Squats are lifting loyalty for curing chicken leg syndrome’ and building high-performance muscle mass for good reason–they work.
Squats develop total body strength, stimulate tons of total body muscle growth, and improve athleticism. Yep, the squat reigns king among bang-for-your buck exercises.
Problem is, most lifters have the mobility of a cast iron skillet and lack ability to execute the squat safely and effectively.
This poses a huge problem—If you don’t squat safely and effectively a powerful tool becomes limited at best, dangerous at worst. To maximize the squat you need mobility to reach proper position and the stability to control movement through the intended range of motion.
“To maximize the squat you need the mobility to reach proper position and the stability to control movement through the intended range of motion.”
It’s time to maximize your squat potential through improving technique, mobility, and execution to take your high-performance training to another level. With these 10 Sure Fire Tips you’ll be Squat More Weight, build more muscle, and improve athleticism in no time.
1.) Train for Maximum Strength
Here’s the thing—despite the fact that you need to train heavy to build maximum strength of people still neglect heavy weights. Yes, training with submaximal loads will spare your joints and nervous system to a degree, but to maximize submaximal training you need a base of absolute strength.
Training at 60% 1-rm for speed is much more effective when your 1-RM is 1.5-2x bodyweight. Sorry bub, you won’t get much squatting with a 135lb max and trying to be explosive with loads of 75-85lbs.
While heavy lifting is generally defined as 85%+ maximum effort for multiple sets of one to five reps, It’s best to avoid missing lifts. Missing lifts zaps your nervous system, engrains poor technique, and wrecks your confidence—a death sentence for your training or that of your clients.
Hit reps the you know you’ll make and save yourself for the occasional max-out attempts, unless you want to wreck your nervous system and technique.
2.)Train Submaximal Reps for Power
Strength-speed and speed-strength are synonymous with power. They produce a sky-high power output compared with longer-duration, lower-velocity maximum strength exercises.
“Compare a tractor-trailer and a Ferrari. It’s great to have a ton of horsepower, but for high performance, it’s best to generate horsepower rapidly.”
For breaking lifting plateaus or achieving more weight-room transfer from athletes, power development is key. Compare a tractor-trailer and a Ferrari. It’s great to have a ton of horsepower, but for high performance, it’s best to generate horsepower rapidly.Remember: Power= Work/Time
Most research shows that maximum power is achieved through moving moderate loads at high velocity with loads of 40-60% of your 1RM. Depending on the athlete, there will be differences within this range and some experimentation will be needed to find what’s best.
For a big squat, speed squats are ideal for power development and technical practice. These can be used as long as a decent base of absolute strength is present and technique isn’t an issue.
3.)Train Speed and Speed-Strength
Speed-strength works the lower-load, higher-velocity component of the force velocity curve to train explosive power. Once again, the greater your base of absolute strength, the easier it will be to express explosive strength. For most lifters, keep the emphasis on explosive jumps that match the biomechanics of the squat closest, i.e. jump squats.
There are tons of variations that address speed of movement, landing mechanics, and power without too much risk. Your best choices are broad jumps, vertical jumps, and box jumps to increase your rate of force development and explode through sticking points. Stick to single-response jumps and ensure sound landing mechanics before moving to multi-response jumps.
[Side Note: If you’re an athlete that requires speed for on-field dominance there needs to be a premium placed on it. In this case intense movement skills like acceleration and top end speed should be the first priority in your training, not lifting maximal weight.]
4.) Squat Twice Per Week
Multiple squatting sessions per week maximizes technical and neuromuscular efficiency through training at variable intensities. Squatting twice per week allows you to focus on one heavy and one speed session. Separate these sessions by 48-72 hours for full recovery.
“Targeting the squat pattern with multiple sessions per week while addressing the force-velocity spectrum leads to greater gains in power, strength, and explosiveness.”
I like to combine a speed-strength method before squatting, followed by maximum strength (85-95+%) on the first squat day. On the second day, I’ll emphasize a pure speed movement with a submaximal strength-speed squat (40-75%). Targeting the squat pattern with multiple sessions per week while addressing the force-velocity spectrum leads to greater gains in power, strength, and explosiveness.
5.) Train to YOUR depth
Yes, building a big squat is great and should improve multiple performance parameters.
But the key word is “should.”
Too many coaches and athletes sell out for big totals in the “big three” and being hardcore with ass-to-grass (ATG) squats no matter what.
While ATG will earn you props on the interwebz, it doesn’t mean anything if you’re risking injury to the lumbar spine. If you squat to depth without a tuck – keep going. But if you can’t maintain position due to lack of core control or bony hip anatomy, don’t force a deep squat.
6.) Cycle in Front Squats
Yes, back squats take the title as the King Builder, but front squats offer a plethora of benefits:
- Increased core integrity, allowing greater depth without compromised spinal position and, thus, greater relative muscle activation at lighter weights compared to the back squat.
- Similar muscle activation of the back squat without as much joint compression and shear stress due to using less weight.
- Increased strength requirements of the thoracic extendors to hold position – a bonus for desk jockeys with kyphotic posture.
If you’re into 3,000+ word blogs full of biomechanics, research, and front squat nerdin’ then check out this full post.
Otherwise, here are a few highlights: http://bacher.wpengine.com/training/how-to-front-squat/
Benefits of Front Squats:
- Increase core integrity and greater depth for greater relative muscle activation. By staying upright and activated in the anterior core you’re less likely to have “butt-wink”.
- Similar muscle activation of the back squat without as much joint compression and shear stress. Less weight, same muscle activation and lower risk of injury? Count me in homie.
- Increase strength requirements of the thoracic extendors and anterior core to hold position and resist flexion. Meaning your abs and upper back work harder during the exercise.
7.) Spread the Floor
Allowing the knees to buckle in, known as valgus collapse, is a great way to reinforce poor mechanics and set yourself up for a significant knee injury. Prevent valgus collapse by spreading the floor and pushing the knees out during the squat. This emphasizes hip and posterior chain development and skyrocketing your squat numbers.
Yes, some high-level powerlifters let the knees dive in during their squat, but you’re not the genetic freak and powerhouse they are.
Letting the knees cave engrains dangerous technique, especially if it leads to uncontrolled valgus collapse in sport or recreation activities. In other words, don’t be an idiot and let the knees cave in– you’ll probably bust your shit and end up in rehab rather than the gym.
8.) Train the pause
If you’re squatting to depth, you need to be stable in the bottom position. Train the pause by using submaximal loads and squatting to maximum depth while maintaining trunk integrity (this means no butt-wink). Unless you’re training for a big total and need to hit certain depth, the risk versus reward IS NOT worth a rock-bottom squat under load in the presence of butt-wink.
9.) Bend the Bar
Don’t be lazy with the bar. Get your Hulk on and try to bend it around your body. If you’re not actively applying force to the bar, the bar will act on you – jumping off or burying you in failure.
“If you’re not actively applying force to the bar, the bar will act on you.”
Drive your elbows down and back to engage the lats, provide a larger shelf for the barbell, and create additionally stability in the trunk. Solomonow, et al concluded that over 200 muscles are activated during squat performance. Use them all to maximize your squat performance.
Additionally, you’ll prevent the bar from jumping off your back during explosive squats, improving rep quality and decreasing injury risk. You don’t want to be that chump who loses a barbell behind your back during training anyway.
10.) Rack at the correct height
We’ve all seen it: a rack set-up too high, a calf-raise walkout followed by the poor sap nearly cracking his skull when re-racking. Besides inappropriate barbell loading, improper rack set-up is the most preventable way to get injured.
Set the rack up with the barbell set between nipple and shoulder height, low enough to allow you to squat to weight out and easily re-rack, as well. Make your mark and write down the “notch” in your workout log until it’s habit.
Sick of getting planted by your squats?
Good. Implement these 10 Sure-Fire Ways to Squat More Weight and you’ll be adding plates in no time.
As always, Optimize your technique first, and then start piling on plates for long-term success.
1. Solomonow, M., et al. “The Synergistic Action of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament and Thigh Muscles in Maintaining Joint Stability.” Am J Sports Med. 1987 May-Jun;15(3):207-13. Accessed November 18, 2014.