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I've been doing barbell strength training for a few months. I've been doing some progression programs and trying to improve my form. After a few form checks with professionals, I am confident that my squat form is pretty decent (for a novice) as is my barbell row.

However, that means that my squat is lower than my row. As an example, today I rowed 77.5 kg (~170 lbs) for 3 sets of 6, and I could only manage to keep good form with 72.5 kg for 5 sets of 3 for my (back)squats, ATG.

I conclude (also confirmed from how it feels when squatting and deadlifting) that I have an imbalance and that my legs, i.e. quadriceps mostly, are weaker in relative terms than my back. However, if I look at the strength standards, it still seems strange that my squat for my weight level is at a beginner's level, and my row close to intermediate, even if I would say I'm probably best described as novice.

https://strengthlevel.com/strength-standards/squat/kg https://strengthlevel.com/strength-standards/bent-over-row/kg

My question is, can this be possible? Can I have such a big imbalance, or does it mean I'm definitely doing something wrong somewhere? If it's just an imbalance, will that correct itself if I keep just progressively overloading, or should I take action to correct that imbalance?

For context, I'm ~87kg 188cm (that's ~191 lbs, at 6'2) male, 28 yrs old.

  • What other exercises are in your routine? Are you rowing over- or underhand grip? – Suimon Aug 27 '18 at 9:24
  • Basically the componds: squat, deadlift, benchpress, overhead press and some accessory work (e.g. barbell curls, dumbell rows, weighted planks, pulldowns, etc.). I'm rowing with overhand grip: does that make such a big difference? – goens Aug 27 '18 at 9:40
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    Underhand-Grip involves a lot more Biceps. – Suimon Aug 27 '18 at 9:46
  • We all are different. I know people who bench press more then squat, after years of training - so it can be just like that. There are things to take a look, however. First - ATG - take care not to do butt wink. How you are performing in deadlift? That result is more meaningful in terms of squat. – Michał Zaborowski Aug 27 '18 at 14:29
  • @MichałZaborowski Thanks for the warning. I think I'm not butt winking, but I'll make sure to film from an angle where I can see. The deadlift performance is pretty much within expectation, I guess. Last session was 95 kg (~209 lbs) for 3 sets of 6, although my form still needs more improvement there, but it's also clear that the deadlift is limited by my quadriceps strength (I can pull quite a bit more with bad form if I compensate). – goens Aug 27 '18 at 15:24
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Yes. It's possible to have big imbalances like this. Particularly as a beginner. There are a few reasons that can cause it.

  1. You're over compensating in some way on the stronger lift. In the case of the row, you could be hitching the bar up on each rep. In essence, "cheating" by creating momentum so you can get the bar up. You may not even be aware you're doing it. If you film yourself, you can tell if your row form is good.
  2. You're more used to doing stronger lift. In this case, I'm sure you've picked things up before. You've probably even tucked it close to you so you could carry it. That rowing/pulling movement is just something you've gotten used to doing over the years. In contrast, you've probably not squatted nearly as much. Particularly weighted back squats. The two are completely different lifts so there's not much point in comparing the two.
  3. Kind of in the same vein as #2, your lifestyle favors the stronger lift. You may have a job or hobby that has some carry over for rowing. So you'll just naturally have a tendency to be a little more advanced in it.
  4. Your leverages favor your stronger lift. People come in different shapes and sizes. We all have different arm length, leg length, torso length, shoulder width, etc. The various lengths and ratios with each other can have pretty heavy impact on how well you perform certain lifts.

So, as far as fixing, I would say you shouldn't worry about it right now. Focus on bettering your form on both lifts. Follow your program. Try to not get injured. What you'll probably see over the coming months is your squat will keep progressing at a faster pace than your row. Especially if you train it consistently. Eventually it'll surpass the row.

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It is definitely possible that you have any deep imbalance in your body especially if you are a novice. Big imbalances are very common in sedentary people, but there are many things we need to consider before getting to that conclusion, it could be the tempo, TUT, pre-workout nutrition, how much do you like the movement, how confident you feel with a barbell on your back, etc, to be sure you can try to determine your 1RM, not just calculate it but try that weight and feel how comfortable it is to you.

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As all others - I agree that it is possible to have that kind imbalance.

Looking at your dead lift results... Most likely reason is that you use more quads, and they are limiting overall performance.

Wider story explains how that happen. When you do ATG, you move knees forward. This days that is not considered as a problem, but that way you keep back more vertical. So in turn quads are used more, and back - less.

Main question is what are your needs. It can be that as it is right now - it is just fine. However, I would consider different technique. Here is good film explaining other way of doing squat. Tl;dr - keep knees in place, and just sit with your butt. Good idea is to do both. Can be at same time, but if you are looking for results... change it every 2-4 weeks - depending on your training cycle. Also you can change deadlift - classical vs sumo.

And since main problem for the moment are quads. That other squat technique would not help much with ATG squads. So you need more legs training anyway - dumbbell lunges are good - you build quads, and stability. Leg press is also good, but do not take too much - you have pair of knees, and stick with that. Legs extensions are kind of exercise not good for knees - try it in case of pain. Just stop, and take more care about knees.

Adductor muscles. There are tree of them - each side. When you move knees out, while squatting - they are also highly used. Since that is not something we do day-to-day... If you feel them after training - that is also good idea to work on them.

Abs - yes, that's not a mistake. They are doing great job when high load is on your shoulders. If you see problem here, or need support - use belt.

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