Hi Coach Rody,
I would like to share some thoughts on the squat after more than 25 years of lifting and trying out a lot of exercises and set/rep/duration schemes.
1. it is indeed questionable if loading the spine with a lot of weight on your neck when doing squats that it is a safe thing to do
2. a very simple alternative would be to do 1-leg squats when you want to train the legs/hips and want to avoid excessive loads on your shoulders
I use the following arithmetic: when a person weighs 100 kg. his upper-body weight will be around 70 kg. and his legs will weigh around 15 kg. each (for the average person).
When doing a 1-leg squat bodyweight only the weight moved by the working leg will be 85 kg. per rep (70 kg upper body + 15 kg. for the non-working leg which is kept off the floor and is used as additional weight to move.)
This 1-leg squat bodyweight only is equal to a traditional squat with 100 kg. on the shoulders (100 kg weight + 70 kg bodyweight divided by two makes 85 kg. per leg).
Notice the big difference in spinal load when comparing the 1-leg and 2-leg squat versions !
Calculating in the same way will find that a 1-leg squat with 50 kg. on the shoulders is equal to a traditional squat with 200 kg. on the shoulders ! (again for a person of 100 kg bodyweight).
If you can do 15-20 reps (nice and slow: at least 4 seconds per rep) with the 1-leg squat with 50 kg on the shoulders you are plenty strong in my book without having to bear tremendous (and dangerous) weights on your shoulders.
3. Never go deeper than 90 degrees in your knee joint, going deeper will greatly increase the chances of knee pains/problems, I can speak of personal experience. This subject is also the stance of the British Army regarding their official fitness rules for their personnel
(see the book: the official British army fitness guide as written by the army).
4. Training the lower back can best be done (according to my personal experience) by using the exercise known as the back extension.
Keep up the good work regarding this sensible website, I salute you !
Thanks for writing Matty and for the the compliments. There are certainly some good points you make there and you provide some good alternatives to loading up the spine to get enough resistance for the legs.
In the past we've advocated pre-exhaustion to reduce the amount of weight that can be handled in the squat, but yours is certainly another way to skin the cat.