Workout Report: Wall to Wall and Top to Bottom Gains

Long time readers know that I don’t often post stuff about workouts. For one, the workouts have always been a means to promote some good gene expression, keep lean muscle while losing fat, and so on. It was never really about being in competition with myself or a training log.

But for now that has changed. The last five weeks have been quite a revelation for me. Frankly, I never in my wildest imaginations thought I’d push and pull the amount of iron I’ve become capable of in such a short time. And now I’m pretty confident I can haul around quite a bit more.

By the way, I really do appreciate all those with so much more experience than I and the personal trainers who’ve commented on the last few entries where I’ve discussed the workouts. I take all their cautions seriously and have discussed many of them with my own personal trainer (16 years experience, BS exercise physiology). Incidentally, he’s not a fan of bench presses either. We’re taking it very carefully and it’s not a long-term project.

So once again, here’s some select exercises I do and the gains I’ve achieved in five weeks.

Deadlift: from 165 x 8 five weeks ago to today’s 240 x 5 / 225 x 7

I recall that it was just a few short months ago when I was doing the deadlift at 135 and three sets of 10 would wipe me out pretty good. Today I did a couple of warm up sets at 135 and could not believe how utterly featherweight that was.

Overhead Press: from 115 x 7 five weeks ago to today’s 130 x 5

This is a tough move but I really like it. Could have probably got 1 or 2 more reps in today, but it was an increased weight from last workout, I’d just completed the deads on an increased weight from last workout, and I had to delay the workout a day in any case because my back was still sore from Friday’s record setting squats, also an increase from the previous workout. I do these presses standing and once it gets heavy a lot of back seems to get involved.

Seated Row: from 160 x 10 five weeks ago to today’s 190 x 8 / 190 x 8

My trainer indicated to me that my form on this is now way better than is was at 165. He added that my form on all my movements has dramatically improved as the wight has been piling on.

Squats: from 165 x 8 five weeks ago to last Friday’s 215 x 6 / 190 x 8

Very happy about this one because squats really kinda scared me when I first started them some months back. I began with the Smith machine but hated it. For some reason, it makes my back hurt no matter where or how I place my feet. It must be the mechanics of imposing a perfectly vertical movement. At any rate, I no longer have any fear about it and while I sometimes get a bit of back soreness it strikes me more as a healthy conditioning strain rather than an over strain.

Two questions for the experts out there.

  1. Sumo vs Conventional for deadlift? I was doing conventional up to 185 or so then found that with the heavier weights I get almost zero back strain using the Sumo style. Pro & con?
  2. On squats, pro & con for a narrow stance vs. a wide stance?


  1. Chris on May 18, 2010 at 23:28

    For all this I think it is personal preference but there are some issues I’d note. Smith machine – many people dislike it as it locks you into a groove which is not optimal for your own individual body and mechanics. There might be an advantage if you are doing pretty limited ranges of motion, but I don’t think you are.

    Squatting – make sure you know how to squat with zero weight and proper mechanics. It is very easy to hurt things in the squat so invest time learning to do it properly. For example, Dan John’s article here is useful:
    So, a natural moderate stance.

    Deadlifts. I prefer regular over sumo , especially if we are talking about transferring to everyday life. Sumos – especially extreme stances – are pretty specialist moves. The regular deadlift – again done properly which is a hip hinge bend NOT a squat – is a very natural move.

    Matt Metzgar has had some good posts up about squatting and deadlifting from a paleo perspective. Basically maintain the squat but train the deadlift. Squat as a movement for health, but deadlift as an exercise.

  2. Karen DeCoster on May 18, 2010 at 15:10

    Richard, I hate to be unhelpful, but:
    1) Sumo vs Conventional for deadlift?
    Why not both? I do ladder deadlifts – start at 95 to warm up, and then up to 235 (I’m trying to get back to doing 290 before my torn hamstring). And then back down again. And then I finish with sumo deadlifts. It hits those thighs a little harder.
    2) On squats, pro & con for a narrow stance vs. a wide stance?
    Again, why not both? I teach people to do 5 or 6 types of squats, always mixing it up. Narrow, wide, split, plie, sissy squat, front squat, etc. Sameness = static, and may = boredom. People forget about plie squats and front squats for some reason. The wide stance is more of a “power” stance while a narrow stance allows you to go deeper. (Tom Platz mastered the deep, narrow stance.)

  3. Karen DeCoster on May 18, 2010 at 15:13

    One thing I hate (and this is just me) is routines. Sameness. Preferences that you stick to. Mix it up like crazy and confuse your muscles while you enthuse your body.

  4. Richard Nikoley on May 18, 2010 at 15:20

    Not unhelpful at all, Karen, and it’s one reason I emailed you. I know you have deep experience with this and as a light/lean gal are probably lifting relatively where I would be in the high 300s. Heh, check out the second entry here:

    “Because somewhere out there, a girl is warming up with your max.”

    Actually, I warmed up today for DLs at the 135 doing a set of each, conventional and sumo. At the lower weight it’s easier to tell (at least for me) which different muscles you’re hitting relatively harder.

    On Friday I was doing the same thing with the squats — not really a warmup — with just the bar, no plates, experimenting with narrow vs. wide stance, differing degrees of toe-out angles. Very informative.

  5. Karen DeCoster on May 18, 2010 at 15:29

    My lower quads (especially the more difficult inner quads) are magnificent because of the narrow stance squats I do for high reps (and not really heavy at all). I’ll touch my ass to the floor/back of my calves when in the Smith machine, keeping the weight “lighter.” Narrow stance, I say, is the most taxing and gets me the better results.

  6. Joseph K. on May 18, 2010 at 16:13

    I did a research project in graduate school analyzing the differences between the sumo and conventional style deadlifts. In the end, through my own biomechanical analysis of competitive powerlifters, and the review of a lot of literature, I found that the sumo style deadlift requires ~40% less “work.” And while that may be true, I prefer to pull using a conventional style stance ( I pull over 600 pounds), and many of the world’s strongest pullers use a narrow stance too.

    The same goes for narrow vs. wide stance squats, it’s just a matter of personal preference. As for me, I have what I consider to be weak hip adductors so I prefer to squat with a more neutral stance.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 18, 2010 at 16:21

      So Joseph, 40% less work, eh? I don’t know whether sumo feels 40% easier, but I can sure pull more with it. i suppose a lot of that 40% has to do with less range of motion.

      At any rate, i’m going to see about incorporating some conv into the mix at a lower weight to start. For me, it’s the back. Sumo really saves it for me. But on the other hand, perhaps it was too weak. I did note that on warmups today doing conventional that I had zero back issues, at least at a light weight of 135. Several monthsago that would not have been the case. I guess that for me, the lower back lags in strength development and I ought to pay attention to that.

      • Joseph K. on May 18, 2010 at 16:33

        If I could I’d provide you with references and details from my study but I lost my flash drive which contained all of my college work – doh! I do recall that quite a bit of it did deal with decreased range of motion though.

        I’m doing things a bit in reverse of you, I’m doing my best to maintain my strength as I move down the scale following a primal-lifestyle. I think I envy you though as my method’s more depressing, watching a lot of that hard-earned strength disappear (10%, across the board) along with the nearly 70 pounds I’ve lost these past 5 months.

        I can’t wait to get down to a more comfortable weight so that I can begin building again.

  7. Michael on May 18, 2010 at 16:15

    I don’t deadlifts any more but for squats I use the narrow stance and like Karen do every type of squat in the book. One she didn’t mention is the overhead squat, which is pretty much my favorite. Keep in mind though that I train with squats as preparation for the classical lifts – the snatch and clean & jerk – which makes up the bulk of my free weight training.

  8. Skyler Tanner on May 18, 2010 at 16:57

    1) Sumo vs. Conventional is a matter of different levers. I always pulled more Sumo because of my long arms and legs. I was able to get around my long femur and get more hip thrust out of the movement sooner. You might be different. Use both periodically; not because it “confuses” the muscle (that’s impossible and a phrase I wish would die already) but because it taxes different aspects of the lift. This is why Westside’s Conjugate method rarely stresses “the lift” but lifts that a similar to the competition 3.

    1a) This is not to say that you couldn’t progress with just the basics. Ed Coan focuses on the competition lifts in a linear periodization fashion, focusing on a handful of basic exercises with little variety and is the strongest natural lifter of all time (and stronger than many assisted/super supplemented lifters). Doug Hepburn was a vintage strongman who trained with a handful of basic exercises, focused on heavy singles and triples, and rarely changed the exercises. Many paths up the mountain.

    2) Here’s a classic video of Tom Platz squatting 500lbs x 20:

    At :49 there is a shot of him bottomed out in the squat and you can see his ankles roughly align with his hips (if you drew an imaginary vertical line). Notice his knees splayed open; this lets his hips drop in between his legs, thus keeping the spine tight. If he didn’t splay, he’d start rounding the lumbar spine halfway down, imparting all sorts of havoc on his spine. So it’s “narrow” but not feet together, knees straight craziness that I see people attempting to perform in commercial gyms.

    • Big Will on May 19, 2010 at 05:08

      This is good stuff. One thing I would like to add is that doing too much sumo deadlift (and similarly, wide stance squats) can cause issues if your hips aren’t in great shape. Both exercises recruit the adductors, vastus medialis, and glutes more severely than their narrow stance counterparts. Myself and a lot of people I’ve talked to have had problems with injuries in these areas after only a session or two. I still like to do sumo every once in a while because it frees me from having to use a belt all the time, and I swear by wide stance squats if I’m looking to build my 1 rep max, but it’s good to have an idea of the potential downsides of each. I think your best bet would be to stick with what you’re doing till you start to stagnate, then swap DL/squat for a different variation.

  9. Mike Gruber on May 18, 2010 at 18:57

    You should read “Starting Strength” by Mark Rippetoe. I used to think I knew how to squat. Then I read his 50 page chapter in that book, just on the squat. I am leery of the idea that there are “many” ways to squat correctly. He explains a lot about why the form that he suggests is safer for your knees and better for building strength. He’s a very knowledgeable, opinionated guy … so fun to read … kind of like somebody else I know. :-)

    • Jonny on May 18, 2010 at 19:29

      I’d second this – quality book.

    • Gayle on May 19, 2010 at 06:55

      I’ll 3rd the recommendation for “Starting Strength”. His descriptions and explanations of the lifts are very thorough. Great read!

  10. mike mallory on May 18, 2010 at 18:57

    The reason you get less back strain is because the Sumo deadlift is a more natural movement, for a few reasons……If you’re familiar with the SI joint, it opens as the legs rotate inward, and closes as the legs rotate outwards. This is important because it’s a huge point of power transfer (the joint where the spine meets the legs/pelvis).

    When you bring your legs out in the sumo style, you allow the SI joint to close in, and you shorten the glutes, allowing them to properly safeguard the back by tensioning the huge band of fascia in the low back (thoracolumbar fascia).

    In short;

    easier levers
    More closure of the SI joint
    more glute activation with external rotation of the femurs…..

    etc.,etc.,etc…… essence, go with what you’ve already found it: it just feels better!


  11. Ben Wheeler on May 18, 2010 at 19:39

    1) Your likely to have less back pain with the sumo stance due to the fact that it allows you to get your hips closer to the bar, so your back can stay more upright. I personally use the conventional method, and teach all my clients the same.

    2) Totally depends on what you think narrow or wide is. I good stance would be heels at shoulder width, toes slightly turned out. You will be able to engage the adductor’s & posterior chain better with this stance, coupled with the low bar position.

    Definitely pick up a copy of “Starting Strength” by Mark Rippetoe. It is a must read.

  12. Russ on May 18, 2010 at 20:02

    Some have alreaded offered some these same opinions but…

    As far as the DL dilemma:

    If I remember what I’ve read correctly, the sumo has approximately 30% less lower back activity than the traditional stance – explains why you feel they save your back. As others have noted, different body types tend to do better with one style over another. Sumo targets hips and posterior chain moreso than the traditional, which targets the back a bit more. Long story short, no reason you can’t mix them up from time to time – though personally I prefer sumo. Record holding PL’s have competed using both styles. Listen to YOUR body and what feels good for YOU.


    Similar things going on. Narrow stance targets the quads more, wide stance hits the posterior chain more. Again, not a bad idea to mix it up.

    One thing I don’t think anyone has mentioned – what about single-leg versions of these movements? Human movement generally occurs uni-laterally, yet most people spend ALL of their time doing bi-laterally training. Food for thought.

    Other than that, probably a little bit of sweating the minutiae a bit. Move well, move often.

    • Russ on May 18, 2010 at 20:11

      ..remind me not to type after 11PM, looks like it was composed by someone preparing for their GED. Ugh.

  13. Jae on May 18, 2010 at 21:12

    If I read your post correctly, you’re doing your squats on a Smith machine, right? Please do not do that! The movement is not sound and will place stress on your knees and back and possibly cause injury.

    If your trainer put you on the Smith machine to do squats, fire him (or her). Seriously. If your trainer doesn’t know how to teach a barbell squat properly, fire him (and if he did know, he would never have put you on the Smith machine in the first place). Get Starting Strength, by Mark Rippetoe, or the free E-book over at Stronglifts, or better yet, hire a good trainer who has been around barbells for a long time.

    Starting Strength link:
    E-book link:×5-ebook-download/

    This is not a matter of opinion or personal preference among good trainers — the Smith machine has no business in a squat training program. Perhaps advanced powerlifters use it for very specific assistance exercises, and the Smith machine does have other valid uses (scaling push-ups, for example), but doing full squats is not a legitimate (healthy, technically sound) use for a Smith machine.

    Also, let me ask… are you doing your squats below parallel? If not, fire your trainer again….

    • Michael on May 18, 2010 at 23:09

      I kind of overlooked that, thinking you were no longer using the smith machine, but if you are I would concur with Jae. I also just assumed you were doing full squats but if not I would again second Jae on that.

      My whole life changed (physically) when I hired an outstanding Olympic lifting coach who taught me how to do squats properly (and deadlifts as well though he wasn’t high on them) and the entire panoply of exercises associated with the Olympic lifts, and I had been around the weight game for awhile at that point though I had thoroughly imbibed a bodybuilding mentality. I will be forever grateful to him for extending my competitive athletic career beyond anything I thought imaginable.

      Not that your concerns are the same as my concerns, but changing the way I squatted helped restore and then increase my strength, speed, quickness and endurance at a very late stage of my competitive career while lowering the risk of injury. From a purely personal perspective full squats of all types helped hone out my physique and made/makes being lean a lot easier.

      Anyway, you may be doing full free weight squats and the above is just noise from me, but it is not clear from your post.

      • Richard Nikoley on May 19, 2010 at 07:50

        Jae & Michael:

        No, I tried the Smith machine once on my own because my trainer was on vacation and it was first attempt at doing squats. After a few reps I stopped, waited for my trainer to get back and have been doing them with the free weights ever since.

        As far as full range it’s definitely something I’m working on. I find that if I go too far below parallel I have a tendency to round my spine, which is why I have been playing with stance using minimal weight.

      • Jae on May 19, 2010 at 08:55

        Okay, never mind, don’t fire your trainer quite yet. =)

        But as you see from the chorus of “buy Starting Strength,” it’s worth it to get the book and read it, even if you already have a good trainer. Total no-brainer if you want to educate yourself at all about lifting. And get a pair of lifting shoes if you haven’t already. It’ll cost you about $80-130 and will last you ten years easily.

        Don’t want to intrude too much on your trainer’s space, so I’ll just leave it at that. Post video of your lifts if you want us to tell you whether your trainer is any good. ;)

      • Michael on May 19, 2010 at 12:45

        As far as full range it’s definitely something I’m working on. I find that if I go too far below parallel I have a tendency to round my spine, which is why I have been playing with stance using minimal weight.

        I had some of that early on. In my case it turned out to be a flexibility issue.

  14. Mike Gruber on May 19, 2010 at 06:45

    Where are the PICTURES? :-)

    • Richard Nikoley on May 19, 2010 at 09:03

      Pics soon enough, Mike. I’m waiting a bit so they’re a bit more dramatic. No visible abs quite yet, except a bit right under the ribcage and extending to the serratus. The major improvement is in muscle size and definition, especially in the shoulders and back.

  15. Keith Norris on May 19, 2010 at 07:41

    Karen is spot-on; this oughtn’t be an either/or question — the answer is to include (and push the limits of) all variations. You’ll certainly find variations that you’re more bio-mechanically adept at (see Skyler’s comment), but that shouldn’t dissuade you from performing the variations that force you outside of your comfort zone. In fact, as Skyler alluded to, this is the “secret” to being able to push the envelope repeatedly, without worry of tearing yourself down. Variation!!

    Rock on, Richard — seeing the results obtained from pushing the body to its limits is intoxicating. And that feeling never gets old; after 30+ years, I’m still addicted.

  16. Jason Dolenga on May 19, 2010 at 07:44

    Richard, I will 4th or 5th the earlier comments about Rippetoe’s starting strength. There is no better book on the key lifts, and their variations (when applicable). It also gives a good idea about how you should be progressing, and some basic programming tips to get you lifting big weight properly in a relatively short period of time.

  17. Richard Nikoley on May 19, 2010 at 10:42

    More great info from reader Eric via email. He said I could go ahead and put it in the comments.



    There are no pros and cons for any exercises really. Except for Smith machine squats maybe ;)

    Basically, as you might have heard, no exercise is inherently dangerous, only bad technique can bring that about. With that in mind, you might want to know that for each exercise you are enquiring about (sumo vs conventional AND wide vs narrow), there will be differences, and these are largely dependent on one’s morphology. Someone with a huge gut or with shorter limbs and long torso will, generally speaking, pull more weight in the sumo position. Similarly, a leaner, taller person with long limbs and short torso will be able to pull more weight using the conventional deadlift. Now, notice in both cases I was referring to the goal of lifting more weight. That might not be the case all the time of course. Maybe your back is bothering you for some reason or another (heavy squats recently, helping the neighbour move), in which case you might want to use the sumo technique, which is usually less taxing on the lumbar area. Or, maybe your adductor strength is lagging compared to other muscle groups in which case again, the sumo pull will help. You see then, it’s never so black and white!

    The same can be said of the narrow stance squat vs the wide stance squat. It all depends on your goals, and body morphology. Generally speaking, the longer your limbs are (especially femur), the harder it is to get down in the hole, which will generally require the exerciser to use a relatively wider stance, compared to smaller, short-limbed, long torso dudes and dudettes. Additionally, the narrower stance tends to work the vastus lateralis more (outside of thighs) and require greater levels of flexibility in the hips and ankles, while the wider squat will solicit adductors more, but require less general flexibility overall in other joints.

    We could discuss this ad vitam eternam. There is no right or wrong here, although there are optimal ways of doing each version, and that’s all that matters.

    If I can highly recommend to you the book of all books on some of these principles, it’s Mel Siff’s “Facts and Fallacies of Fitness”. I can promise you won’t be disappointed!!!! “Supertraining” is his seminal work, but that’s a pretty heavy read.

    Also, one more note on the squat. I believe it is VERY important that one learns to squat ass-to-the-grass. This is imperative. Now, I understand that it usually is not of the domain of everyone to be able to do this right off the bat, although it can certainly be an objective in the long term. With that purpose in mind, I’ll refer you to this great article, written by some pretty knowledgeable folks…

    Hope this helped somewhat, and let me know if you have any questions… I’ve been working in the field for years, hold a masters in exercise physiology, and am married to a sports physiotherapist, so I know a few things I am always happy to share… More importantly, I use this stuff daily on myself :)


    • Michael on May 19, 2010 at 13:02

      Generally speaking, the longer your limbs are (especially femur), the harder it is to get down in the hole, which will generally require the exerciser to use a relatively wider stance, compared to smaller, short-limbed, long torso dudes and dudettes. Additionally, the narrower stance tends to work the vastus lateralis more (outside of thighs) and require greater levels of flexibility in the hips and ankles, while the wider squat will solicit adductors more, but require less general flexibility overall in other joints.

      Tell me about it! When I first started doing the Olympic Lifts my trainer told me I was the most inflexible adult he had ever worked with, LOL! At 6’1 wasn’t sure we would be able to overcome the flexibility issue but eventually we did (by sheer dumb luck – but that is another story). At one point I even considered doing the old style split with my C&J that hasn’t been seen anywhere for over 50 years (I think). :-)

      • Eric Lepine on May 19, 2010 at 19:41

        Nothing wrong with the split versions Michael, as Jae was pointing out! Good weightlifting coaches will actually be able to pinpoint when one needs to modify his/her technique accordingly and thus, will not be shy and will be able to teach the split version. One of the reasons (among many of course) for the split having gone out of fashion is due to actual equipment, namely the shoes.

        Great article here for anyone interested on the subject ), written by none other than Andrew Charniga, Jr.

        Josh Everett is indeed quite the beast! And the funny thing is, it was Mike Burgener who, after some time, finally decided Josh should give the split version a try!!!!

      • Michael on May 19, 2010 at 19:50

        Of course Eric you are right. But I didn’t want to go to the split versions for flexibility issues alone. My trainer actually said in passing that I might have to go there, but ultimately I never did. Funny thing was I went on a long fast (trainer didn’t know), trained throughout the fast, and after a break from training over the holidays I came back and was super flexible. It was incredible! People noticed, even folks who I had no idea were paying attention to what I was doing on the platform. So the subject never came back up.

      • Jae on May 19, 2010 at 13:23

        Josh Everett does the split versions of both CJ and snatch. Strength coach for UC Riverside… if you Google him, you’ll probably find a video of his lifts somewhere. They’re around, just rare. :)

      • Michael on May 19, 2010 at 13:27

        Thanks Jae, I will check that out.

      • Jae on May 19, 2010 at 13:30

        Oops… by “rare” I meant splitters, not the vids… just to clarify.

        I think you can see Josh doing a split clean or maybe split snatch on one of the trailers to “Every Minute Counts.”

      • Michael on May 19, 2010 at 13:42

        Josh Everett – Awesome!

        C&J –
        Snatch –

        The snatch is early on in the second video and he then goes on to do “Isabel.”

      • Jae on May 19, 2010 at 13:45

        Hahaha I’m apparently completely not functional when trying to comment on blogs surreptitiously while at work. “Every Second Counts”…..

        Yeah, I forgot about the Isabel vid. Good find!

  18. Al Ciampa on May 19, 2010 at 15:52

    Lots of talk about what elite trainers and trainees do – without their androgenic aids, their anecdotal evidence is of no use.

    Starting strength is a must read.

    Sumo vs conventional; wide vs narrow. Richard, you’ve been to the orient, remember what when in korea we termed the “kimchi squat”? Natural squatting is narrow stance, ass to the grass. Unless you’re looking to compete. How do you naturally pick a heavy load off the ground? Narrow stance, knees wide, low hips, pull it up with your legs (think of a heavy tow-man lift). The barbell does not allow this type of movement – learn the olympic lifts.

    A snatch, or clean and jerk (you’re doing this for health, longevity, faculty preservation, etc. right?) will incorporate both the deadlift and squat at sub-maximal weight while increasing your max at each – no shit! Drop the “slow lifts” and engage in the quick lifts – you can’t deny physics. Accelerating loads will return greater strength, power, speed, balance, agility, endurance etc, with less time under the barbell.

    One last point – focus on posture and full range of motion. Take your focus off of your task at hand and onto your posture and movement. Nothing is inherently unsafe about technique – technique is only efficiency (or lack of) movement – posture and range of motion is where the safety is.

    If your trainer cannot teach you the only two lifts that you need to perform, and does not focus on your posture, lose him. Oly lits spiced with sprints on the rower or street, will suffice any of your goals. None of my athletes complain.

    Good luck.


  19. Chris D on May 20, 2010 at 01:06


    If you have back pain issues while squatting, it’s worthwhile to pursue working on your full range of motion one-leg squat in the interim. In itself is somewhat useful for highlighting hip/back issues during the descent, and should provide your back with minimal load (perhaps your squatting and deadlifting schedule allows the low back insufficient recovery time?)

    Joseph K’s comments seem to be inline with what I can find in the literature, with this analysis suggesting the sumo style deadlift resulted in ~25-40% less work being performed.

    Sumo greater in VM, VL, TA, convention better in medial gastroc’s

    Sumo reduces 10 and 8% reduction in joint movement and shear force at L4/L5 respectively.

    Also don’t discount the effect of training age upon these analysis, this analysis of the 1999 special olympics worlds found substantial variation in both techniques based on experience.


  20. Ed T on May 20, 2010 at 05:59

    I performed squats for many years and suffered constant knee pain. one day, someone saw me squatting and offered a single suggestion that eliminated knee pain. The key to perfect suqat form he said, is to imagine you’re taking a crap over a cliff.

  21. Ted on May 20, 2010 at 12:20

    Hey Richard,

    My experience and knowledge as far as squatting and dead lifting stances based on 20 years of training and 15 years working as a fitness professional:

    1. Your best stance can be found by jumping as high as you can in the air and dropping into a squat as you land. Typically a couple inches wider than hip width and toes pointed slightly out but it will vary. This will be the most natural stance as it is where you instinctually place you feet to absorb impact with a squat.

    2. Narrow squats will tend to focus more on the quads and Lower back. Wider stance will work the inner thighs a little more.

    3. I have found wider stances for both deadlift the squat to create hip problems (possibly only in those prone to hip problems). I know for myself it is a not a good idea. It is a less natural angle for the hip joint to be flexing in. I would suggest saving them for lighter lifting days or cutting back to a light weight and working up slowly monitoring your hips joints after each workout. Many people have no problems, but just be cautious.

    Proper technique is everything in deadlifting. Here is an excellent article:


  22. Eric Lepine on May 20, 2010 at 12:29

    Good general points Ted… And, might I add, with regards to Chris D’s above comment (…If you have back pain issues while squatting, it’s worthwhile to pursue working on your full range of motion one-leg squat in the interim. In itself is somewhat useful for highlighting hip/back issues during the descent, and should provide your back with minimal load… ), it’s not always so clear-cut, unfortunately :-)

    One-leg variants of the squat (whether talking about “Pistol squats” or “Bulgarian squats” or “Step-ups, etc.) can be useful, but one also needs to consider that these will inherently increase axial loading of the spine and therefore, might not be ideal for everyone with “back problems” related to “core” stability, regardless of actual loading on the back… More reason for avoiding cookie-cutter programs… Everyone is different; something we all need to be reminded of sometimes ;-)

  23. Alan Beall on May 21, 2010 at 10:55

    Have you seen the FreeSpotter? It prevents accidents while giving free range of motion. Available for barbells and dumbells.

  24. SassaFrass88 on May 21, 2010 at 11:33

    Now, I’m not expert, so I’ll just chime in on the Sumo vs. Conventional Deadlift: 1. I have never tried that form, but would like to. 2. When I do Sumo squats, I seem to get a MUCH wider range of utilized muscles in the result (like, what leg-muscles were NOT affected afterwards?!!!).

    I think I am forever hooked on Sumo-method-anything, when it comes to leg/ lower-body exercises.

  25. Adam on May 22, 2010 at 02:11

    1. While not one of your two options – I have added trap bar deadlifts into my routine every few weeks. It allows for the arms to pull from the sides and the trap bar saves the shins. Something to consider for variety.

  26. Michael Bender on May 23, 2010 at 08:58

    Hi Richard – My two cents

    1st question RE: sumo vs conventional – whichever is more natural for you with one caveat – don’t ignore the other movement entirely. Both have important benefits. Start your cycle with the least preferred and move to the preferred when the weight gets heavy. Same with grip. Double-overhand as long as you can and then go to alternating when the bar starts to roll (trust me, at some point it will.

    2nd question: Use the stance that allows you to get the fullest range of motion – butt to heels, or as a previous poster said “ass to grass”. Your low back will round a bit at the bottom and your tail will tuck under – not to worry, that is natural.

    Lastly, a piece of unsolicitied advice – given your goals and where your training fits into your lifestyle, the weight you move is far more important than the number of reps.

    You have demonstrated the strength to move heavier weights. You will improve only if you use them. For your big compound movements (Squat, deadlift, OH press) Use a weight that dictates 2-5 reps. Cycle your efforts and you will see awesome results that dwarf your recent accomplishments. Lighter weights/higher reps will likely only make you tired and sore.

    Heavier weights, lower reps, a few compound movements (I prefer pullups/chins to movements to seated rows), only a couple sets. DONE. Go eat a grass-fed steak, read a good book and let nature take its course.

    • Richard Nikoley on May 23, 2010 at 09:15

      Right on, Michel. Pretty much where I’m at. Doing conventional DL at lower weight. My PT doesn’t like ass to grass for the average person, but does want me to get fully parallel. Other day we tried some full range, ass to grass at a much lower weight and it worked out OK, so I’ll be throwing that in as well.

      And yep, weighted chins and close grip chins are both part of the routine. Everything is being approached just as you suggest. Bigger weight, fewer reps & sets. Nothing I do is more than two sets and a few are just one.

      • Jae on May 23, 2010 at 10:00

        Richard — Michael’s advice is dead-on.

        IMHO I think your trainer’s desire to have you squatting “fully parallel” is like telling you to do Paleo but avoid saturated fat. Better than pure SAD, but… not quite all the way there.

      • Richard Nikoley on May 23, 2010 at 10:15

        He’s just pretty cautious. In three years now I’ve made marvelous “average guy” gains and not had a single injury. A strain here or there, but nothing that kept me home for more than skipping one workout.

        He’s more than willing to go with bigger and bigger weight but avoiding injury is the paramount concern. He’s delighted with the progress and as such has been piling on the weight and watching form very carefully. I’ll get there on the ATG, but I’m going to progress in the same way I’ve done all the rest. Friday It went like this on squats:

        Warmups: 135 x 3 / 135 x 3 (parallel)

        Exercise: 215 x 7 / 205 x 8 (parallel)

        135 x 1 (ATG)

        What I learned is that if I go ATG in just an unweighted squat I feel as though I’m going to fall backwards unless I really round my back and hold my arms out. So, a bit of fear factor. But I just went for it and found that I had no feeling of going over backwards with the weight on, and I don’t think I rounded my back any appreciable amount. It did take quite an effort to get out of the hole but, I’d just come off quite an effort for me with the 215 and 205.

        Next Friday I’ll attempt my warmup sets ATG and then see how that affects my heavier exercise sets going only to parallel.

        Bottom line is I’m going to pursue it.

        Same goes for DL. I’m now doing my warmup sets conventional and the much heavier exercise sets Sumo.

      • Jae on May 23, 2010 at 10:35

        Having zero injuries is a big deal! Awesome.

        I have no strong opinions about whether ATG is necessary for most people (can’t do it myself without back rounding) but I do think below parallel is crucial. But, I’ll let the experts debate that one.

        Also, a weighted squat may be easier for you to do without back rounding, and IMO it’s normal to have to have your arms out in front of you for balance in an air squat.

        Dan John’s advice, I believe, is daily light goblet squats and good mornings will help with the back rounding. Good stuff.

        Also, I will now stop giving unsolicited opinions about the quality of your trainer when I haven’t even met him… sorry.

      • Michael on May 23, 2010 at 15:03

        What I learned is that if I go ATG in just an unweighted squat I feel as though I’m going to fall backwards unless I really round my back and hold my arms out. So, a bit of fear factor. But I just went for it and found that I had no feeling of going over backwards with the weight on, and I don’t think I rounded my back any appreciable amount. It did take quite an effort to get out of the hole but, I’d just come off quite an effort for me with the 215 and 205.

        That’s about right. Air squats are actually more difficult. You need a little weight to get the technique right. I always warm up with 5-10 lb bumpers on each side.

  27. Jae on May 23, 2010 at 10:02

    Edit… if you have severe rounding (or “butt-wink”) issues, I can see a case for not going ATG. But, you seemed to indicate that you have rounding issues only when you go very deep.

  28. Richard Nikoley on May 24, 2010 at 11:32

    Just got back from the gym where I upped my DL again. I’ll post a full log this time and a teaser progress pic I just took.

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