Why I squat every day – and why you should too

Upon reading that title, you might think that I will use this post to explain how squatting daily will give you a butt hard as stone. Although that is indeed a nice benefit, it is not the main idea. Because it is good for your health? Nice bonus. Because it is the most badass exercise you can do in a gym? True, but not the main reason. Because it is an effective way to lose weight if done properly? Frankly that just leads in my case to eating more.

No, the real reason why I urge you to get under a heavy bar and squat all the way down is because it will prepare you for life.

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!” – Sylvester Stallone in his role as Rocky.

Don’t escape the squat, use the squat to escape

Life is tough and there is no escaping from it: no matter how hard you run away from your problems, they will catch up sooner or later. In my opinion, facing your problems should not be a problem. You need to find the strength to tackle whatever issue needs to be resolved but you cannot “just do it”. For many things the first step is the most difficult one and there is a way to prepare for that step.

Every time I bring someone new in for a squat session, they become nervous, unsure if they can do it. “But I’m not strong…” No worries, we all have to take the first step. No one was born being able to squat heavy without training. Slowly and steadily mastering the movement under supervision, we gradually increase the weight. There will be a moment where I will tell you: “Let’s see how strong you really are” and then we prepare for that day.

The point of no return…

What goes through your head when you are about to test your limit? The minutes before you get under that bar? Fear. Anxiety. Doubt. Whatever weight is on that bar it is more than you have ever lifted before. You know that the previous attempt a couple of minutes ago already felt like carrying a car on your back then there is the point of no return. Especially in a competition there is no going back, you stand in line and see your fellow lifters barely making or even failing their lifts. The announcer tells the audience that it’s your turn, your coach hits you on the back while he screams into your ear. Not that you hear anything. You are sucked up in a mental void where you see your own feet moving forward and hear a voice in your head asking you how the hell we got into this situation and why we didn’t choose something easier, like bowling. Directed by autopilot you grab the bar, bring your body underneath and lift the weight out of the rack. There is only one thing going through your mind at that moment: “F*ck, this is heavy…”

It’s too late now, you cannot put it back before you attempt your lift. With wobbling legs, you step backwards and wait for the signal of the referee. “Squat!” A big breath of air, your hands pulling the bar as hard as you can into your back and the butt moving downwards as you go. It is as if time stands still. The sounds of the audience fade away. Your vision becomes blurred. You wonder: “am I deep enough already?” When your body feels like you cannot possibly go down further without tipping over, it pushes your back into the bar again. On a good day you will end up upright with the bar on your shoulders. On a bad day you will lose the battle and bend through your knees – no worries, the spotters are there to help you on your feet.

What squats taught me

If you have made it this far you might wonder something along the lines of “why the hell should I care about all of this” or “so what’s the reason now that I have to squat?” Because this experience, knowing that you gave everything you had, will make you stronger. Not just physically, but mentally. For months, if not years (trust me, I’ve been there), you have worked day in and day out for this goal you had. A squat teaches you something in life that not a lot of things can teach you: you will only be successful if you put in the thought and effort. A strong squat will say something about you as a person. You cannot buy a good squat. You cannot inherit it from your family. You cannot borrow it. You cannot fake it. You can only earn it. It will teach you work ethic. It will teach you resilience. It will teach you to face your problems head on. It will teach you that you cannot climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets. Of course, my squat does not have to be your squat, it is just a metaphor for life. Perhaps your squat is running (ultra)marathons, climbing mountains or stepping into the ring for a boxing match.

Every day you will go out there and take something that is heavy on your back. Something that does nothing but bring you down to your lowest point, and you will rise. Do it every day, and you know that no problem in life is too big for you to handle. Or as I have told my athletes so often that they can dream the words: “Squat every day and one day you will be able to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

By Steven MGP Schoenmaker, Doctoral student at Hanken, Marketing deparment