Olympic weightlifters barbell squat as deep as possible to increase clean and snatch recovery power. Note near vertical shins, wide stance, upright torso, this is “all leg” squatting. Exemplary technique.
In the late 1970s, I got serious about powerlifting. In 1972 I quit Olympic weightlifting when they banned the overhead press, my best lift. I fell off the scene and immersed myself in the Chinese internal martial arts. Eventually I figured out the internalist world was not my world and I bailed. I wanted to start “real” training again.
I looked around for good place to train and had the good fortune to cross paths with some hardcore martial artists, real fighters, the Hill brothers, Phil and Ron and Tommy Fox. We trained at the funky Silver Spring YMCA. I got these hardcore hitters’ attention by how quickly I shaped up.
I had a lot of muscle memory and I got serious from the git go: it took me about six weeks to morph from skinny-fat internal martial artist into a muscled-up freak rep squatting 450 on an Olympic weightlifting bar. We had some great training sessions and I fell in with them socially. These boys partied hard, long and often, which suited my rock and roll lifestyle just fine.
A life changing event occurred when I happened to see a blurb in the “coming events” section of the Weekender edition of the Washington Post. It read, “World champion Hugh Cassidy will teach a free strength lecture at Greenbelt recreation center, Saturday at 10 pm.” I happened to see this and I happened to be in good enough shape to not embarrass myself, so I went. I loved and understood Hugh’s professorial, often obtuse strength reasonings.
I was flattered when afterwards he greeted me warmly (for Hugh) and told me how he ‘dug my squat style,’ which he remembered from my teenage lifting days. Graciously, he invited me to come train with him and his crew in rural Bowie, Maryland. It was a 50-minute commute that I happily made twice a week. Going to Cassidy’s lair was like joining a strength guild or taking on an apprenticeship. He introduced me to a completely unique approach to strength training: short, simple, brutal. Within six months I was competing in powerlifting competitions.
I did okay as a 198-pound lifter, but at 5-10, I was really too tall and thin to compete against the short, compact, thick, mini-monsters that inhabited the class. A really good middle-heavyweight stood 5-6 or less. My leverages improved when I pushed up to the 220-pound class. Our area, Washington/Baltimore, was a hotbed for powerlifting. There were meets being run all the time. Hugh thought competing (often) was a good thing. Competition revealed who rose to the challenge and who wilted under the pressure. He viewed competition as the “report card” on our training efforts.
One local guy that impressed the hell out of me was a unique Olympic weightlifting champ named Ed Schock. Ed stood 5-9 and he too was a too-tall 198-er. Ed had a not-so-secret weapon: outsized legs; he was leg heavy with long, powerful quads. I would guess his thighs were 29-inches with 18-inch calves and big glutes. He had a nice upper body, a short torso with long arms. His torso was tight, taunt and muscled - but it looked like it belonged on a different lower body. He had blond hair, longish, Beatlesque with a Germanic face. He was a smart young man with a career: a government lawyer, sharp, cool, reserved and quiet.
Ed would enter powerlifting competitions without training for them. He would do his Olympic weightlifting at elite level, perform lots and lots of cleans and snatches, lots of heavy jerks and lots of Olympic weightlifting style squatting. How do Olympic weightlifters squat? or front squat? All the way down, as deep as humanly possible.
The elite Olympic weightlifter has to be able to recover with a massive poundage after catching a clean or a snatch in the bottommost position. Imagine Ed Schock catching a 400-pound clean rock-bottom – now he must come erect from a dead-stop with a 400-pound front squat from the lowest possible point with the worst possible leverage. High squatting, parallel squatting, does not help an Olympic lifter who needs “bottom-up” strength.
Ed would enter power competitions, cut his squat depth to a few inches below parallel (a partial squat for him) and regularly and routinely squat 600, raw, as raw as possible. Ed wore no squat suit or knee wraps; he wore a flimsy Olympic weightlifting belt. Meanwhile his local competition would be wearing squat suits, knee wraps, gigantic lifting belts and having their faces slapped as they bellowed onstage to set a new personal best with a 485 lb. squat.
Ed wore the identical lifting outfit he wore when Olympic weightlifting: white York weightlifting shoes, a worn cotton singlet, a white York T-shirt and a pathetic little weightlifting belt that did nothing other than keep his low back warm. He would read books between attempts. I once caught him yawning right before walking onstage to crush a 600-pound squat. I never saw him miss a lift or get a red light. Despite having (relatively) smallish arms, he still bench-pressed 300-pound, not bad for someone that purposefully did no bench presses: thick pecs and cannonball delts make snatching next to impossible.
Often, because he was competing against men that wore bench shirts that added 40% to their un-shirted capacity, he would have 198-pound competitors post 400 to 450-pound bench presses. He was often behind going into the deadlift. No matter. Ed routinely deadlifted 700 in a lift he rarely practiced. His 700-pound deadlift was attributable to his powerhouse legs and 400-pound clean. A good deadlift for a local or regional level 198-pound lifter is 550. A great deadlift is 600, triple bodyweight. A 700-pull is like having an atomic bomb in your gym bag. Ed routinely outpulled the locals by 100-150 pounds. And all done in the most lowkey offhand fashion.
He convinced me, without saying a word, as to the value of ultra-deep squat mastery. First off, ass-on-heels style squatting gave him gigantic legs; secondly, when he competed, he got to reduce his range-of-motion. Powerlifting squats are shallower, and therefore easier, than his training squats, where he bottomed out in order to increase clean and snatch recovery power. His 600-pound raw squat helped his awesome deadlift.
Ed was a conventional style deadlifter that broke the bar from the floor with his powerhouse legs. When the bar hit his knees, his 400-pound erector muscles kicked in: he fired the hip-hinge, kept in reserve to this point. He never failed to lockout a titanic poundage. Naturally Ed used a double overhand hook-grip. He didn’t just squat and dead 600 and 700 once, he did it over and over for years.
Ed’s casual strength made a big impression on me. He gave me the lightbulb moment: everyone in power-dom was building their squats from the top down, Schock and the Olympic weightlifters were building their squats from the bottom up. When you squat like Schock, lifting in competitions is easy by comparison. While the rest of the powerlifting world struggles to get their squats down to legal depth and have a difficult time matching their training squats; those that squat Olympic lifter style and use full range-of-motion in training invariably see their squats skyrocket in competition.
One quick tale: Phil Scarito had zero weightlifting, powerlifting or bodybuilding experience. Though he was a great athlete, he had never lifted weights. After nine months of once-a-week training, he entered his first power competition. Weighing 145 he squatted 350 raw, no wraps or belt. He bench-pressed 225 and deadlifted 400. I would call him “Up!” in the squats. I would kneel next to a side judge and when he dipped below parallel, I would yell. He commented, “It felt like cheating to only squat down that far.” His best ass on heels training squat was 275 for 3. Meanwhile his competitors were missing squats right and left due to insufficient depth.
The lessons Ed Schock taught me? If you squat at all, get on the super-deep bandwagon. That’s where the muscle and power reside.
*Pictured squatting is Hugh Cassidy. We could not find an image of Ed Schock.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others.