Last Week’s Controversy

Last week I wrote an article for Juggernaut Training Systems entitled, “The Truth About Experts II”. In it I made a lot of generalizations about Mark Rippetoe, and even though I don’t agree with his teaching method, I still went too far. I’m a Christian and last week that article didn’t represent a follower of Christ. I wrote the article out of emotion, and frankly I didn’t make my argument as solid as I could have if I had stuck to the facts. I focused more on Coach Rippetoe, and for that I am truly sorry. I’m sure that he is a great person, and he didn’t deserve the personal attack. In the future I would love the opportunity to debate the squat with Coach Rippetoe at a neutral event, and I will forever refrain from personal attacks on anyone. Coaches in this industry are passionate! I am one of those coaches, and last week’s article was an example of writing with more emotion than intellect. Once again I am sorry for my personal attacks on Coach Rippetoe, and I will assure you all that I will never use such writing techniques again.

Greg Nuckols wrote a follow up article that explained both sides really well. I have included his article below:

From the outset, I want to give you guys full disclosure: Travis is my friend and the guy who got me into the sport of powerlifting, and I am a coach at Mash Elite Performance. That colors my opinions and perceptions of these issues. If, after the reception of this article’s progenitor (, you want to tune me out already, I wouldn’t entirely blame you. However, I don’t think that would be wise.
You see, I’m the guy who typically runs and grabs a bag of popcorn when I see a conflict brewing on the internet. However, this time I feel like I have to intervene as the cool voice of reason because the issue at stake is very near and dear to me: squatting. And when I see people squabbling about the squat when, in reality, they agree on 99% of the issues and they’re just talking past each other, I feel like I have to step in.

First, let’s size up the participants:

Mark Rippoetoe:
– Has coached approximately a bajillion noob lifters from baby weak to marginally strong
– Not world-class, but a decent lifter in his own right
– Authored perhaps the most thorough (readable) discussion of squatting mechanics known to man
– Focused primarily on powerlifting

Travis Mash
– Multi-time world champion powerlifter with absurdly big squats raw and in gear
– Nasty habit of churning out college athletes and solid strength athletes
– Dual foci (plural of focus, fyi) on powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting

The backgrounds, foci, and programming of these two men have a lot to do with the type of advice they give. Allow me to elaborate:

Rip’s athletes are typically rote beginners to start with, and Starting Strength can basically be boiled down to: thou shalt squat all the time. The squat CAN turn into a very knee-dominant lift, and one set of five deadlifts and a few sets of power cleans aren’t going to balance anterior and posterior development of thigh musculature (and thus anterior and posterior pull on the knee) when you’re squatting improperly. Who squats improperly? Approximately 100% of rote beginners. Who does Rip coach and write for? Yep, those same rote beginners.

How do beginners screw up the squat? Well, for the most part, they are already quite quad dominant, so their inclination is to keep a vertical torso and push their knees straight forward; this is not to be confused with a vertical torso-ed weightlifting squat with the femurs externally rotated and abducted to maintain hip torque. We’re talking about the noob, patella-shredding, bar-pad-wearing, padded-glove-sporting, on-the-toes disgusting quad-dominant squat. In this context, the “hip drive” cue, as explained in the video Travis linked, sort of makes sense. (This is NOT a discussion of the squat as explained in SS, as Rip’s various “hip drive” videos are the source of this controversy, NOT the book).

Oftentimes, when you’re dealing with new lifters who lack proprioceptive awareness, it’s helpful to give cues to OVER correct problems. When they try to put their body in the cued position, what actually happens is they meet you in the middle and the result is something not-so-awful that you can work with. This same principle works great if someone has a noticeably dominant leg and shifts a lot of their weight in the bottom of a squat. When you tell them to shift ALL their weight to the weak leg, the end result is usually a fairly balanced distribution of weight. When dealing with patella-shredding noob squatters, a cue to overcorrect that problem makes sense. When they get in the position shown in the “hip drive” videos, it teaches them to engage their posterior chain on the squat for the first time, which is a necessary awareness to develop for someone running a program like Starting Strength. Based on how Rip actually squats and how he describes the squat in his book, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s a teaching tool and not his intended end-game for squatting.

Travis, on the other hand, incorporates a lot of weightlifting into his programming. The form he teaches is based on Glenn Pendlay’s recommendations. The most important point of that form for this discussion: the positioning when the bar is at the knee is VERY posterior chain dominant – vertical tibia, butt back, body over the bar. In that position, all the tension is on the hamstrings, and the glutes are cued every rep for making bar contact.

It doesn’t take very long for Mash athletes to learn to use their posterior chains. Until they’re proficient at hip contact and their positioning for the catch, they do approximately a bajillion reps of the oly lifts from knee height, learning to engage their hamstrings and glutes through a range of motion that approximates the mid-range of a squat quite well. That proprioceptive awareness carries over into their squat positioning, so most athletes at Mash Elite can squat proficiently high bar or low bar within a couple weeks of starting at the gym.

Travis’s background as a world champion powerlifter has a lot to do with his insistence (which I think he’s right for, personally) on cuing the chest and shoulders to rise before the hips. When you’re squatting 970, an extra degree of forward torso lean is, at worst lethal, and at best means you’ll find a few vertebrae lodged in your colon. At Mash Elite, though we don’t squat like Travis in his prime, 4 and 5 wheel squats are the norms, not the exceptions. If you had to err on a squat with that much weight, which makes more sense: raising your butt too fast and the bar crushing you forward, or raising your shoulders too fast and turning the lift slightly more knee-dominant?

However, we’re talking about a completely different crop of lifters than Rip coaches and makes videos for. If you’re a 14 year old noob and you raise your butt too fast and get too far forward with 65 pounds on the bar, you get a boo boo on your noggin and your mommy kisses it to make it better. When you make the same mistake with 650…. I doubt any elite lifters watch the “hip drive” videos and think, “Oh, what do you know? I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time.”

So, there you have it. For the first time I’m making an attempt to throw water on a fire instead of gasoline. Hopefully this discussion gives you guys a better appreciation of both points of view, and decreases my odds of getting another arson conviction (kidding, the judge dismissed the case). The take home messages:
1. If you’re a noob, learn to use your hamstrings and butt when you squat. They’re strong muscles, they’ll help you move more weight, it’ll help keep your knees safe, and fewer of the babes on the treadmills will judge you.
2. If you’re a more experienced lifter, seek out sources of information aimed at people with a few years under the bar. Don’t concern yourselves about advice aimed at beginners.
3. Calm down with the hating. Or, if you choose not to, at least make it entertaining for people like me. Trolling is an art. If you do it poorly, I may have to swoop in as the killjoy voice of reason again. You’ve been warned.

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