A few months back I wrote about my top 5 favorite ways to build the deadlift, and I wanted to get back to that theme, this time talking all about the SQUAT. While I love all facets of lifting weights, heavy squats are the one movement that gives me the most thrill. Call me crazy but I love nothing more than putting a weight on my back that could realistically crush me and walking out with it. I love it even more when I hit depth and make the lift. Without further ado, here are my top 5 ways to build the squat.
- Box Squats
-Box Squats always seem to find their way into my training in one way or another, especially when it comes time to peak for competition. I have always found that if I am able to hit a weight to a low box in training leading up to a meet, that I will have no problem hitting that weight plus 30+ lbs once I am properly peaked. Reason being, when performed correctly box squats make the movement more difficult as you are required to come to a complete stop on the box, thus disengaging the hips and eliminating the stretch reflex.
Also, As a wide stance, hip dominant squatter I have found that wide stance box squats are phenomenal for bringing up hip strength, allowing the body to handle extreme loads in the bottom of the movement come competition time. Box squats are not just for wide stance squatters either, if you are a narrow squatter you can take a narrow stance and train this movement as well and watch the improvement that it has on your quad strength, which has tremendous carryover to the competition squat as well as conventional deadlift.
**Tip: Add accommodated resistance to the bar when performing the movement to a parallel box, and take advantage of the overload this creates.
- Squatting With Accommodated Resistance:
-I have found squatting with accommodated resistance (bands/chains) to be extremely helpful in building up my squat. Since bands and chains can make the weight the heaviest at the top while unloading on the way down, this allows me to feel a supramaximal weight on my back in the weeks leading up to competition. This is extremely helpful in terms of central nervous system recruitment and building confidence in knowing the body can handle such loads come meet day.
Accommodated resistance is also very useful when performing dynamic training, as bands decrease bar deceleration and force us to explode throughout the entirety of the movement, and chains slow down the descent, allowing us to control the weight on the way down and teaching build up the kinetic energy needed to launch the weight out of the hole.
** Tip: Do not over do it on accommodated resistance, as overloading can beat down on the body in a hurry. A good rule to follow for example is use a 3 week wave of accommodated resistance before taking the 4th week to either deload or use straight weight.
- Front Squats:
Ill be the first to say it: Front Squats suck. However, the core/lower back development and upper back strength that front squats help to develop is more than worth it if you ask me. Front squats force us to keep our core tight and use the upper back as support to stay upright and not dump the bar off the front of our shoulders. This has great carryover to the competition squat, as staying upright is crucial to the completion of the lift, rather than losing tightness in the core and dumping the bar forward. As a bonus, front squats have great carryover to the deadlift as well. Long story short, if you aren’t already doing front squats do them NOW.
**Tip: If you are uncomfortable holding the bar “Olympic style”, you can use the crossed arms technique or attach wrist straps to the bar and hold onto those instead. Front squats hurt no matter what, but there is no reason good enough to not do them.
- Belt Marches:
As I mentioned before, I am a wide stance squatter, which recruits more hamstring, low back and glute strength than a narrow stance squat would. One of my favorite movements to develop the strength in these areas is the belt march! This movement is traditionally done on the Westside Barbell belt squat machine and is incredibly simple: All you need to do is add weight to the machine and march in place with a slight lean backwards. I typically set a timer for 1-2 min and perform the movement for the duration of the time selected. Don’t be fooled, about 30 seconds in and you will start feeling it. In addition to building up lower back, glute and hamstring strength, the belt march also acts as a traction for the lower back, which alleviates any compression you may have.
**Tip: Although this movement is traditionally performed on the Westside Barbell Belt Squat Machine, it is still possible to perform the movement if your gym does not have the machine. All you need to do is either attach a weight belt to the bottom of a cable weight stack, or attach the band to the outside of a squat rack and stand with the band looped around your hips and perform the movement that way instead.
- More Core/Low Back Work:
A really quick way to add weight to the squat is oftentimes as simple as adding more core work into our training. Many lifters tend to neglect core work, and is often viewed as an after thought in liu of other accessory movements and heavy compound training, but In order to move the most weight as humanly possible, a strong core is crucial. A weak core is not only dangerous when performing a heavy compound movement like the squat, but can also create a “power leak” when handling maximal loads, meaning that if every other area of the body is bolstered, but the core is lagging, precious pounds will be left off the bar until this area is improved. Without a strong core, the abdominal tightness needed to handle heavy loads is not possible and should be addressed through exercises that build core “strength” rather than aesthetics alone. Once the core is bolstered, be prepared to see your squat numbers skyrocket.
**Tip: Perform a weighted core movement every day of some sort. Some examples include:
-weighted cable crunches
-standing band crunches
-weighted side raises on the 45 degree machine
-weighted decline situps
-Weighted leg raises