Hello John,

My office gym doesn’t have a barbell. I have put in a request for new material but it has not been fulfilled. From my researching on the Internet, I know BB Squat is king, but in the meantime, can you help me with a temporary alternative?

I have access to a single 70-pound dumbbell and a leg press. I don’t care much for the leg press, but if I have to, I’ll use it. When I did squat, my one rep max was 330 lbs.

This is what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks:

DB Step up 3×5
DB Goblet squat 1×30 @ 70# (easily unbroken)

Thanks in advance for any input you can provide.

Strength-less in Seattle


Dear Strength-less in Seattle,

I long ago realized that form followed function. This means if you take two athletes and implement the barbell back squat with one and the goblet squat for the other, the effects from these two similar movements will have drastically different results. Thus how you squat, the implement you choose, reps, sets, weight, speed and technique will all be factors in the effect you are looking to illicit from performing the movement.


But what are the benefits of squatting?

Strengthen the muscles to a point where they are able to handle both static and dynamic loading without injury and aiding in performance.

Bones are strengthened under load according to Wolff’s law. The German anatomist and surgeon Julius Wolff developed this theory. And it states that bone in a healthy person will adapt to the loads under which it is placed.

Ligaments and connective tissues increase in thickness and gain tensile strength as a result of progressive loading. The thickened tendon is the super highway connecting the bone and muscle and allowing force to be transmitted.

But why does the barbell squat work to do this better than any other movement we can perform?

For one simple reason, there is no way to isolate any part of the body during the barbell squat.

Lets start from the top down on the barbell back squat. The hands are placed on the bar, gripping it tightly, as the bar is placed at the base of the traps. Strong arms, shoulders and traps are needed to provide a strong platform for the bar to be placed. Your neck is a primary component, as keeping it erect and neutral will ensure the bar stays in place. Your trunk needs to be strong to be able to support the weight so you are not folded like a taco the minute you un-rack the bar. Notice I did not say, “core”, as I use the word “truck” as I am referring to your abdominals, spinal erectors and mid-back. As you drive the bar into position to stand up with the weight you have drive strength down through your trunk to your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves to stabilize the weight and we haven’t even squatted yet.

Once you are in position, you first movement is to unlock your knees and drive your hips back like you are sitting on the toilet. If the first movement is bend your knees and go crashing straight to the ground you need you some coaching. Keep driving those hips back till the crease of your hip is lower than the top of your kneecap. Once you hit the point, you have reverse the movement, the amortization phase, and drive back up to your starting point.

What makes this so difficult is it requires your entire body to working to complete one task that could potentially squash you if you are not careful. But not only does it require your body to work towards a common goal it also requires balance and coordination to execute the movement. This is why performing a leg press will never supplant a squat as a primary movement, as the leg press takes away the element of balance and coordination as the movement pattern is chosen for you by the designer of the machine. While useful as an assistance piece, any program that prioritizes the leg press is fucking worthless and the coach needs to be kicked in the balls from behind.

The secret to training and getting strong is doing more today then you did yesterday. For beginners this might be a basic linear progression where a 5 pounds is added to the bar each workout. For a more advanced athlete it might be more reps at a given weight or more weight at a given rep max. Or for the most advanced athletes working within a program that allows them to make strategic jumps based on advanced plans.

Regardless of where you are in the journey, you have to keep stressing the movement to keep progressing. With the options you present me, you can workout, but if your desire is to get stronger and increase your back squat, you are doing to need to squat.

My recommendations are to find a new gym, start searching Craigslist for used gym equipment to donate or make a Black Friday purchase.