It’s been a while since our last episode from the “How to Increase Your Strength Series” and we hope that since then you have managed to improve your bench press record (I have!) and also refine your squat technique. Today Damien, our French guest writer and powerlifter, shares with us his top tips in breaking our squat record and becoming stronger fork-lifters 🙂
Damien, the floor is yours…
“I am confident that my last article has created somewhat of a division between those who hate squats and those who swear by them. Today’s article is meant for the latter group, the ones who have been flirting with squats for a while and who are now ready to take their squat a step further. If gaining squat strength is your priority then you happen to be in the right place at the right time. Today I will list down a few proven hacks to successfully pile up on your squat whereas in my next article I’ll also be sharing the program that I myself developed and used to reach a raw squat record of 200kg. So let’s start with the hacks:
1) Implement various squat techniques
This variety will allow you to stimulate your legs from various angles. The front thigh, which is one of the primary muscles engaged in the squat, is known as the “quadricep” for one good reason: it is composed of 4 muscles. Now if you’re always performing the same type of squat then one or more of these 4 muscles will turn out to be underdeveloped which in turn limits your overall squat performance.
The following are the isolation exercises I recommend in this regard:
a) Box Squats (or bench squats)
I really like the feeling the box squat provides. It will not allow you to go too deep but your legs will surely be under constant and intense pressure. Also, when performing a box squat do not load too much weight because if you sit too hard on the box/bench, the weight will end up inflicting too much pressure directly onto your vertebral column which sits between the bar and the box/bench.
The box squat allows more room for “toying” than the regular squat as you will be able to change or safely try different foot stances which will stimulate various muscles accordingly for your great “pleasure”. I personally like to perform box squats towards the end of a regular heavy squat session in order to completely deplete my energy stores. However please note that those of you who are looking to go very heavy should in this case strictly avoid experimenting with foot stance as you can easily lose your balance.
Furthermore, just like with the bench press, your body will get used to one preferred angle of motion over time and will grow around it, creating a sort of invisible track. Now if you continuously change your foot stance you’ll end up skewing this track which may consequently translate into power leaks when performing your regular squat. As a rule of thumb perform box squats occasionally, say once a month, for a maximum of 4 sets of 12 repetitions soon after your regular squats.
b) Half Squats
Before I elaborate on the benefits of half squats I must say that sadly, many people I see at the gym (if not the majority) are limiting their leg training by merely focusing on half squats as oppose to the the backbone of all leg training i.e. the regular full squat. The half squat is not a staple exercise and it has nothing on full squats. Half squats are a means to an end which is the full squat, and performing them in isolation will not lead to maximal gains. Half squats are to be performed with a specific purpose in mind and that purpose is none other than increase in strength. If you never squat beyond the horizontal line passing through your knee, then you are surely not full squatting which might be the reason for lack of quad and glutes development. Having cleared that out, we can now say that half squats are definitely complimentary to full squats.
For those of you who have a good deep squat, the half squat can be a good tool to reinforce your body in general, significantly raising your strength levels.
I really like this exercise because it allows you to rack up more weight than you would on full squats. Doing so for a few weeks will strengthen your core and back apart from priming your brain and body to get accustomed to new heavier loads. This will in turn make your subsequent full squats feel lighter. It’s all in the mind they say! Going heavier on half squats will increase your confidence which will translate achieving heavier full squats.
One note of caution is to ensure the presence of safety bars particularly when going heavy.
c) Front Squats
Even though doing front squats does not feel very comfortable due to my posture, I still believe this squat technique comes with a plethora of benefits. Front squats actually place a greater emphasis on your legs than any other squat (yes even more than regular back squats), reason being that the front squat position locks you up in a straight stance which eliminates much of the lower back from the equation.
I am myself guilty of not performing much, if any, of this technique for the aforementioned reason. Like me, you might find that your body will reject a particular type of technique. If this is the case there is nothing to be ashamed of. Rather shift your efforts onto another technique which you enjoy doing without overlooking the importance of supplementing your favourite exercises with the alternative techniques being listed here today. In saying so before you actually quit trying a particular technique and turn your feet around too quickly, you have to first attempt it a few times. You might be a few attempts away from actually starting to like it! The first time I did squats I swore I’d never do them again but nowadays I simply can’t live without them.
d) Pause squats
The pause squat is a regular full squat with a little tweak requiring you to pause for a second or two once down, before you lift your weight back up. This will split your squat in two sections, neutralising the elastic momentum gained on the descent which makes the lift harder requiring more explosive muscle contraction. This technique teaches your muscle explosive contraction while being somewhat restricted to escape from under the bar. Hence I would highly recommend having a trusted spotter while performing pause squats. It is also important to point out that one needs to ensure core contraction and proper back posture all throughout the exercise, even more so once down below at a pause.
2) Perform accessory lifts
a) Squat using chains or elastic bands
Just like pause squats, this squat modification forces you to gain explosiveness. Why? Because when you’re ascending, the harder you push the stronger the resistance imposed by the chains or elastic. This means that lifting too slow will add a further notch to the already increasing resistance which at the end of the day might result in a fail as oppose to a fulfilling lift. Bottomline is that with chains or elastic bands one has no other option but to exercise explosive speed from the very first push on the way up.
b) Squat wearing knee bands
Using knee bands will add stability to your knee joint which will open up possibilities to add a little more weight to what your body is used to. As a consequence you will generate more core power and stronger quads.
3) Additional tweaks
a) Rest the bar on your rear shoulder and not directly on the back of your neck
This little hack will reduce stress on the lower back and increase stability under the bar.
b) Tighten up your core (front and back)
Ensuring a tight core is critical in performing a good quality squat. This will enhance stability and have positive psychological repercussions as your brain frees itself from unnecessary stress signals.
c) Master technique and adapt it to your needs
Once you have mastered a particular technique you can then concentrate on proper muscular contraction rather than the movement itself. Also adapt a given technique to your body structure in terms of foot stance, hand position, hips etc.
Implementing any or all of the above will surely see you experiencing a leap of quality in your squat performance. Give them a try and let us have your feedback.
In the next article I will show you how I have incorporated the above techniques into a practical training program which has indeed helped me take my full squat to a new level.”
Merci Damien! Leg day is calling and I sure have a few new tools to test out. Looking forward to your squat training program.
To fitness with love,
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