I am a total beginner to weightlifting, and I am trying to do the stronglifts 5x5 program. I am extremely overweight, and the biggest challenge for me is that I don't seem to be capable of doing a squat with correct form even with just my body weight. Balance isn't the issue, I am just not physically capable of going down low enough.

I can't add weight every day if I cant even do the exercise. All of the other lifts are easy for me at this point, and I really want to stick with this program, but I don't want to do squats unless I am doing them right. Any advice on how to advance to the point where I can do a proper form squat with an empty bar?

I am 6' at 295

  • 1
    keep it simple man! start with putting 5 pound plates on your heels and squat as deep as possible. Once the ankle and hip flexibility increases throw those plates away and add weights to the bar. Try doing some pauses at the bottom to really force you to open up the hips. Stay disciplined and in 3 months you'll squat Ass To Grass! Commented Jul 31, 2012 at 6:30

3 Answers 3


Here's Mark Rippetoe emphasizing the importance of shoving your knees outward and emphasizing that everyone except a 78 year old arthritic woman has been able to achieve the correct squat depth (you can do it!): http://vimeo.com/21378731

He says:

You get down to the bottom, get your knees out of the way, make room between your thighs for your gut, and not only can you get below parallel, you can do it with an extended spine.

Try varying your stance: wider stance, knees pointed further out. That should help you get lower into the squat.

  • I will try this next time
    – user3939
    Commented Jul 31, 2012 at 1:35
  • Just as an update, I tried this today and was able to successfuly get down to parallel for at least some of my squats. I feel I need to keep working on form though.
    – user3939
    Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 15:33
  • 2
    Awesome! You'll always be working on form :) You'll get it right, move up in weight, and something else will be out of whack. You'll fix that, move up in weight, and you'll find something else.
    – user3085
    Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 16:11

The Rule of Thumb:

If you cannot do the exercise with good form using only your body weight, then you shouldn't be doing the exercise at all, regardless of load.

Stronglifts 5x5 is a good program, but that doesn't mean it is good for you. While a starting squat of 45 might be reasonable to the average person, remember that as someone who is "extremely overweight" you are in essence squatting an extra 100-200 in body weight alone. This would be the equivalent of an average weight person starting with 145-245 in weights instead of the bare barbell at 45.

A parallel squat is a natural movement of the human body, so if you are having difficulty performing a squat then that is your body sending you a warning message that something is seriously wrong. In essence, your leg muscles are not strong enough to support your body weight in a squat, and continuing to do so will ultimately result in serious injury. If you wish to do squats, then you must either use supplementary exercises to build the leg muscles until they can support your weight (hard), or lose enough weight so your muscles have less of a load to support (easy). Those are your only two options.

Setting Goals

I recommend re-evaluating your goals that led you to choose Stronglifts as a program. Is your goal to only gain strength? If so, modify the program to only use exercises that you can do with good form. For instance, maybe the leg press would work for you, as it mostly removes your body weight from the equation. Going this route will help build your muscles up to the point where eventually they will be able to adequately support your body weight, at which point you can attempt doing squats again. But as I said before, this route is substantially harder compared to losing weight.

If your goal is instead losing weight, being healthier, or rehabilitating your knee, then I would recommend not pursuing Stronglifts and shifting your focus to another program. While SL claims to be great for all three of these goals, that is only in the context of the average person. In your specific case, you would be far better served through a program that revolves around dieting and cardio alone. Strength training runs directly contrary to losing weight, and your body weight is currently the biggest factor contributing to your health and your weight/muscle ratio.

  • 3
    I think it's a bit extreme to say "if you are having difficulty performing a squat then that is your body sending you a warning message that something is seriously wrong." It could also be that the body is sending a warning message that something is slightly wrong, like stance width, or knee position.
    – user3085
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 20:06
  • Also, the asker said they have trouble getting "low enough" in the squat, so how do you conclude that their "leg muscles are not strong enough to support your body weight in a squat"?
    – user3085
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 20:08
  • @Sancho My answer was given under the pretense that user3939 knows full well what the correct form is, and it is his body weight which is preventing him from realizing correct form. Based off of the question's phrasing and the context, I do not feel like this is a lofty conclusion. Perhaps I am assuming too much, and perhaps the answer is as simple as adjusting form; those are certainly possibilities. However, if my assumptions were correct, then I fully stand behind my conclusions.
    – Moses
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 23:50
  • @Sancho As to your second comment, that is a fair point as it could be a simple matter of flexibility, a completely separate issue, or a mix of all three! However, I don't think that detracts from my point in the slightest, as I believe my conclusions stand true regardless. In his current state he cannot do proper squats, and I believe the easiest and most beneficial route for him to begin squatting would be through diet and cardio, not through strength training and stretching.
    – Moses
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 23:53
  • @Moses My main goal is to maintain muscle mass and build strength while losing weight. I started at about 345 and have already lost 50 lbs, but I don't want to turn into a flabby piece of skin when I lose all the weight.
    – user3939
    Commented Jul 31, 2012 at 1:35

You need to be at a certain athletic level in order to start a resistance program. Make sure you check with a Dr. prior to any exercise if you're in a high risk category (diabetes, etc.).

my recommendation is to focus on your nutrition first, this will give you the ability and set the foundation for any exercise program you're interested in.

enter image description here Above is a good starting point - a stability ball squat, it helps you get the feel for the right form.

So, when it comes to any exercise, technique first and then add weight. If you can't do the exercise correct, adding weight will most likely cause injury and stop you from achieving any long term goals...

  • 3
    Just to be clear, the above diagram is a good starting point, but the 90° tibia/femur angle is not the depth prescribed by Stronglifts and Starting Strength. (I don't think you're saying it is, just want readers to be clear, too.)
    – user3085
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 19:00
  • +1 @Sancho. Most guys in the gym do 90° and its virtually a partial squat in my opinion.
    – Mike S
    Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 1:02
  • @Mike - Squats are to parallel aka 90 degrees and if you use a stability ball, its difficult breaking parallel since the ball would most likely be over your head. We're talking about someone with difficulty doing any squats, never mind butt to ground ones. Partial squats are above parallel in all cases. Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 12:03
  • @MeadeRubenstein Standard squats without exercise balls should be below parallel (hip joint lower than your knee joint). This is for both for minimising biomechanical stress on the joints, successfully competing in most powerlifting competitions, and for maximum quad hypotrophy.
    – Mike S
    Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 23:24

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