What to do if you (really, really) hate squats

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Most gym goers have a love hate relationship with squats.

They know that they need to do them but, at the same time, they dread the very prospect of the exercise.

The squat is, undoubtedly, one of the hardest exercises to perform. A hard, heavy set of squats will exhaust you both mentally and physically.

As a result, a lot of people tend to find reasons to skip leg day, ending up with an out of balance, top heavy physique.

In this article, we delve into the reasons that people hate squats, discover if they are even necessary and explore ways to overcome your aversion to this exercise.

If your primary goal is to build strength and power, or enhance athletic performance, you’re going to have to get over your hatred of squats and suck it up! However, for general fitness and muscle-building you have plenty of options that might feel better for your body, like lunges, step-ups, or using resistance machines.

Let’s take a closer look and examine some expert advice.


Why People Hate Squats

Sure, squats are hard. But so is almost any workout worth doing.

Why do people despite squats so much?

Let’s take a look at a few reasons.

Fear of Failure

When you are squatting with a decent amount of weight on your back, you are putting yourself in a fearful position.

The very thought of being crushed by the weight as you push with all your might to get out of the hole, only to have the weight defeat you as you crumble to the floor, is the stuff of nightmares.

Apart from the physical inconvenience and risk of injury, imagine the hit to the ego that a guy would suffer by failing on the squat while all the gym bros are looking on.

Hard Work

The barbell squat is a hard exercise to do, even when you are using a relatively light weight.

(Squats and leg workouts also leave you notoriously sore — read some tips to handle this here.)

Squatting up and down is highly aerobic, meaning that it requires a lot of oxygen. Throw in the weight that’s sitting on your back and you are in for a real challenge.

For many people, the effort involved just isn’t worth it – especially when you’ve got far less demanding alternatives such as the leg press or the leg extension.

Unlike most other exercises, your body is forced to carry the weight from the beginning to the completion of your entire set when you are doing squats. Even when you are in the top position between reps, you really don’t get a rest.

Walking back from the rack before your set and then re-racking after it can be hard work in itself.

Here’s what powerlifting Hall of Famer Robert Herbst has to say on why people hate the squat:

“People hate squats for the same reason they are a great exercise: they are uncomfortable and hard to do, and cause the body to adapt. … The body is under immediate and constant pressure because it is carrying the weight from setup to racking.”

Back Issues

People with pre-existing back issues may have a natural aversion to the squat exercise.

That is perfectly understandable. To effectively work the quads you need to load a decent weight on your back.

This load compresses the spine and overloads the erector spinae muscles at the base of it.

Many people make the problem worse by rounding their back when they push out of the bottom squat position. This greatly increases the strain on the intervertebral discs.

All of these factors can make a person with back problems, and that includes a large proportion of the population, extremely wary of doing squats.

Lack of Comfort

Some people don’t like the feel of the loaded barbell across their shoulders and trapezius muscles.

As a result, they look for artificial aids to try and make the experience more comfortable.

They might wrap a towel around the bar or use a squat pad. When they can’t find either of these devices they are likely to ditch the exercise completely and go to a standby leg movement such as the leg press or the low cable squat.

On the other hand, some people are simply not made to do squats. It’s true that your body type can play a role in how comfortable and powerful you are while performing squats.

Herbst adds:

“I was once in a gym where Kareem Abdul Jabar was squatting 95 pounds. He looked incredibly awkward and gangly due to his 7’3” height and could not get down to parallel.

“I was at the next rack doing 300+. Of course, at 5’6″ I can’t dunk while he can, which is why we are in different Halls of Fame.”


Are Squats Necessary for Strength Development?

All that being said, there are a lot of solid reasons to hate or dread doing your squats.

So do you really have to do them?

The answer is…. No. But you really should.

The squat is an effective strength builder for the entire body. It is a compound movement that builds basic strength in the legs, hips and core muscles.

They develop the type of explosive strength that athletes need for acceleration, running speed, jumping, and power.

Squats also help you to develop the power base that you need when you are on the playing field. The defensive stance in sports like basketball and football are greatly enhanced by regular, heavy squats.

Squats will also allow the trainer to balance out the strength levels of their upper and lower body.

People who over emphasize the training of their upper body to the detriment of the legs – primarily due to their hatred of squats – will end up with a massive strength imbalance to go with their physique imbalance.

This can be dangerous in real life where you need to exert your body’s power equally.

If you are a strength athlete then squats are an essential tool for developing your overall power. They are an especially good exercise for developing the strength of the core muscles.

A 2018 study found that the squat was more effective than the plank at engaging the muscles of the core, especially the erector spinae of the lower back.

So while there are plenty of great lower body and leg exercises out there to replace the squat with, nothing really compares when it comes to strength development.


Are Squats Necessary for Muscle Development?

OK, so what if you don’t really care about explosive power and athletic performance.

Do you have to do squats to build leg muscle?

The answer is an unequivocal No.

For many people that statement will be outrageous. The squat, after all, has been lionized as the master mass builder and the greatest quad developer of all time. 

But…

When it comes to building muscle, the goal is to load the muscle the most efficiently.

Your lower leg is moved by the quadriceps. The femur of the upper legs is moved down by the glutes.

There are, therefore, three levers in the squat exercise; the tibia, the femur, and the torso.

When you stand in the beginning squat position, all three of those levers are vertical, making them neutral.

In the bottom squat position, the tibia has moved forward about 30 percent from neutral. That means that the operating lever on the tibia (the quads) is only getting 30 percent of the load that is on your back.

All that to say — to overload your lower body muscles (quads, glutes, hamstrings, etc.) for maximum hypertrophy, you have plenty of other great options and may not necessarily need to torture yourself with squats.


What to Do If You Hate Squats

If you are a person who hates squats, the first thing you need to do is to sit down and ask yourself why you are doing them.

Is it for strength development or muscle development?

If it’s the former then you need to develop some strategies that will help you to change your view toward this tremendous strength builder.

However, if it is for muscle development, then you may be able to (mostly) get around performing squats — though you do miss out on some tremendous benefits if you do so.

Here are a few things you can do if you have squatting and dread your leg day workouts:

Relearn Your Technique

Overcoming the fear of squats begins with relearning your proper technique.

Often people develop bad form which leads to pain and injury that can quickly create a negative mindset about the exercise.

Here’s what you do — lower your working weight dramatically and execute the movement with perfect form. Learn the proper positioning and cues from a video so you can see it for yourself:

Once you’ve mastered the technique, begin to slowly add weight again.

Find Your Squat Motivation

Set yourself the challenge of reframing your squat mindset.

Rather than avoiding the squat rack, force yourself to embrace it.

Include light squat work for high reps as part of your conditioning and cardio routine. 

The more time you spend under the bar, the greater your confidence will be!

You can also watch videos of lifting legends like Tom Platz going through a brutal leg day to psyche yourself up!

For some more tips for getting motivated to squat, check out this Squat Motivation guide.

Try Alternative Exercises

When you are intent on building muscle in the quads, hamstrings and glutes, there are some excellent alternatives to the squat that will allow you to build muscle effectively without placing undue stress on your spine.

Remember that to properly replace the barbell back squat, you may need a few different exercises to target the quads, glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and core.

One great option is the low cable squat, performed with a cable machine, that mimics the squatting range of motion without loading your spine.

You can also use a combination of resistance machines found at the gym, like the leg extension, seated leg curl, prone leg curl, and glute extension or multi-hip machine.

Finally, there are a ton of great lower body exercises you can perform with dumbbells or a loaded barbell that aren’t the back squat

Try:

  • Lunges & Reverse Lunges
  • Step Ups
  • Hip Thrusters
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • And more

It’s hard to replace the strength and athletic benefits of the squat, but there are plenty of ways to blast your leg and lower body muscles without squatting.

Just Get Over It

If you’re squatting for the right reasons and still have that deep seated hatred toward this exercise, it is going to come down to a matter of sucking it up and getting on with it.

Face your fear head on and ask yourself what sort of person you want to be – the one who runs and hides in the face of adversity or the one who rises to the challenge and conquers it.

Don’t worry — if you can force yourself to squat heavy and regularly for a while, you’ll eventually build the habit and it won’t be so hard to get motivated.

Hopefully, your gains will make you glad you pushed through!


Wrapping Up

The hatred of the squat is something that is almost universal among the gym scene.

But it’s not a mindset that you are stuck with.

Once you have decided that the squat belongs in your training arsenal, take proactive steps to face the fear with courage and determination. 

Here’s Robert Herbst’s final piece of advice on defeating your aversion to the squat:

“For people who do not want to squat, I would say don’t be a wimp and get over it. Squats give the most bang for the buck and they will get more comfortable as you get better at them and your body adapts.

“Squats will make you bigger and stronger. Even if they never feel easy, you will be better than you were and that is what fitness is about.”

Harsh, but true!

Before you go, check out some other great guides like:

Hope this helps!

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