John Talking About Squats
by David Gentle
"John Carroll Grimek always enjoyed exercise. All exercise. He loved variety, always explaining he trained in “1001 ways” and recommended frequent changes in schedules, sets and reps and indeed exercise, just so long as one stuck to basics. Most of all John loved squats, an exercise many most certainly dislike, and many actually hate, or at least try to avoid, seeking easier variations of legwork. Machine leg presses, or thigh extensions, or leaving them to last, then finding out you have no time or energy left to do them. This workout (and the next) not so John. Even when he did not feel like training he would squat. He squatted all his life, right from the early days of the old Milo Barbell Company, and Mark Berry and Physical Training Illustrated books in which Grimek was featured in fine exercise pictures. Through the years of Hoffman’s Strength and Health, his own Muscular Development magazine into “retirement,” still squatting heavy even in his late 70s (years of age).
Now 88 (at the time of writing May 1997) John is still lively as a cricket, vitality marred only by a recent hip socket injury (and a painful one at that) which has put an end to his dancing.
I try to keep in touch, having known him for a long time now, and once worked for him when he ran Muscular Development magazine in the U.S.A. I spoke to him in March '97, a conversation which he followed up with an amazing letter, setting out just a fraction of his squatting program. John Grimek performed many other heavy lifts for legs and back, including harness lifts (as practiced by many strongmen, including Warren Lincoln Travis). It’s another story, but John told me of lifting 3000 lbs in the harness lift until the strap broke, so he gave up and sought other challenges. But to return to squats, here is part of his letter, only slightly reedited, possible causes of his ‘wearing out of his hip.’ If it wasn’t dancing and someone pointed out, wife Angela seemed OK, so what other cause was it? “Well,” says John. "I’ve done many possible stupid and strange things. One of which was squatting very heavy when I was between 74 and 75 (years of age) but I NEVER strained or fought going down, deep and struggling to raise up, never. In later years, say after the 30s (his age) when I squatted, I always did HIGH reps, and the last time was in my late 70s, I did squats, just simply because I wanted to do some training, but not the usual workout. One professional football player (Philadelphia Eagles) was visiting the gym and no one else wanted to train. He came up to see the guys train, but that I was the only one, none of the others wanted to do anything, but I needed a light workout, so I squatted.
"I began with 225 lb. and did about 28 consecutive reps. Then I added 90 lb more and did another 18 to 20 reps and continued in that fashion, adding weight, while cutting the reps and always working up to where I would do only one to three reps with 645 lb usually, but occasionally working up to 695 lb [when he was over 70 years of age, remember] and by then I already completed 75 to 80 reps. But as mentioned, I never struggled, for some reason I felt that was straining, avoiding that because I felt it did nothing for except cause pain. The visitor looked at me when I was finished doing 20 reps with the second set of 315 lb and asked, ‘I thought you weren’t in the mood to train hard?’ I said I wasn’t, but what the heck, squats are easy. He looked at me and said, ‘I squat too, but on my best days I could never do that.’
For some reason that remark left an impression on me and I can’t remember if I continued in that fashion. I believe that may have been the very time I beat up my hip socket, even though I never ever had given my legs or knees a thought. I often squatted on a low bench, doing one-legged squats, using 180 to 200 lb. But that was always my left leg, which I always felt stronger for such balancing stunts. And yet my left side is OK. Stunts like doing full squats in a jumping fashion always surprised people, when they saw me jumping with over 200 lb for 5 to 8 reps. Yeah, I admit, that wasn’t the best thing for hips and knees, but it gave me greater jumping power such as standing broad jumps. In fact, I broad jumped during my resting period, when I posed for art students and challenging anyone to out jump me, but one day I ruptured the pads in my foot (heels). That gave me some pain for a while, but I continued to squat."
Somehow I feel a little guilty for making excuses for not training after reading that."