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For those who aren’t in the know, this squat variation, which is named after old-timey strongman Milo Steinborn, has the lifter start with a loaded barbell set vertically. The lifter bends toward the bar, positions it across their traps and upper back, then brings it toward them so that they’re sitting in the bottom of the squat position. Then, they squat up.
It’s a cool-looking exercise, don’t get me wrong, and as a guy who trains as a strongman, I appreciate the ingenuity behind these crazy feats of strength. That said, I cannot for the life of me imagine a scenario where anyone who is not Martins Licis should hoist a barbell like this, and I’m not alone.
“This is a terrible exercise for most people,” says Dr. Pat Davidson, an exercise physiologist and the director of methodology at Hype Gym Union Square in NYC. “Most people can’t squat properly to begin with, and now there are going to be barbells flying around gyms, weights flying off bars with shitty clips on them, and more people than usual hurting themselves. Let’s just regular squat properly first.”
Without proper training, attempting a lift like the Steinborn squat is definitely a no-go. But the rebuttal is that the movement is functional. After all, your body is an adaptive organism with the potential to move in a lot of ways, according to this writing from powerlifter David Dellanave, owner of The Movement gym in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His rationale is that while it’s not a good idea to go from out of shape to Steinborn squatting 225, introducing the exercise to your body with a basic progression within your personal limits can help you work on a movement pattern that’s useful in everyday life.
“No one looks at a Cirque du Soleil performer and assumes that they’re going to be in a wheelchair in the next moment because they’re moving, bending, flexing, twisting, and extending their spine,” Dellanave goes on to explain. “As soon as weights get involved, the whole mindset changes.”
Even Davidson admits that there would be some benefits to your core strength from stabilizing the bar as you bring it from the vertical position to a horizontal position, but, “the thing is that there are other ways to stabilize your core that are less cumbersome and dangerous,” Davidson says. “This guy is probably fine. Everyone else is probably fucked.”
So, there you have it. Could there be some benefits to lifting a heavy barbell off of the floor, onto your back, and then squatting with it? Yes. But is this the smartest way to build leg and core strength as opposed to, say, planks or back squats? That’s a hard no. So sit back and enjoy the show, but let the strongest men on the planet handle the crazy shit.