Why Squats Are A Desert Island Exercise: A Little Story.
There’s a powerful aphorism, I think attributed to Musashi, the great Japanese swordsman and mystic, for us gaijins it translates as something like:
Through one thing, know 10,000 things.
I remember leaving high school and starting out my bodybuilding career at the Santa Monica YMCA in the mid-1970s when it was all about “isolation” exercises. That was the catch-phrase and the way everybody at the “Y” trained back then. Also, at the time the famous (and equally infamously wrong) Food Pyramid was the accepted norm. But, most people go with what most people know, and unfortunately, I was no exception.
Not long after Gold’s relocated from its iconic Venice location on Lincoln Blvd. to 2nd Street in Santa Monica, I also made my move. Everyone left back at the old “Y” thought I was a very brave fellow, indeed. This Gold’s place seemed to make average people a little jittery. No one could work up enough nerve to go along with me into the scary Muscle-Never-Never-Land because, presumably, nobody normal ever returned from this strange place. It was only a few blocks away, but it might as well have been Alpha Centauri.
Anyway, for me it was necessary to move on, avoid becoming stagnant and remaining a puny little weakling. If I wanted to be a big dog, I guessed, then I’d just have to go where the big dogs played.
At the time, all the machines at Gold’s had been made by the original owner, Joe Gold. Compared to the enormous megalopolis that it is now, the gym was tiny. I think at the time, only 1400 or 1500 square feet. The equipment weren’t pretty but man, it were sturdy and built to last.
There were benches, there were weights and lots of them, there were cable flies, there was a vertical leg press, there was some shit-I-didn’t-even–know-what-it-was and there were squat racks. Two of them.I remember running into a couple of bodybuilders, guys sort of famous at the time, Bill Grant and Ken Waller, who took me under their wings and gave me some advice. Their advice was old school, because way back then, in the Golden Age of the Dinosaurs, Old Skool was all there was.
The advice offered was minimal and crystal clear and went something like this:
- Bench Press
- Squats, squats…and more squats.
The simplicity was Zen-like, it appealed to me.
Because at the time I recognized this advice for what it was, the intrinsic value that it held for me and the invitation that it represented. And what it represented was boundaries and it was discipline. It was the straight & it was the narrow. It allowed me the freedom from choice, presenting me with just one.
It was, you see, some beautiful advice.
The service it performed was to narrow my choice of options. It allowed me to stop dissipating my time and energy on frivolous isolation exercises that were of little use to me then, that I was not yet ready to benefit from. It made me see things a little more clearly, as they were.
Sometimes less is more. Much, much more.
Sometimes the only way to finish a painting and get it done is to put a frame on it and call it done.
Today, it’s a fine day on the cerulean sea beneath an azure sky and you are embarked on your dream cruise to a faraway desert island. The ship hits a rock. You are going down and you’re going down fast. On the mad dash to the lifeboats, you only have time to grab one exercise.
Quick! which one do you take?
It is your ultimate Desert Island Exercise.