Torogi Squats for a stronger and more resilient body. Train anywhere effectively. Part 1

Posted: March 1, 2015 in Strength and Conditioning for Health and Fitness
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These rip-raps were built without the use of machines. Moving large amount of rocks manually required efficient and safe lifting techniques as well as strength and endurance.

“Torogi” is the word “Igorot” spelled in reverse. The Igorot people is an ethnic minority in the mountains of Northern Luzon in the Philippines. The word Igorot basically means “from the mountains”. Torogi is just a slang that we use to call ourselves. Igorots are known for their strength and bravery. Since our ancestors live in the mountains, they learned how to build communities on the slopes. They have become very good in mitigating landslides by reinforcing the mountainous slopes by building rip-raps. That is aside from being warriors, hunters, and farmers in the early days.

When I was a boy, I watched men in our community carry large rocks from the ground on to their shoulders, stand up with it, walk up a slippery muddy hanging stone stair sticking out on the side of a rip-rap, and add the huge rock to a pile of rocks to be used. I noticed that they have a certain way of doing it. And when I was big enough, I helped my father and grandfather do the same. It helped me develop strength even though I was a thin boy. I was aware that this type of work made us strong – stronger than usual guys our age who did not do work. In this activity or “exercise”, one’s strength can be “measured” or observed by the size of the rock that you can carry, how far, and how steep is the slope that you have to climb, and by the amount of rocks that you were able to move from one place to another. It is similar to the story of Milo of Croton, which is the earliest documented case of progressive resistance training (google it if you do not know about it).24009_389657031274_634451274_4381304_2792879_n Igorots did progressive resistance training as well by lifting rocks. It is but natural that as our lifting techniques improved, rock lifting techniques that is, so did our strength. Boys who used to be able to carry stones progressed to small rocks the size of their head and eventually to rocks around half the size of their torso. Of course some went further than that. And so we were able to build communities on the mountains because of the rip-rap built by hands.

Paleo Diet? Try this Torogi Squat!


An old rip-rap in an abandoned village somewhere in Tung Chung. The size of the rocks and the equipment they had back then gives an indication of the strength of the people who build them. They would humble today’s regular gym rats.

A lot of products are being marketed in a very creative way, whether they work or not. If you have not yet heard of the Paleo Diet- it is a concept of eating. Some believe that if we try to eat how our pre-historic ancestors did, we would be free from modern diseases. They say that Paleolithic diet is healthier. I guess people’s attention are caught by scientific sounding terms so it became quite a catchphrase.  Now that people are looking for “new” or “unique” way of doing things, it is time to re-introduce this particular type of squat to the general public. I did not invent it, but I call it the Torogi Squat.

Will Torogi Squats make you stronger?

Definitely! I have seen it done by many others in our community and did it myself. But it is not for the feeble minded. And please do not try it if you have no intention to protect yourself, and others. Rocks have irregular surfaces. So grip them well. Some call it plain common sense but what is common for some is rare for some. So bear with me if I have to give out a few details:

How big should the rock be?

Like muscles, size does not matter, not unless you are doing it for a show. It is the weight of the rock that matters. Some types of rocks are heavier than others of the same size. Start with a relatively small dry piece of rock that you are sure you can lift off the ground with your bare hands and onto your hip level, then up to your shoulder level. That is the weight of the rock that you can handle. In the real world, and that is when workers lift heavy stuff, you do not hear them say “engage your core!, fire your glutes!, activate your posterior chain!” I hate it when I hear that. But now, people expect to hear it from personal trainers. Well, I am not a personal trainer anyway. So when you lift something heavy, be prepared to lift something really heavy. Do not pretend that the rock is a small stone. When you first try to grab it, your intact neuromuscular system will immediately compute if it needs all the major muscle groups to work in unison. Not unless you override the protective command from your nervous system by slacking out. To be safe, always respect the load that you will move or lift. Assume that it is very heavy. So in short, start out with a rock that you can manage but use all your attention and effort in lifting. It does not matter if it is not bigger than your head, what matters is that you can control the load and that you can make yourself stronger even without a barbell and a squat rack.

How deep should the squat be?

The ideal one for you may be different from others. If you have relatively good strength and mobility, with no knee problems, a full squat would be great. If you have limited mobility, then work on what is available for you. It may improve later on as you become stronger and more mobile. The key is you should be able to control the load at any given moment. If you watch those who build rip-raps, you would notice varying techniques. It is because each person would have a certain technique that works for his/her particular body type. The ones with better and more efficient techniques, in lifting rocks and in lifting barbells, kettlebells, and dumbells, are those who can lift more weight and more volume. It would be the result that determines if a lifting technique is efficient. So how deep should your squat be? It should be deep enough for you to position yourself so that your shoulder is in between the ground and the rock. For training purposes, we want as much range of motion as possible but with the lifter in complete control of the rock. Deep squat is ok. If you have issues that won’t allow you to squat deeply, then work with lighter rocks. With constant training your strength and range of motion may increase.

(Click here to read about the relationship of strength training and flexibility.)

valstrengthtraining Torogi Squat1

It is easier to lift objects if their mass is directly over the lifter’s base of support (in this photo the base of support are the two feet). This makes the lifter more stable thus enabling him to control the load even when walking on uneven surfaces.


How many sets and reps?

Try three sets of ten repetitions. It is a general set-rep combination ideal for learning a new exercise with moderate load. If you are stronger and able to lift heavier rocks, then do around four sets of five repetitions in good control. In the real world, it is done in a different way. Lift a rock, stand up with it, walk, either up a slope, a rip-rap, or just for distance to transport the rock. Put it down, then repeat until you get the job done. It serves a purpose- maybe some would call it functional.

valstrengthtraining torogi squat lateral view

As in any good lifting technique, the load (stone) should be directly over your base of support- in this case your feet. The mass of the load passes through an imaginary straight line (line of gravity shown as the yellow arrow) and it should pass as close as possible to your own center of gravity. It is best that in an upright position, this line passes through the hip joint (red circle).

How will I put down the rock?

The real men who did this work actually were barefooted. No protection except their quick reflexes, common sense, presence of mind, and their strength and stamina. They did not do it in a gym, they did it outdoors exposed to different types of weather. It made them strong and resilient. Now going back to the question of how do you put down the rock: for sure you cannot do this exercise in a regular gym. You would be doing it outdoors. It is either you put it down by dropping but making sure you do not hit your toes or anyone else’s and that the rock would not roll away to hit anyone or anything. There is another way. Stronger guys put it down with finesse. They do not drop it but lower it with control. It requires more effort. Choose between the two.

You do not need to do it barefoot either. Most of your life your feet got used to being protected by footwear. Do not over-overload your self by lifting a rock outdoors barefooted. Otherwise you might end up getting hurt.

Uninformed people will naturally think you are weird if they see you lifting rocks. Let them train their fingers on their smartphones, and let them have their own opinions, it is their right. What you should focus on is how to make yourself better and stronger. To avoid distractions and to find rocks to lift, go out and hike. You can find a lot of secluded places where you can train. Later you will have weird strength for your size, you do not get that just doodling with your phone. There you have it. I just revealed a secret. Use it to train better, Live Better!

  1. […] There are other exercises that can be done outdoors to for stronger legs and general strength too. See this link. With good preparation, the incidence of sports related injuries can be lowered. And if an injury […]


  2. […] Click here for an overall body strength exercise: Train anywhere effectively Part 1 […]


  3. […] To be honest, I originally did not squat like the description above. I learned how to squat from bodybuilders, and I had great results for my goals. Then I learned from videos and from reading articles and magazines. My stance became wider. And, like most people that time, I believed that full squat is not good, and that the knees should not go past the toes. But after observing, reading, discussing, listening, re-learning from more experienced Olympic weightlifting coaches, and most of all squatting more, I began to realize that some of what I believed were true then may not necessarily be true for all. My stance became more natural, and the depth went all the way to full range of motion, and the load went a lot higher than when I was much younger and stronger. I realized that there would be some differences but the most applicable one for beginners up to elite lifters would be what was described above. Of course there are some who, due to limited range of motion, or inherent body structure, would have to squat differently to get better results. There are so many variations with the barbell as well as with other equipment. Click here to read about how to squat heavy even if you have no access to a weights room. […]


  4. […] Click here to read about squats outdoors without gym equipment. […]


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