Can Hardgainers Squat Successfully?

Here’s an argument I’ve seen and heard for a while regarding tall or lanky lifters and their ability to squat:

Can they do it??

And depending on who you talk to or which article you read the answers will vary. Some will suggest that it can be done. On the flipside, of course, there are some popular trainers saying that it can’t or at least shouldn’t be prescribed to clients at all unless they’re aiming to be a powerlifter. Some will argue that, unless the lift in question is the Deadlift, multijoint, barbell exercises probably shouldn’t be performed at all. I say that unless these people are trainers experienced with lifters of all builds, or are lanky or tall themselves, they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

Read that last line again so it sinks in.

Yes, we tall and lanky lifters have the odds stacked against us. Our longer arms and legs increase our range of motion, forcing our bodies to work harder as we try to push ourselves out of the hole in the Squat, as we try to push the bar away from us in the Bench Press. This in term makes it harder for us to put on any kind of size. This is what makes us “Hardgainers”.

So does this mean that squatting is impossible for guys like us. Unless you’re suffering an ankle or knee injury, the short answer is: Hell no! As Rocco Lampone told Michael Corleone in the Godfather: Part 2 when asked to try and kill Hyman Roth, knowing deep down he’d never make it out alive, it’s “difficult, not impossible”. All we need to do is make a few modifications to make squatting easier on us, and here are a few suggestions on how to accomplish this:

Use A Wider Stance

I want to make this clear before I go any further: this article as whole doesn’t just pertain to powerlifters. Regardless of your own goals, you should always perform any exercise in a manner that’s practical and safe for you. Also, when I say you should try squatting in a wider stance don’t just assume you’re being expected to squat like a geared lifter straight out of Westside Barbell. In fact, there’s a simple way to determine your individual squat stance.

While standing with your feet shoulder width, your toes out about 30 degrees and your palms together with your elbows out, squat down. Once you’ve squatted as far down as you can go, use your elbows to shove your knees out as much as possible without tearing your hip flexors. Once your shins have reached a vertical position and aren’t bowing, you’ve found your proper stance. I’d recommend practicing it a few times before your squat sessions for mental reinforcement.

If you’ve done this and determined that a wider stance is best suited for your build, here are a few things to remember:

  • A wider stance will help prevent you from squatting too low. You can hit parallel or even slightly below, but you’ll feel more of a stretch at that point. With the reduction in range of motion, you not only will reduce the chances of having butt wink, which would only stress your lower back, it will also assist you with a proper ascension with using relatively heavy weights.
  • Your posterior chain will do most of the work. As I’ve said in the past, most “hardgainers” will rely on their hamstrings and glutes naturally, and thanks to their longer femurs. This is not a bad thing. Yes, your quads will get work when you squat with a wider stance, of course. You will grow muscle there. But in our case, the stronger our posterior chains are, the more that carries over into other lifts.

Squat In The Low Bar Position

Being that I’ve squatted exclusively in this position for more than five years, I’m just a little biased towards this style. Their are a few reasons why I essentially have a man crush on the Low Bar Squat, all of which I’ll explain in a future article. What’s important here is what it will do for you as a long legged lifter. The downside to squatting in a Low Bar positioning for those of you that are new to this is that, thanks to the bars placement on your scapula instead of your trapezius, you will find yourself leaning more than you’re accustomed to with a traditional High Bar Squat. The upside is that the change in bar positioning will allow your hips a wider range of motion (the one time range of motion is advantageous) to help you sit back in the bottom portion of the move. This alone will, much like with using a wider stance to squat, activate your posterior chain.

Improve Your Mobility

Are you leaning over when you squat, even after you adjust your positioning? Are you feeling tightness or even pain in your Psoas Major (Hip Flexors)? Is that tightness hindering your ability to squat to at least parallel? To bring your legs to an appropriate stance relatively pain free?

Your mobility is probably lacking. Not to worry, it’s pretty common, especially if you’ve been working from home since March. All you need to do is work on your ankle mobility and especially your hip mobility. There are many ways to do this and the equipment requirement would be absolutely minimal.

If the problem is with your ankles there are many explosive movements your can do to strengthen your ankles including even calf exercises. For hip mobility, one of my favorite drills is the Defranco Agile 8, an eight exercise drill generally used as a dynamic, pre-exercise warmup to loosen up your entire Lumbo Pelvic Hip Complex. It includes a lacrosse ball exercise, two foam roll exercises for the IT Bands and the Adductor muscles, several dynamic stretches and one static stretch. One stretch I’ve begun to use nearly every day is the Frog Stretch, a yoga stretch I’ll write about more in a future article. But what I will say is that, since I’ve incorporated it into my routine, my hips are largely pain free, which of course carries over into a pain free wide stance squat.

Conclusion

Biomechanics. They’ll never be on our side as “hardgainers”. But with a few modifications and some adjustments to our flexibility, there’s no valid reason to just skip out on the strength building, muscle building, calorie burning King of all exercises. So can you as a “hardgainer” Squat and do so successfully? Absolutely, so long as you learn how to work around your frame. Should you Squat as a “hardgainer”? Hell yeah!

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