Reverse Patterning the Squat


I’ve gotten some great ideas from reading Gray Cook’s Movement and Athletic Body in Balance.  (I’ve written several times recently about the information in these books.  I don’t want to sound like I’ve joined the latest UFO cult or anything, but it’s what I’m into right now.  I’m seeing very interesting results, so that’s what I’m talking about.)  One concept in particular I’m finding very useful and exciting.  It’s known as reverse patterning.  Reverse patterning is discussed in chapter 14 of Movement.  Though it’s not called “reverse patterning” in Athletic Body in Balance, a very similar process is explored in chapter 6 of that book.

I’ve applied this concept to the squat and I think I’ve discovered a much better way to teach the squat.  It’s simple to teach, safe, and similar to the half-kneeling position, there’s pretty much only one way to do it correctly, that is the only way to do it in any form is to do it correctly.  If you do it wrong you basically won’t go anywhere at all.

Problems with teaching the squat

Most of us teach and learn the squat from the top down.  That means we start in the standing position, lower ourselves down low in a sitting-type of maneuver, then we stand back up.  It’s a fairly complex movement.  Coordinated movement must occur at the ankles, knees and hips.  Meanwhile stability must occur through all these structures plus the spine.  All the while the squatter must stay balanced.  Teaching this process can be quite challenging.

Very often a client has no idea at all how to do this: Their knees shoot forward, heels pop up, knees cave in, spine rounds forward, pelvis tucks way under–all kinds of movement faults occur.  Then I have to teach this funny movement by using all sorts of language and cues that may or may not resonate with the client.  So now it’s almost like learning to juggle, ride a bike and recite the Gettysburg Address all at once. Sometimes it goes very well.  Sometimes it can be a real hair-pulling sort of event for both parties.

(The funny thing is, if you watch any number of young children, you can see superb squat technique done over and over and over.  No one taught them.  They figured it out for themselves!  How did they figure this out?  Must be some simpler way to do this, no?)

Squatting from the bottom up

Gray Cook talks about primitive patterns.  These are movement patterns such as crawling, rolling, squatting and other movements that precede activities like walking and running.  These are fundamental patterns to humans. (Modern living tends to rob us of these patterns.  We sit too much.  We hunch over keyboards and steering wheels too much.  We don’t get down on the ground and move in funny ways enough.)  In the case of the squat, we all did our very first squat a long time ago.  I don’t remember my first squat and neither do you.  That first squat actually started at ground level as we were trying to emulate the people around us who were standing and walking.  At some point probably after several attempts, we stood up.

Typically when teaching the squat the difficulty comes from our trying to get to the bottom of the thing.  As I said previously, we often do it all wrong and it takes a bunch of work to do it right.  So instead of making it difficult to get down, why not make it as easy as possible to get into the bottom of the squat position?  This is very easy to do.  Watch the video to see the process.


New Developments: Changing Exercises & Squat/Deadlift Reading


The New Workout

A couple of posts ago I outlined my new strength program which I adapted from a Mike Mahler program. I stayed with those exercises for six weeks. Now I’m rotating most of those exercises out for new exercises that are as Pavel Tsatsouline says, the “same but different.” This means that the new exercises should look like and require similar movement patterns as the previous exercises.  Here are my changes:

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I’m still doing barbell cleans but now each week I’m either doing cleans 2x/week and barbell snatches 1x/week or vice versa. I’m trying to learn to snatch the barbell and I’m pretty new to it. I’m still doing Renegade Rows and I’m trying to find time to do Turkish Get-ups 2x/week instead of just once. The TGU is very difficult so I figure I need to work on it more. (If you’re not good at something, you don’t like doing it and it’s real hard–then you should probably do a lot of it.)  Similarly, I’m keeping the kettlebell windmills.

I plan to stay with this new scheme for four weeks and change it up again. I’ve also added weighted 45 degree back extensions 1x/week. I believe this plus the good morning will help my deadlift and squat numbers go up.

Why have I rotated the exercises? I’ll let powerlifting expert Louie Simmons of the Westside Barbell Club explain:

“Science has proven that training at a 90% or above for 3 weeks will cause physical and mental fatigue. With the Westside conjugate method we switch a core barbell exercise each week to avoid accommodation. “

Further, from a mental viewpoint, changing exercises keeps things interesting.  I like doing new things.  There are a ton of useful exercises out there.  By cycling the exercises I get to stimulate the mind.

(BTW, Louie also says they at Westside “live on the good morning.” Seems that it’s essential for improving the squat and deadlift. Thus I’ll likely do some version of it for a long time to come.)

My sets & reps scheme is a variation  on the Windler 5-3-1 protocol.  It looks like this:

Week 1: 3 sets x 5 reps.  I work up to a 5RM and do three sets

Week 2: 3 sets x 3 reps done in similar to the 3×5

Week 3: 5 reps – 3 reps – 1 rep

Week 4: Back off.  I may skip lifting altogether or do something alone the lines of 1×10 reps at 50% of my 1 RM.  The point is to take it easy and RECOVER.

Westside Barbell Squat & Deadlift Manual

Speaking of Louie Simmons and Westside, I recently got the Westside Barbell Squat & Deadlift Manual. There’s a wealth of fantastic info in there from literally the strongest group of people on the planet. (I look forward to reading the Westside Barbell Book of Methods and the Bench Press Manual as well.)

Most interestingly, I learned that those guys change their main exercises every week–but they very rarely do the standard issue competition powerlifts: the squat, bench press, and deadlift.  They do variations on those exercises: box squats, board bench presses, good mornings and a billion other variations on the competition lifts.  They use bands and chains to vary the nature of the resistance on the bar.  Different bars are used and different speeds are used when lifting.  Why? It goes to the concept Louie mentioned up above.  All these variables are changed in order to prevent accommodation. If you’ve accommodated to the exercise then you’ve essentially gotten used to it and progress will slow.


Excellent Squat Instructional Videos


I’m squatting quite a bit these days and I’m teaching clients to squat.  There are a lot of fine points to this excellent exercise and it can be challenging to both learn and teach correct squat technique.   I’m also on Twitter a lot these days and I found a great two-part series on squatting from  (Tons of good strength info at this site.)  I’m planning on incorporating some of these teaching points into my squat instruction.  And if you have no interest in squatting, you’ll at least get a look at some high quality facial hair.

So you think you can squat part I

So you think you can squat part II