Among the old time strength feats of the past century, few movements have raised as many eyebrows as the Steinborn Squat. To many onlookers, this often misunderstood exercise can be seen as a spinal injury waiting to happen. For others, this primitive squat variation has a high transferability to daily life, manual labor, and complete and integrated total body strength and control.
The Steinborn Squat is a simplistic in nature, yet extremely challenging and taxing on the body as a whole, requiring a lifter have have strong prerequisites and awareness prior to performing this lift.
For many lifters, the benefits of this lift may not be worth the risks, however for many, proper progression and developments of necessary movements can make the Steinborn Squat an impactful functional and movement based exercise to add into one’s training arsenal, regardless of sport.
In this article, we will discuss the the man behind the Steinborn squat, the benefits of doing them, and what every lifter should know about the Steinborn Squat.
The History of the Steinborn Squat
Henry “Milo” Steinborn was born in 1893, and became one of the most influential strongmen and weightlifters of his time, along with the likes of Eugen Sandow, Arthur Saxon, and Charles Atlas (just to name a few).
Milo Steinborn began his lifting career after spending four and half years as a prisoner during World War I, where he would perform random acts of strength and fitness on minimal income. In 1920, he went on to finish second in the German National Weightlifting Championships, in which he then moved to the United States of America.
It was here (in the USA) that Milo Steinborn flourished, breaking three world records at Philadelphia’s Herman’s Gym, which led him to meet Alan Calvert and Arthur Saxon, who convinced Milo to begin wrestling for income. Over the next 30 years, Milo would wrestle over 300 matches, as well as go on to record some of the heaviest and most impressive feats of human strength the world had ever seen…
- 553 lb back squat, from the floor (no squat rack, AKA, the Steinborn Squat)
- 218 lb one-armed snatch
- 255lb one-armed jerk
- 375lb clean and jerk
- 5,000lb leg bridge (see image below)
- Impromptu back lifted an 800lb elephant at age 57, in a business suit
- In his early to mid 80s, he was regularly reported doing 300lb back squats
Milo’s feats of strength lasted over 50+ years, each of them highly respected and inspiring in their own right.
While these numbers are impressive, many readers may think to themselves that doing such moves as the Steinborn Squat isn’t necessary, as times have changed and circus acts are on their way out.
I’m here to shed some light on this primitive, controversial, and often misunderstood squat, so that coaches, athletes, and all humans can learn to respect the barbell and the history of those before us; so that one day, we too can truly be stronger for whatever life throws our way.
Why Do Them?
The Steinborn Squat offers lifter’s a set of benefits that are completely unique to this prehistoric squat variation.
The lift requires an athlete to stand the barbell up so that is perpendicular to the ground, position themselves underneath, pull the barbell (like a lever) down across their upper back and receive the load in the squatted position. From there, the lifter must stand the weight up, perform some squats, and return the barbell to the floor in the same reverse fashion that they picked it up. Below are just a few of the benefits that the Steinborn Squat can offer most trainees and athletes who have properly progressed and fulfilled the prerequisites listed in the next section.
- Real-World Functional Strength
- Obscure Spinal Loading and Core Stabilization Resilience
- Concentric Strength
- Neurological Adaptation
Real-World Functional Strength
The ability to pick odd objects up, hoist them overhead or onto the body, regardless of the shape, size, or environment is one of the most beneficial movements coaches and trainers can teach their clients and athletes. Too often we program sagittal, singular plane movements into the programs of sport athletes and everyday humans, which places them at a great disadvantage for an ever-changing and non-uniform environment.
Obscure Spinal Loading and Core Stabilization Resilience
We all know about the benefits of core stabilization and the ability to resist shearing forces upon the spine. Certain exercises like rotational training, extensions, and flexion (or anti-flexion, since there is still a debate on should we flex the spine or not…) are all great ways to build injury resistance, strength, and muscular control at end ranges of motion.
The Steinborn Squat is kinda like the Turkish Get Up, but much more demanding. It builds coordination, oblique and transverse core strength in multi-planar fashion, increasing the body’s ability to resist and adapt to all angles and lines of stress/force placed upon the spine. For some lifters, the sagittal only life may be your style, however for more dynamic athletes and individuals, the ability to interact, confront, and overcome a magnitude of forces at varying angles will only increase your likelihood of injury resilience.
Increasing Concentric Strength
The ability to move loads from a dead stop is key to most strength and power sports. As the lifter catches the load in the bottom position, he/she must stabilize the body and bar, then perform a concentric based squat from the deepest of positions. Over time, increasing static strength (no momentum or stretch reflex) can increase for production at end ranges and enhance overall performance.
Stressing the body via new movements can be one of the most impactful things you can do for maximal strength, muscular, and neurological development. By introducing new stressors from various angles, similar to most movement found in strongman competitions, you have the ability to elicit total body adaptations that can then be transferred back into your regular routine. By performing new challenging movements correctly, you stimulate new motor units, create new synapses between the brain, nerve cells, and muscle units; all of which can add to your pool of strength and performance potentials.
Prerequisites to Master
This exercise is not one to jump into without proper progressions and fundamental strength. For many lifters, that means being able to squat their bodyweight, at the VERY least, for full ass-to-grass squats. Secondly, coaches and athletes should be well versed in such movements:
- Steinborn Bends / Turkish Get Ups
- Single Arm Windmills
- Anderson Squats
- At least 1x bodyweight full-depth back squat
While this list is short and straight forward, this lift is not. Coaches and athletes must then teach the movement, lateral flexion with hip support, and proper bracing techniques with unloaded barbells prior to loading.
Before we go into how to actually perform the Steinborn Squat, I feel obligated to address the elephant in the room before someone out there gets all hot and bothered about the risk of the exercise.
It goes without saying that the inherent risk of injury is higher with a more challenging, “unorthodox” (in a general fitness sense) movement. Many out there will make the decision to not do this exercise, and so be it, as there are other exercises out there that I too, choose not to do, for whatever reason. The point is that for some people, this exercise has demonstrated the potential to develop strong, capable, and resilient humans. For some people, and with proper technique and fulfillment of the prerequisites (and I would suggest no prior injuries to the lower back), the Steinborn Squat can add value to training and daily life.
Lastly, I say “unorthodox” with quotes because this movement is actually highly specific to proper carrying of heavier objects during manual labor; such as construction, military, wrestling, and other acts of human daily life.
In the below video, the Steinborn Squat is demonstrated.
Every athlete and coach needs to have an internal discussion before programming these squats into training programs. Mass programming these without proper individualization can result in back-breaking effects. When done correctly, Steinborn Squats can be a valuable functional exercise and functional inspired by real-life movements. Proper progression and fulfillment of prerequisites is paramount, as is the understanding that maximally loading this movement should be reserved for those who are highly trained and well-aware of the risk.
In closure, I personally feel that the Steinborn Squat can be integrated into most training programs with caution, and the benefits outweigh the risks. While some readers may disagree, this time-tested movement has produced some of the strongest, most resilient, and awe-inspiring athletes and humans of the past century. Hard to argue with Father Time…
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Featured Image: @juliusmaximus24 on Instagram