Friday, April 3, 2009

Classic Physique Building and Squats!

(Above Photo: Steve Reeves - Mr. America 1947, Mr. World 1948, Mr. Universe 1950)

Our last post on Vince Gironda brought something to mind that you might have heard about him. That is, Vince was very much opposed to doing heavy, regular (butt out), back squats for classic physique building. It is said that he did not even have squat racks in his famous gym (Vince's Gym)!

Why was Vince so opposed to regular back squats? First, let's remember that in building a classic physique, the idea is to keep the waist and hips as small and narrow as possible. Large hips (and waist) destroy the classic V-taper that classic physique builders are interested in developing. So you can see that you don't want the mass of the glutes (gluteus maximus) to increase.

So what do the glutes do? And what do they have to do with squats? When you do a regular back squat, you go from a standing position to a "seated" position as you bend the knees and lower the body. This movement at the hip joint is called "flexion." So you flex at the hip on the way down. OK...that's no problem, gravity is doing most of the work on the way down. But to go back to a standing position, you have to "extend" at the hip on the way up. What muscles are the main extensors of the hip? The glutes! So heavy, regular back squats can greatly increase the mass the glutes. Vince called this "spreading the hips." Large glutes and hips are exactly what you DONT want to build in a classic physique! This is why Vince opposed heavy, regular back squatting so strongly.

However, that being said, we have to mention that we think that the degree to which regular squats will increase hip size (to the point of ruining a classic physique) probably has a large genetic component. There have been champion classic physique builders, like Steve Reeves (see photo above), who did regular back squats. But because, genetically, they were endowed with structurally narrow hips, the regular back squat was not a problem for them. On the other hand, a classic physique builder with structurally wide hips (genetically) might do well to heed Vince's advice and avoid heavy, regular back squats. Otherwise, the increased mass from doing squats, on top of already structurally wide hips, may ruin the symmetry of the classic physique you are trying to build.

But Vince wasn't against all squatting. He did favor other kinds of squats like hack squats, sissy squats, front squats, thigh squats, and squatting on a press (or Smith) machine with feet forward and back straight.

So this is something to definitely think about if you are striving to build a classic physique. If you have naturally broad hips (in terms of your bony structure), then it may be best to avoid heavy, butt-out, regular back squats. Instead, do other kinds of squatting (as mentioned above). On the other hand, if you have structurally narrow hips, then heavy, regular back squats are probably OK for you. In all cases, strive to keep the hips (glutes) toned, but not massive (unless you are really thin and need to build them up).



Ibrahim said...

Again great point here.
I´m a little bit skinny at the moment. But i love (back)squats.
But also i like the importance of a symmetric body.

What do you think about one leg squats? Charles A. Smith did them, John Grimek them, Sig Klein, Milo Steinborn and a few others.

brendon patrick said...

A very balanced post. Most of us don't want the "turnip" shaped thighs and too large seat area. No size just for the sake of size, but keeping everything balanced and symetrical.
For me the "sissy" squats and hack squats i'm doing at present, seem to keep the glutes well toned and firm, while giving the quadriceps a longer- flowing look.
Keep up the good work CPB,

Jonny said...

Great post he all so didn't like ab work he said it only makes the waist bigger. its such a shame that Gironda never gets the credit he deserves all that he did for bodybuilding

- CPB - said...

Hi Everyone,

Thanks for the great comments! We hope all our CPB Blog readers feel free to comment on our posts.

Regarding one-legged squats, we think they can be useful, but we would apply the same criteria as with regular back squats. If you already have a wide hip structure, then we would try to stay away from leg exercises that involve extending at the hip (because this activates the glutes). Also, for older (30+) classic physique builders, 1-legged squats can be very hard on the joints, so we would not recommend them for older trainers.

Brendon makes a very good point in his comment that we hope to emphasize more. That is, the leg-shape of classic physique builders is very, very different than for mainstream bodybuilders (whether drug-based or natural). These days, the mainstreamers directly exercise the thigh adductors (there are now machines in most gyms for this). Over-developed thigh adductors results in a "carrot" or "turnip-shaped" thigh which does not look good. Take a good look at the CPB Champs photos and you will see a "straight-looking" thigh. In fact, Vince thought that the upper thigh measurement and middle thigh measurement should be the same! Only Monty Wolford was actually known to have achieved that ideal. But that was the ideal. Sissy squats are a great exercise for producing the "straight" thigh look of the classic physique.

Jonny also brings up a great point. For anyone who wants to gain mass, Vince recommended that no ab work be done - because he thought that ab work can shock the nervous system and prevent gains. However, he did advocate ab work at other times and was one of the first to point out that regular sit ups (involving flexing at the thigh) developed the psoas muscle (a muscle inside the abdominal cavity that you can't see) instead of the rectus abdominus muscle (the 6 pack you can see). So he advocated various forms of crunches. We agree that Vince was, in many respects, ahead of his time and didn't get all the credit he deserved!

Thanks again for the great comments! We hope your comments will inspire others to participate - which we think enriches CPB Blog for all!

All the best,


TJ said...

the iron guru what a legend. its so hard to find real gironda methods today so many other people have stolen his methods but than turn around and insult him. gironda didnt like beach pass to he called it a front deltoid exercise

- CPB - said...

Hi TJ,

Yes...we agree! You make a good point about the bench press. Vince was really particular about exercise form and doing exercises in a way that really benefits the muscle you think you are exercising.

Vince observed that the way most people do the bench press, it really affects the front deltoids more than the pecs. So, instead, he advocated a version of the bench press called the "neck press". It is just like the bench press, but instead of lowering the bar to mid or lower pec level, you lower the bar to the base of the neck. This path of descent activates the pecs much more and results in a higher, more pleasing pec development. You can't use as much weight in this version, but that's OK.

Vince had a lot of these little tips about training that are invaluable!

All the best (and thanks TJ!)


Ibrahim said...

Did the CPB´s stretch their muscles after workout or when their muscles were sore?

And did they certain exercises for flexibility?

- CPB - said...

Hi Ibrahim,

This is a good question and we are not sure a general answer can be given because different individuals had different practices (regarding stretching after a workout or when their muscles were sore).

However, according to our research (with the proviso that we will look into this further), we found that Weider, Rader, York, and Reeves all recommend gentle massage (even after an exercise during a workout) and warm showers (after a workout) for preventing or reducing muscle soreness.

Reeves felt that doing his regular exercises throughout a full range of motion was all he needed for flexibility. He did practice other stretching exercises and these are outlined in his book "Building the Classic Physique the Natural Way."

We are sure that Grimek must have done exercises for flexibility but we will have to look into this further.

If any CPB reader has additional info on this, please feel free to comment and add your contribution!

All the best,


Jim said...

As people get older, they tend to lose shape and muscle in the glutes and develop a flat behind. Deep full squats or deep full range leg presses seem to help keep some muscle mass in the glute area I am 48 and find that if I do too much walking it tends to flatten out my glutes, so I do either squats or leg presses to help keep them strong.Who wants a flat behind?

- CPB - said...

Hi Everyone,

Jim makes a good point! And Vince Gironda would agree - squats and leg presses are great glut builders! So if you need some shape in this area, then they are great.

For those people, however, that have a wide hip structure, you have to be careful with squats because they can and will increase hip size (which will work against the classic V-taper). In that case, sissy squats, hack squats, front squats, thigh squats, and leg extensions are some alternatives.

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

Johnny G said...

I know this guy who had just a big fat ass to be overly blunt and he started doing squats and right after the squats he ran, his butt really got small and tight for him - I will tell ya the truth is that I thought this guy would never lose his big butt, but he did - Arnold Schwarzenegger squated as did Sergio Oliva, as did Frank Zane and others and they never got huge hips, so I know for sure that Vince is dead wrong on this issue - besides traps and glutes are part of the human anatomy and who wants a soft rear end - I never and I mean never saw anyone overly develope their glutes from squating - some people have big butts so be it - it might be that Vince just sucked at squats so he put them down as he did the bench press - Vince knew a lot of things but he didn't know all and again he is dead wrong about squats

- CPB - said...

Hi Johnny (and Everyone)!

Actually, I think Vince might have over-emphasized the avoidance of regular, back squats (probably to get attention with such a contrary view).

There were pre-roid Golden Age champs that did lots of regular back squats and those that did not (instead using alternate forms of squats - e.g., hack squats, front squats, sissy squats).

From our perspective today (after seeing the roid-mass monsters that dominate mainstream bodybuilding), we would think that the physiques of any of the pre-roid Golden Age champs were "classic" and "just fine." And that is certainly true in comparison with all the roid-physiques we have seen over the years.

However, Vince was much more discriminating in his critique of the pre-roid Golden Age champs physiques and leg shape. This played into his view on regular back squats. He not only said that they build the gluts (which is absolutely true), but that they also resulted in a "carrot-shaped" thigh. Now, today, we would look at the classic physique champs and not even see this, unless it is pointed out. But Vince's ideal was the Monty Wolford leg shape in which the mid thigh had the same measurement as the upper thigh. Reeves, Wolford, Vince, and a few others achieved this look, but not everyone in the pre-roid Golden Age.

He didn't believe (based on his many years of experience as a trainer) that his (Monty Wolford) ideal of leg shape could be achieved by regular back squats - and I think he is right about that.

Now, the degree to which regular back squats will result in growth of the gluts depends on a number of factors:

1. if you are using heavy weights and the progressive resistance principle (and are eating to gain mass), then you will build size in the gluts.

2. if your gluts are genetically predisposed to gain easily, then squats will cause your gluts to gain size.

3. if, in addition to the above two factors, you have a naturally wide pelvis (hip structure), then gaining glut size will work against the V-taper classic physique ideal.

In my case, all I have to do is be on a mass gaining diet and do regular back squats and/or regular deadlifts and I can gain an immediate 2 inches on my hips without trying much. I have a wider hip structure naturally than I would like, so I have to be careful. So I concentrate on sissy squats, hack squats, etc, which minimize the gluts. Yet others with a narrow hip structure, who are not genetically pre-disposed to gain glut size, and who use lower weights and higher reps, can do regular back squats with no problem and never have to worry about big hips. However, even though they may have small hips, they may still have "carrot-shaped" legs because of the regular back squatting.

I will publish a photo I have of Vince posing with two other champs, either here on in CPBzine, to show everyone what I mean about leg shape and the Monty Wolford ideal that Vince had. It is a fine point - but I think it will help clarify Vince's view and what he was trying to acheive and advocate.

In any case, I hope this info is more "food for thought."

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

P.S. I hope everyone feels that they can chime in with their views! It is helpful to hear about other's experiences, etc.

Matt G. said...


First, just want to say great site you have and I don't think I will ever look at bodybuilding the same way ever again. The information you offer here is priceless.

I have been training since I was 18 (26 now), and was fortunate enough to come across Vince's books early on. I purchased every book he made before I was 21.

I got to a point in my training where I could back squat 365 for 20 reps, and 405 for 10-15. My deadlift was even higher. Combine that with naturally wider hips, and you have a guy walking around with some big old glutes and hips. I remember after reading Vince's material and cutting out squatting, I felt like messing around with the back squat one day for just a few sets, and my glute measurement increased by 1/2" in ONE NIGHT.

Vince was spot on about the glutes and squatting, but I also think it will depend on the width of the hip structure, as you mentioned.

By the way, my height of 6'1", and wrist/ankle size close to Steve Reeves, I am doing my best to close in on his measurements. Thanks to your material I am coming closer by the month.

Thanks again!

- CPB (Blog and Zine) - said...

Hi Matt,

I'm glad you are finding CPB Blog helpful!

Yes...I also believe that Vince was right about squats. For people with a natural, wide hip structure, they should follow Vince's advice - no question.

For people with narrower hip structures - they can get away with doing squats without their hips getting out of proportion.

However, this is a subtle point - Vince's objection wasn't merely because squats make the gluts bigger, but also because he thought they made the upper thigh larger - which produces a carrot-shaped thigh (even though someone might still have small hips). So there was a shape issue as well.

I believe Vince was on to something because regular back squats (which he was against) do bring the adductors into play. It is overdevelopment of the adductors which produce a larger upper thigh resulting in that "carrot shape." But, again, this is a subtle point and would probably require some instruction in order for most people to pick up the shape difference.

In any case, keep up the good work!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)