The barbell back squat has been a staple in strength training programs throughout the years, and continues to be one of, if not THE most effective strength and size builders known to man. However, many people struggle to progress on this lift, so here are some quick fixes you can make to your technique and programming to see your squat strength climb.
I know what you’re thinking…This might not sound like rocket science, but the chances are you’re probably not training the squat as frequently as you should. More practice at the lift will develop more efficient movement patterns, thus significantly improving your technique. If you only squat once a week, try adding in another day of squatting… you won’t over train, I promise! If you squat twice a week, try adding in a lighter, technique based session to really work on form. Strength is a skill after all, and the more effective you are at performing the movement, the stronger you will become.
Utilise pause squats
Pause squats are a fantastic exercise for building strength at the bottom position of the lift, which is most people’s sticking point. By eliminating the stretch reflex (which helps you power the weight up out of the hole) it forces you to build enormous amounts of static explosive strength. Put simply, if your pause squat gets stronger, so will your squat. Try incorporating 2-5 second pause squats into your routine to really strengthen this part of the lift.
Upper back tightness
This is something that is overlooked by many lifters, however generating as much upper back tightness as possible before you squat is essential in keeping a vertical torso. Ideally, you want to have your grip as narrow as your shoulder mobility allows, which will give you more tightness in the upper back and lats, thus creating more of a ‘shelf’ for the bar to sit on.
Commit to the descent
This principle is credited to a fantastic strength coach and role model of mine Chad Wesley Smith, who believes that too many people miss squats due to not descending quickly enough when the weight gets heavy. He says that you should ‘treat 135 like your max and your max like 135’ meaning that you should lift submaximal weights with the same technique as you do heavy weights. So if you have a quick descent when warming up but then start to slow it right down when the weights get heavy, you’re probably wasting too much energy on the eccentric phase of the lift and not taking enough advantage of the stretch reflex.
Squat to parallel
Squatting below parallel engages much more musculature than squatting above parallel, therefore strengthening the lower body much more effectively. In addition, the knees are placed under the most danger when squatting above parallel as the ligaments around the joint are completely lax and can provide little protection. When squatting below parallel, the ligaments are in a much more effective position to protect the knee joint, thus giving you a safer squat. I know this may contradict the quite frankly absurd myth that ‘squatting below parallel is bad for your knees’, but you can’t argue with the science!
To conclude, these quick tips can all be implemented into your training immediately, and will help you blast through plateaus. So get your arse in the squat rack and get to work, Happy squatting!