big bench press then you have to squat too.”

What they’re referring to is the hormonal effects of squatting.  Moving that much weight around has a strong metabolic and hormonal effect on your whole body, not just your legs.

The squat has been one of my cornerstone exercises since about 1996 or 1997.  I was taught how to squat by a friend of mine who was a personal trainer.  He took me under his weightlifting wing, making sure that my squat form was good so that I didn’t hurt myself with this exercise.

So I was shocked when, a few years ago, a strength and conditioning coach first complimented me on the Dynamic Kneebars DVD,  but then told me “you’re doing your squat all wrong.”

At first I felt defensive.  After all, I thought I had pretty good weightlifting form.  I’d even put footage from one of my workouts onto a DVD, for Pete’s sake!
When I dug a little bit deeper and quizzed him, it turned out that the specific thing I was ‘doing wrong’ was that I was squatting like a bodybuilder.  You see, I’d been doing what’s called a ‘high bar back squat.’  The high bar back squat is a whole body exercise, but the biggest driver is the quadriceps (the muscles on the front of the thighs).

This coach was advocating powerlifting squats for grappling and MMA conditioning.  A powerlifting-style squat has the bar lower on the back, the legs wider, and sitting your butt backwards as opposed to bringing the knees forward.

A great review of the different squatting styles can be found here:

The net effect of these changes is to spread the effort out over your whole body, with a special emphasis on your posterior chain (the muscles on the BACK of your body).

After a little more research on the topic I decided to change things up and switch to a power-lifting style squat.  I wanted to see how I felt with this style of lifting.  I figured that if I didn’t like the results I could always stop and go back to my regular squatting style.

The following article by Dave Tate really helped me when I made the transition to the powerlifting squat.

How to Squat 900 lbs

Within a few months of trying out powerlifting squats I was hooked.
My posterior chain got significantly stronger, and my knees and back felt great.
And I could squat a lot more weight!
Of course the two lifts are different exercises, and comparing the amounts of weight you can lift in both lifts against each other isn’t really fair.  It really is apples and oranges.  Nevertheless it was exciting when my maximum two-rep lift shot up from 315 lbs to 405 lbs.
[MK note: You can commonly move more weight in a PL squat because the range of motion is shorter.]
That’s 90 extra pounds in 4 months.
Now I’m not lifting quite that heavy right now, but I’ve pretty much stuck with the powerlifting style of squatting.  My training time is limited, and by making the squat even more of a whole-body experience my workout becomes more efficient.
If you don’t lift weights, I encourage you to start.  Even once a week can have a significant effect on your body, especially when it comes to reducing injury.  Try to get some qualified coaching, especially right at the beginning, so that you don’t injure yourself with a rookie weightlifting mistake.
If you lift weights and don’t squat then I think you’re cheating yourself.  You’re missing out one of the best strength building exercises out there.
If you do bodybuilding style squats then I encourage you to try powerlifting squats and see how you feel. Once again, a little coaching here goes a long way towards ensuring an injury-free lifting career.
And finally, if you try powerlifting squats and you don’t like them, that’s OK.  Go back to regular squatting and I won’t think any less of you.
Any kind of squatting is (much) better than no squatting!
Stephan Kesting


Oh dear, I wish Id squatted more.

"Oh dear, I wish I'd squatted more."


  1. Jackie says:

    October 27th, 2009at 7:40 am(#)

    So when will we see you guy’s at a powerlifting meet?

  2. Jo says:

    October 27th, 2009at 8:13 am(#)

    I love Stephan Kesting. His new grapplearts.tv series is awesome. And I love Dave Tate for that matter. I switched to a more powerlifting type of squat during a 6 week cycle not to long ago. What isn’t mentioned here is that not only does your squat get better, but it helps the hell out of your deadlift if you are squatting deep. My deadlift PR went up 13% in six weeks during a cycle where I wasn’t deadlifting at all. Squats FTW!

  3. Chris says:

    October 27th, 2009at 9:56 am(#)

    given that one is labelled a ‘bodybuilding squat’ and one is a “powerlifting squat” would one expect to see a difference in total muscle growth or at least a different outcome in growth from either of the two varriations? Would someone who focussed on one rather than the other, all things being equal, look different had s/he focussed on the other?

  4. Lauren says:

    October 27th, 2009at 2:15 pm(#)

    I have a question on this – is it the stance that puts the emphasis on posterior chain or more the stance combined with the lower resting point of the bar? I’ve read a lot about people, especially women, being quad dominant and I was wondering if it would be beneficial, as a beginner, to work on squatting in the powerlifting stance to develop strength on the back of the body- or if the gains occur primarily for more advanced people using significant weight?

  5. Mistress Krista says:

    October 28th, 2009at 5:28 am(#)

    When I start bench pressing again, which is probably never. :)

  6. Mistress Krista says:

    October 28th, 2009at 5:29 am(#)

    In theory there would be differences. In practice there are often small differences — at least in folks who have done it long enough to be highly developed. Typically powerlifters have better development in glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors. But in general if you’re squatting deep, your lower half is gonna look good no matter what. Olympic weightlifters, who use the narrower stance squat, have fantastic asses too.

  7. Mistress Krista says:

    October 28th, 2009at 5:31 am(#)

    Lauren, IMO it really depends on your goals, your inherent aptitude, and your individual biomechanics. Some folks will never feel as comfortable with a full depth narrow squat as with a wider stance. I find most beginners do better with wider — in large part because of their limited flexibility and balance — then we work to go narrower and deeper.

    But anything that extends the hip from the highly flexed position (in other words, standing up out of a deep squat) will involve hams and glutes.

  8. Lauren says:

    October 28th, 2009at 9:00 am(#)

    Thanks Krista! I do find that a wider stance is more comfortable, (and with my short legs it means I don’t have to squat very far) but after looking at pictures of “correct” squate form I tend to feel like a wider stance is cheating somehow!

  9. tony rosa says:

    October 28th, 2009at 10:19 am(#)

    Has anyone heard about the new Mike Boyle DVD series: Functional Training 3.0? I haven’t seen it, but in a promotional e-mail he states that squats should no longer be done. I’d be interested to hear why and how he came to this conclusion since he is a highly respected strength and conditioning coach. Any thoughts?

  10. Trishy says:

    October 28th, 2009at 8:20 pm(#)

    It took me a while to realize that some people are not biomechanically capable of squatting with a deep and narrow stance (so-called “ass to the grass” style, or what is typically used in bodybuilding circles). I thought I just had to develop this ability, but it never worked and if I stand in a narrow stance, I cannot squat deeply without tipping over (or lifting my heels). My orthopedist told me this is common for adults, so I did an informal poll at my work place and found that just under half of the people I asked could naturally squat with a narrow stance (in a sample size of about 20 people). I’ve been squatting heavy for 7 years, so I’m not lacking in strength or flexibility. I would be curious to know what the difference is that makes one type of stance more comfortable for a person (or one type downright impossible).

  11. KD says:

    December 5th, 2009at 11:27 pm(#)

    Trishy, Krista’s response would undoubtedly trump mine, but I’d say your ortho is probably right only because “most adults” don’t spend a lot of time hitting the gym :) Flexibility usually needs to be developed to facilitate a good squat.

    Based on your description, the thing that is probably preventing you from squatting deep is likely a too-narrow stance. This shifts your weight forward and prevents you from going parallel. Individual body variations may also mean using a slightly wider, feet turned out, stance.

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