By Josh Bryant ProSource
As a coach, I've had the privilege to work with a number of world-record squat record holders from teenagers to masters lifters. I achieved world-class status myself in the squat with a 909-lb squat in the USPF (United States Powerlifting Federation) in 2005.
If you're at all serious in your quest to build strength and improve physique, the squat simply has to be front-and-center in your workout regimen. Even more importantly, you've got to do them right. Poor technique in the squat won't just undermine your progress, it's an open invitation to serious injury. Today, I am going to share some tips I believe can benefit you whether you are just starting out, or you are a seasoned iron-game veteran.
This means structuring your lifestyle with proper nutrition, supplementation, adequate sleep and precise scheduling of your workout week. If your number one training priority is to increase your squat, place your primary squat workout on a day that has the most favorable conditions. If every Wednesday you have six hours of forced overtime with additional heavy labor, don't squat that day.
This seems really basic, but this past weekend I was doing a seminar and I was amazed how many smart, experienced lifters were not properly aligned under the bar. When you get under the squat bar, make sure your hands, torso and feet are aligned evenly.
Minimize your Walkout
Don't take the scenic route. Walk the weight out with as few steps as possible. The stronger you get, the more significant minimizing walkout steps is. No more than three total steps are needed. The first step gets you out of the rack, the second step sets up your first foot and the third step places the opposite foot in the squat position. Energy needs to be put into squatting the bar, not the walkout.
Richard Simmons might tell you to breathe in and breathe out, and that's fine if you are "Sweatin' to the Oldies." But your ass is grass and the barbell is the lawnmower, if you try to squat this way. Big squatters take big breaths prior to squatting. Taking in and holding a big breath before squatting increases intra/abdominal pressure and intrathoracic pressure. This keeps your spine stable and rigid and allows your core to adequately transfer force into the bar (i.e., you can lift more weight and do so safely). After you take your breath, tighten your core and brace your abs hard, then you are ready to squat. Breath between reps; losing tightness leaks power.
More Sets, Fewer Reps
Our goal here is to build a big squat. Squatting is not just an equation of brute strength, it's an actual skill. How we test our strength in squats is by the amount of weight we can lift for one repetition. So, instead of three sets of eight reps, do eight sets of three reps. This way you get eight first reps instead of three first reps. Because you are doing fewer reps, you can produce more force each rep. More first reps means more enhancement of the squatting skill.
We have already covered Compensatory Acceleration Training. Even with heavy weights that move slowly by default, we still want to have the intent to squat the bar as explosively as possible. The same holds true with lighter weights. Continually performing sets with maximal force production workout after workout expedites strength gains.
Perform Pause Squats
On the negative phase of a squat, you store elastic-like energy. These elastic-like properties help you come out of the bottom of a squat. Once this wears off, the free lunch is over; it's all over. One way to overload the bottom portion of the squat is to stop at the bottom for two seconds, stay tight and then explode up. This is making the muscles do all of the work. Don't do this in place of your regular squats. Think of this as a supplement, not a substitute.
Practice Perfect Technique
Practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice does. In the NBA, some people shoot over 90 percent from the free throw line. Other top-level players can be below 70 percent. You would think multi-million dollar contracts would motivate people to practice free throws. It's pretty clear who is practicing free throws and who is not. We talked earlier about how squatting is a skill. Every single rep and every single set needs to be viewed as technical reinforcement. Not only that, we want the desired training effect. Old-time powerlifters would say for elite squatters, every inch of depth too high would equate to an additional 40 pounds on the squat. So, a high-level squatter squatting a mere two inches high is forfeiting nearly 100 pounds of training effect. Every warm-up, rep and set is a chance to become a technically better squatter. Take advantage of it.
Build a Strong Back
There are so many people that have the leg strength to squat much more weight than their lower back can handle. A couple of my favorite exercises to build the lower back are deadlift hypers and good mornings. Upper back strength is important, too. This can be built with any pull-up or rowing variation.
What do you need to attain superiority in the squat rack? Strength, strength, and more strength. And strength means creatine. If you're not taking a daily creatine dose, you're ignoring literally hundreds of published studies linking creatine supplementation to increased strength output. Also, if you're not reading the label on your creatine, you may be taking an inferior creatine loaded up with impurities and inert content. Always go with genuine CreaPure German creatine monohydrate, as found in ProSource's Creatine Monohydrate product.
And, as you're limping off the floor after the "squat workout from hell," you'll want to keep recovery in mind, as well. Cut catabolism off at the pass with your best source of BCAAs, ProSource's Mega BCAA!
Squats have been called the king of all weight lifting exercises by many in the trenches, and even by those that man the trenches of the lab. Even if your goal is primarily aesthetic, you can benefit from building a bigger squat.