Man I get tired of coaches trying to push their agenda onto folks with nothing more than their preference to back up their statements. It’s the absolute statements that literally drive me crazy.
Yesterday, I almost got caught up in an article which was bashing unilateral squatting and exalting bilateral squatting. I almost shared the article, and then I realized I would be doing the very thing I hate. Plus the article was using half-truths like most all-or-nothing articles will use.
Knowing the Pros and Cons
The article (I am going to leave the author unnamed because I appreciate his work for the most part) used Dr. Stuart McGill as a reference. Yes, Dr. McGill has written articles and has spoken on the dangers of rear leg elevated split squats performed incorrectly. He has also written and has spoken on the benefits of RLESSs, but the article left that part out. If I were a new coach, I would have bought right into the article. I probably would have never used single-leg movements at all from that point forward, which would be a major mistake.
Luckily I know Dr. McGill personally, and we have talked about unilateral versus bilateral movements in detail. The key is keeping the pelvis locked in to neutral as much as possible. Dr. McGill is clear about the following statement, “There is a biological tipping point for every exercise on planet Earth.” Once you cross that threshold, you are in dangerous waters. For example, the goodmorning was a great accessory movement for me. When I could perform sets of 5 with 405 pounds, I could easily squat over 700 pounds without any equipment. However, when I kept pushing the movement to the 600s, it probably contributed to a lumbar injury. Boy did I ever need a good coach! Sometimes I will cut someone off with his or her heavy squats or pulls, and I will secretly laugh to myself knowing I would have kept going as an athlete. Thank God I can use my brain as a coach much better than when I was an athlete.
The article isn’t about unilateral versus bilateral. No, I didn’t flip my stance on that issue. This article is aimed directly at coaches both young and old. As coaches we have a responsibility to properly enlighten the coaches who will come after us. You never know when a young coach is reading your work. You never know when one of your athletes will become the next great coach. We have to be responsible for our words.
Differences in Coaching Systems
Listen – there are several ways to prepare athletes, just like there are several ways to get folks off the couch and in shape. Your program will be developed based on your belief system, equipment available, time allotted to coach each person, the number of people getting coached at a time, and the number of coaches available for the athletes/clients.
For example, Mike Boyle loves unilateral squats, trap bar deadlifts, and hang cleans. Is he wrong in choosing these movements to prepare his athletes? Absolutely not, which shows with the results he is putting out. However, there is one aspect on which we will always disagree. He’s had a lot of bad results with coaching the bilateral back squat at his facility. He’s had a lot of injuries occur in his facility teaching the bilateral back squat. Therefore, he chooses not to use that movement in his coaching. I get it. I have to assume the injuries from back squatting are due to the sheer volume of athletes running through his facility each and every day. His facility is one of the busiest private athletic performance operations in America. I am coaching 7-10 at a time, and he’s coaching 50-100 at a time. That’s a big difference. I have never had an injury from a back squat occur in my facility, but it’s easy for me to coach and manage my athletes.
McGill has shown injury can occur with the rear leg elevated split squat as well, but it is a bit easier to coach – and with a safety squat bar the athletes can spot themselves. So I totally understand using unilateral squats, but I don’t understand demonizing bilateral squats. Both unilateral and bilateral squats can produce amazing results pertaining to increases in speed, vertical leap, and muscle mass. There is a lot of evidence to support both movements. If you heard the debates between Coach Boyle and me, then you heard a lot of evidence to support both sides. Each have their pros and cons, and it is up to the coach to decide which one fits their system the best. Obviously with my athletes the bilateral squat is a necessity, but we use unilateral work as well.
Absolutes and Non-Absolutes
Maybe I am sounding a bit wishy-washy, so let me make my point. I started this article criticizing an article that was totally pro-bilateral squatting and was bashing unilateral work. Then I went on to say Boyle was wrong in bashing bilateral squats in support of his unilateral system. My only point is to stop bashing a movement because you don’t like it, especially when the science doesn’t support your conclusions. There are a few absolutes in the industry – such as knee valgus is dangerous (most of the time), knee varus is dangerous (most of the time), and spinal flexion while squatting is a bad idea. Other than these, there aren’t very many more. Sorry to tell you!
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Here are some “absolute” statements which are absolutely not absolute:
- High bar squats are superior to low bar squats (or vice versa) – There are advantages and disadvantages of each. Normally the low bar will build the hips a bit more due to slightly more range of motion in the hips. The high bar will build the quads a bit more due to a greater range of motion in the quads.
- Olympic weightlifting movements are superior to powerlifting movements for preparing field athletes (or vice versa) – There are advantages and disadvantages of each. Weightlifting is great for demonstrating power, rate of force development, and force absorption. Powerlifting is great for hypertrophy, increasing the potential for power development, and of course absolute strength. In a perfect world, the combination of disciplines is the best.
- Unilateral squats are superior to bilateral squats (or vice versa) – see above
These are just a few to get you guys thinking. The next time you hear someone make an absolute statement, even if the person making the statement is someone you look up to and admire, I want you take that absolute statement and ask the following questions:
- Is there any scientific data to support this claim?
- Is there any scientific data that disputes this claim?
- Has anyone achieved good results training the way the expert is telling you not to?
- Does the expert have an agenda by making the claim (for example a new book or digital product)?
- What reasons would the expert have to be irrationally biased?
Luckily it’s always been my nature to question everything. It’s just in my DNA. Plus I have been burned a time or two buying into what some so-called expert was saying, only to find out later there was a better way. We are in the information era. Pub Med is but a click away. If someone is claiming a certain technique is the only way to lift, go to YouTube, watch some slow motion clips, and see for yourself. There is only one Messiah. The rest of us are not all-knowing. Therefore, you should question everything until you find the truth.
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