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The History Behind The Squat

Strength training is not a new concept. Historians have found references to feats of strength and weight lifting competitions dating as far back as the 3600 BC. Military recruits for the ancient Chinese Chou dynasty (1122 – 249 BC) were required to pass specific strength tests before they were allowed to join the military. But what about the Barbell Squat as we know it today? Before the barbell was created, Indian wrestlers for example, are known to have used what they call “Sumtolas” which was a wooden log with carved holes for handles and this was used as far back as the 11th century. While iron dumbbells could be purchased in most major cities across the world by the mid-1800’s, barbells were still extremely rare. The first mention of the use of barbells, is said to have come from a professional strongman who lived in France by the name of Hippolyte Trait. His gym contained many spherical-ended barbells, which he called “Barres A Spheres De 6 Kilos”.

By the 1900s, barbells were becoming more prevalent across Europe. However, at the same time it was nearly impossible to find this equipment in America. A man by the name of Alan Calvert set out to solve this problem. In 1902 he opened the historical Milo Bar-bell Company in Philadelphia. Named after the ancient Greek athlete Milo of Crotona, this company would introduce to the United States the first commercially manufactured barbell set. The Milo Bar-Bell Company published its first strength training and bodybuilding magazine “Strength” promoting the popularity of barbell training. In the early 1900’s, the lift we know today, as “the back squat” was actually called “the deep knee bend”. Lifters would use lightweight and squat on their toes for many repetitions as possible. At this time, no one was squatting massive weight with this method. There was no way to hoist much weight on your back because squat racks had not yet been invented.

Around the time of World War 1, many people in Europe had started performing the squat, as we know it today, as a competitive lift. Our first known reference to the use of the squat in a weight lifting competition came in 1919 in Germany when a guy called Carl Moerke defeated Hermann Goerner in one-on-one contest by squatting 240 kg (529 lbs). Remember, squat racks were still not invented by this time. So in order to place the barbell on the upper back, a guy named Steinborn would end up loading the barbell to one side. He then squatted sideways and slowly lowered the vertical bar onto his back to the tops of his shoulders. As the bar lowered to his shoulders, he would drop into the bottom of the squat. From this bottom position of the squat, he would then stand up with the loaded barbell on his back. At only 5’8” and 210 lbs, Steinborn claimed that he could lift 530 lbs within this manner!

In the later 1920’s and into the 1930’s, the use of the squat continued to grow as a staple weight training event. Around this time commercialized squat racks started to appear in training halls across the world, allowing lifters to hoist even more weight on their backs. Weightlifters and bodybuilders alike, began to take up the squat and make it an important part of their training programs. From this point on, the squat as we know it today, was here to stay!

About The Squat

The squat is considered amongst many as the ultimate lift. It is a great training tool that should play a large part in any strongman’s arsenal. Surprisingly, it is not that common in strongman competitions. The concept is simple, having a heavy weight across your back, that has to be squatted down (usually to parallel) and then back up. The event can be judged in various ways, either for maximum repetitions within a timeframe or for the heaviest weight that is squatted.

Depending on the rules of the competition, the strongmen may be able to use various different bits of kit to assist them. Some competitions allow knee wraps, that provide support and allow the strongman to lift more weight, without the risk of their knee caps flying off and hitting the crowd! While other competitions may also allow a squat suit to be used, that is a carryover from the powerlifting sport. This suit supports the strongman’s entire body and allows them to lift considerably more weight with the added protection from the suit.

Although The Squat is used highly within bodybuilding and powerlifting, within these sports it is mainly used to build muscle strength or definition. Within the strongman sport, The Squat is used in a way to test the strongman’s body along with his ability of mental strength and endurance. In other words, like most strongman events, this is used to see if it will rip the strongman in half or better yet, with the incredible amount of weight used, if it will crush them like a bug!

Training for The Squat: Training for The Squat is as it says on the tin, to be able to perform well within this event, you need to be able to squat well. So have a guess what the best training will be for this event? Squats! In most if not all of the gyms around, there will be a squat rack and barbell available to be able to practice your squat training. When it comes to The Squat, although training using squats is the perfect way to develop and build the muscles required to be able to increase the weight within this exercise. It is also advised that along with doing squats, exercises such as the deadlift, shoulder press and even bench press are recommended due to building up the different muscle groups within the body to be able to perform the squat well with a good technique and to help build the stabilizing muscles that are required to hold your stance while performing the squat.

Obviously, if you are a beginner to this exercise, loading stupidly heavy weight and trying to squat with it is a no go. It is advised that starting light with your squats is the best way in which to nail a good technique. Also as stated above, incorporating other compound exercises into your routine will help build your overall mass and help with the stance that is needed to withstand the strain that is put on the body within these heavy squat movements. Remember, start light, get an experienced gym user or trainer to check your form and technique to make sure that you are performing this exercise in the correct way and then slowly start increasing your weight as your body’s tolerance levels increase to these weight loads. Although you see these strongmen performing “Raw” squats or even sometimes with only the use or knee straps, it is advised to purchase some knee straps and a weight belt at very minimum before you start lifting heavy, this is to avoid any unnecessary injuries while performing these exercises!


The world record squat, allowing only knee-wraps, was a mighty 477.5 kg that was held by American Strongman Ray Williams. Ray then went on to squat his heaviest push in 2019 with a weight of 490kg/1080lbs! Here is the footage of Ray squating his heaviest weight yet:

The Russian strongman Vlad Alhazov, managed to squat 525 kg (1157 lbs) in 2018, gaining him a new world title. Hearing that he had a knee replacement in 2008 due to damage from squatting 400kg. It is remarkable that he can come back and smash over 500kgs 10 years later. Here is a video clip of Vlad squatting this incredible weight:

These world titles are for the heaviest squat performed throughout various events, within the WSM titles, Laurence Shahlaei is one of the front runners as he squats 320kgs for 12 reps.

Being that there is many variations for this event including; the heaviest lifts and the heaviest lifts for the most amount of reps. It is hard to say who is the real World Title Holder within this current event.

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