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Debunking Common Squat Myths

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I rarely get inspired by social media, sorry, not to sound like an old man, but it’s true. However, when a colleague was opening up about his past history horrific low back pain and how it sent him down a dark road in his life, I did find myself inspired. Probably  because it was something I would relate to in a big way!

I’ve written quite a bit about my spinal disease and the challenges in my life that it has presented. Not so much for sympathy, although I’ll never turn it down;), but more so because it has taught me so many lessons about training and life.

I actually reached out to the trainer that shared his story and we talked over text a bit. I’ve known him for several years so it was cool to learn something I really didn’t know about him. In our discussion, we shared how horrible the reality of pain is to one’s life and perception of living. That led us to talking about how frustrating the fitness industry can be in this regards.

You see, fitness fails badly in regards to something EVERY health profession has BUT fitness….standards of best practice. If you have never heard of the term, or not sure why it is important, it is….

“A best practice is a method or technique that has been generally accepted as superior to any alternatives because it produces results that are superior to those achieved by other means or because it has become a standard way of doing things, e.g., a standard way of complying with legal or ethical requirements.”

So, how does this work in the fitness world and what does it have to do with squats? If you sent me your Mom to train, would you want me to do the exercise that is substantiated by science as both the safest and most effective, OR, would you be okay with doing whatever I thought was cool and I said has been done for years?

I don’t think any serious fitness pro wants people of thinking of us this way!

You see, what most people don’t know is that we DO know what is the safest and most effective squat, you might be surprised to hear it is NOT the back squat! How in the world is that possible when back squats always have the most load?!

Let’s take a step back….in cases where people can have very emotional reactions I like to ask questions. Together, let’s ask ourselves why do we back squat? The MOST common answer I have ever heard is “to get strong legs!” Cool, a rationale answer right?

How do we measure strength? One way could be muscle activity right? So, let’s examine some research…..

When compared to the front squat THIS research study found, “The front squat was as effective as the back squat in terms of overall muscle recruitment…”

Isolated study right? Flawed of course! Well, THIS study found, “Results may suggest that the front squat may be preferred to the back squat for knee extensor development…”

Coincidence, I don’t believe it. Okay, what about anything single leg related. After all the back squat is the “king” of leg exercises right?!

Well, THIS study found that not only was muscle activity similar during a more unilateral squat as the back squat, that testosterone production was the ALSO same.


So, I’ve given you a few reasons that we could get strong without the back squat, but why not back squat TOO?!

THAT is my biggest issue. We have all heard the low back stat that 80% of Americans will experience low back pain at some point in their life. What many do NOT know is the stat that low back is the #1 reason for people under 40 going on disability! How about “. One-half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year.” or how about..”Worldwide, years lived with disability caused by low back pain have increased by 54% between 1990 and 2015″ (stats HERE)

Those are stats but in a more relatable way, the biggest concern my clients had when they began any fitness program was that they were going to get hurt. Maybe the best known part of the medical Hippocratic Oath is “do no harm.”


If you think this is coming from someone who has “never lifted anything heavy” you couldn’t be MORE wrong! I spend considerable time doing lots of iron sports like Strongman!

We love to say that is awesome, but fitness somehow is okay ignoring it. Doesn’t make sense when you consider the FULL statement from those studies I shared above. Like….

“Results may suggest that the front squat may be preferred to the back squat for knee extensor development and for preventing possible lumbar injuries during maximum loading.”

“The front squat was as effective as the back squat in terms of overall muscle recruitment, with significantly less compressive forces and extensor moments. The results suggest that front squats may be advantageous compared with back squats for individuals with knee problems such as meniscus tears, and for long-term joint health.”

Physical Therapist, Jessica Bento, does a great job showing how we use great tools in kettlebells and the Ultimate Sandbag to build and challenge your squat effectively and safely. 

Get my point? Research has SHOWN us that we can get strong and reduce our likelihood of having low back pain. Why is this so important to me? I’m lucky actually, I have known about my movement, my disease, and how to train for almost 25 years. Most come to us FOR help and don’t know what to do and may NOT have pain….yet!

When you consider the following….

“Nearly everyone experiences some disk degeneration after age 40.”

“These results demonstrate that in analyzing the response of the spinal cord to compression, the age of patients is an important factor to be considered, in addition to the degree of compression, compression speed and parts of the spinal cord compression factor.”

“Discal degeneration is generally considered as the primary source of pure low-back pain.”

Now, I will get emails saying, “yea, degeneration has not been linked to pain.” Guess what, you are right! However, there is THIS curve ball. No one can argue that the spine changes, its ability to deal with compressive and shear forces may change as we age. Since no one walks into a gym by going through a MRI machine or the like, it leaves all fitness professionals literally GUESSING to the status of one’s spine.

So, if I boil down our conversation to this….If we know loading the body in front can stimulate the SAME amount of muscle as putting the load in back, without the compressive and shear forces that the back loading creates, would you want me to have your Mom back squat?

Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t make anymore money if you back or front squat, I have NOTHING vested in you performing the squat in the manner I am offering other than you feeling better, moving better, and performing better. Trust me, people have tried to do the back squat with the sandbag and it would EASY for me to say, “go ahead”, but that is NOT what DVRT is about.

I hope if anything, this blog makes you pause and really think if the cost is really worth the benefit. That if you were training someone’s Mom or Dad, them placing their trust and faith in not only you getting results, but keeping them safe, what would you do?

Learn more about how we bring the science of training to life with our DVRT Online Education HERE. You can get 30% off our education, workouts, and top selling Ultimate Sandbags with code “holiday30” HERE. We want you to feel, be, and perform your best possible.