To squat or not to squat

I recently read and saw a few pieces posted by and about Mike Boyle on his decision to not include the squat as part of his training programs instead preferring to prescribe Bulgarian split squats (watch the video here). I also read replies both advocating this stance and also, often quite angrily, disagreeing with it.

Neuromuscular patterning and movement specificity is an important part of the training program and the split squat, along with it’s variations, is a fantastic exercise for developing abductor strength for knee alignment and high levels of specificity for runners. Boyle mentioned one of the reasons for using this exercise was that scores for this lift with his athletes were greater than half of their regular squat scores.

I’m not 100% convinced that the Bulgarian split squat should deliver exactly half the lifting scores of a back squat, in fact I am not surprised by the fact it doesn’t as it is still, essentially, a two legged lift. I’d like to see some published research that compares EMG activity during both lifts and some training program based comparison evidence before I myself start to think about completely┬áremoving the squat and it’s derivatives from my programs.

I find that for an inexperienced lifter the squat will often see a much quicker increase in the load they can lift, purely from the balance and coordination issues associated with a split stance as well as an associated improvement in range of motion. For these reasons and the fact that, as a coach, I’m looking for the most improvement in the shortest time, I would probably still use squats as a primary method for strength increase with inexperienced lifters. But it’s definitely worth phasing the split technique in using the warm up to improve balance and coordination as well as correct or maintain knee alignment issues.

Some research comparing the 2 lifts would be great to see and I’m sure the discussion will continue for some time. What I would like to see less of though is the instant and aggressive response to any new ideas, particularly towards one of the most eminent practitioners in the world. We are all trying to maintain, and in this country, continue to establish strength and conditioning science as a respected field, for me this means discussion, debate and research not dismissal, slander and hearsay.

Neil Welch

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