Anderson Squat


Paul Anderson squatting whatever he can find

The Anderson Squat (also called Pin Squats) is primarily a quad exercise but really an overall leg/glute exercise as well. It is a modified version of a normal squat that was used by legendary weightlifter and strongman Paul Anderson.

He is viewed by some people as the strongest man to ever live based on his reported feats of strength.

One such feat recorded by Guinness Book of World Records (although later removed for no official witnesses or weight measurement) was the reported 6,270 pounds Paul backlifted off of elevated trestles!

A backlift is similar to a squat except the weight is supported across the back and not with a bar placed on the shoulders. The weight is also just raised up out of the squat position, not first lowered and then raised.

To complete such a feat required inhuman strength, especially in the legs, along with a lot of squat training. Given that Paul lived in the 1950’s and did a lot of training on his own farm, he had limited equipment and had to improvise.

He often squatted using whatever he could find.

Since he didn’t have a modern adjustable squat rack, he often had to lift the weighted objects he did use off of elevated supports. The problem was finding strong enough supports and the inability to easily change the height of the supports, which determined his squat depth.


Paul Anderson squatting in the hole in his yard

Very creatively Paul solved the problem by digging a hole in his yard that he could stand in. He would then use the ground around the hole to support the weights and change how far he had to lift them (squat depth) by either putting more dirt in the hole or taking some out.

Using this set-up, Paul would then work on increasing his squat strength by starting with a deep hole and a very heavy weight he could barely stand up with over a short distance.

Over time he would put more dirt in the hole so that the range of motion was slowly increased. Eventually he would get to the point where he was doing a full squat with that same weight.

Paul’s method was essentially an adapted form of partial reps that can be used to strengthen the weakest parts of a rep range. This is very similar to using rack pulls (partial deadlifts) to increase strength in full range deadlifts.

Since he also started each rep with the body in the squat position, he built what is considered starting strength by using the dead stop method of training. Similar to a deadlift or strict military press, each rep is started with the muscle in a more relaxed and weakened stretched position to demonstrate and build true strength.

In a normal squat as the weight is lowered, the tension in the muscle increases with stored elastic energy. Then when it’s time to stand back up with the weight it’s easier to use that energy along with momentum during what’s called a stretch-shortening cycle. This helps the muscle contract more forcefully using the stretch reflex created.

Since the Anderson Squat involves lifting the weight out of the squat position rather than first lowering the weight, it is sometimes called a “bottoms up squat” or a “concentric only squat”.

The concentric only squat term is a little misleading as the muscles still need to help lower the weight (eccentric) back to the starting position (unless the weight is dropped rapidly).


Anderson Squats in a power rack using support pins

Fortunately you can do an Anderson Squat today without having to dig a hole in your yard by using a squat/power rack with adjustable safety supports/pins to adjust the starting squat height.

How to Do an Anderson Squat (Pin Squats)

  1. Set the safety support height based on the squat depth you want.
  2. Place a loaded weight bar on the safety supports themselves.
  3. From there you will get into a squat position under the bar and stand up completing the concentric (positive) portion of the rep.
  4. Then lower the weight back down and place onto the supports to complete the eccentric (negative) part of the rep.
  5. Now start the next rep (if doing multiple reps).

Important Notes about the Anderson Squat

  • It’s important before starting each rep to maintain correct body position to protect your joints and keep from rounding the lower back since the muscles will be in a weaker/relaxed position. Starting reps this way will probably feel odd at first since all momentum is removed and will likely require use of lighter weights until your starting strength levels increase.
  • The height you set the safety supports depends upon your goal. If you were interested in increasing overall strength levels to set a new squat personal record (PR), you could follow the method Paul used by lowering the supports over time while using your goal PR weight.
  • Another option is that most people are weakest during a squat coming “out of the hole” (which Paul did literally) or the bottom part of the squat. If you wanted to improve and strengthen that, you could set the supports right at the lowest part of your squat depth and start all your reps from there.
  • The Anderson Squat is similar to the box squat (where you stand up from a seated position). The main difference is that sitting completely on a box with weight on your shoulders can be dangerous because compressive forces are applied to both the top and bottom of the spine (tailbone). To safely do box squats you want the weight to still be supported by the hip bones by never completely relaxing your leg muscles. This isn’t an issue when using the Anderson Squat.