A fact: speeding through a red light will get you in trouble with the law. And if there’s no real-life-police or a tech-abled-camera-police to see it, you’ll at least get condemned, huffed and labelled as an irresponsible driver by your fellow motor vehicle operators. And as a bare minimum, you’ll see rude visual gestures from the people eager to cross the road.
The cultural norms around driving are strong and based on the heavy sense of “people like us drive like this”. That’s how it should be. Reinforcing and adhering to strict road standards keeps our roads safer. When it comes to driving there really is the right way to drive and the asshole wrong way to drive.
Unlike traffic, there are no strict right or wrong ways for strength training. No must do exercises, or strict standards that every person should follow.
We are not competing in powerlifting or Olympic lifting, so why should we follow the rules that are meant for those two sports? I mean, you don’t do the collision drills from rugby just to get your heart rate up either.
You don’t have to deadlift off the floor.
You don’t have to squat to parallel.
Actually, you don’t have to deadlift or squat. Period.
You don’t have to deadlift off the floor
The bottom position of the lift is the most challenging. You have to create enough tension to “break” the bar (whether it’s a barbell or a trapbar). This is where most injuries happen, especially during the first rep when the tension has to come from nothing.*
Not only that, but some people really don’t have the hips to deadlift comfortably off the floor. Hips which run out of available flexion leading to low back taking over. I’m in this category unless I go super wide with my stance. Which in itself makes the whole exercise as awkward as trying to shadow box a ghost.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have clients who lift off the floor. But I only do it with those who can do it really well. Otherwise the bar gets elevated. Raising the bar for 5cm -10cm off the ground will usually do the trick. The lift is easier to set up, and it’s easier on the eyes. Meaning it’ll feel less like shit.
You don’t have to squat to parallel
Sure, you’ll get more out of the squat if you’re able to go lower. Purely because it’s harder (someone smarty-pants can explain all the vector angles and EMG readings). But if going any lower than you currently do causes your knees, back, ankles or other body part to ache, why bother?
Your squat is your squat and as long as you get out of it what you set out to do, well, that sounds good enough for me. We’re not here to collect points on gym performance. But on how what you do in the gym helps your life outside of it.
In the end, gym is just training and exercise under fancy fluorescent lights while listening to Beyonce belt out her vocal chords. Or, if you lucky, you get to listen to something else. Like Crowbar.
But isn’t squatting ass to grass the benchmark for healthy hips and longevity?
Yes, but there’s a difference between squatting for exercise and squatting for the sake of maintaining or re-discovering one’s squat. Squatting for exercise is usually done for multiple repetitions. Squatting for health can mean just sitting in a deep squat once a day. Or as close to a deep squat as the person can do.
How to improve one’s deep squat for health is another article altogether.
You don’t even have to deadlift or squat
Sometimes you might not be able to tolerate any of the traditional exercises that all the cool, hardcore looking people in the gym are doing. I often find that when doing a program with heavier trapbar deadlifts my lower back let’s me know about it, eventually.
As in, “Hey, Joonas. This is your low back. Enough already. Ok? Cool. Thanks. Also, how good are single leg deadlifts? Yeah, you should totally do those instead. Ok, bye. P.S. ease up on the muesli, will ya.”
If your low back doesn’t like heavy-ish loading:
Here are some alternatives that require less loading through the low back while still working your legs and butt just as hard. And except for the skater squat and single leg squat, your upper back gets a decent amount of training in too.
Try switching the barbell or trapbar deadlift to single leg deadlift, skater squat, or even a kettlebell swing.
Try switching the heavier goblet squat or front squat to split squat (and progressions), single leg squat, or kettlebell bottom up squats.
In movement there are standards on how a human should be able to move. Being able to sit in a deep squat and hinging from your hips are both an important part of that equation.
But in exercise and training? Not so much. The only right way to train is the one that gets you results while staying safe. That’s it. Regardless of what others may think, there are no strict exercise standards that you should adhere to. Especially if they make you feel like shit.
If to not feel like shit means not squatting as low or elevating your deadlift, so be it. And if you have to abandon an exercise altogether because how it makes you feel, that’s cool too.
They’re just exercises, nothing else. Don’t tie your identity to being able to do them in a one specific way. Instead, do what suits you and your body.
*Yes, I know you have to create tension on the first rep. But it’s heaps harder to do for most people compared to any other rep of the set.