The squat is the undisputed king of all lifts, period. For those who take their squat seriously, this article is for you.
There's an abundance of articles on how to get a stalling bench press moving again; likewise on the deadlift (we'll cover both in the 5 Ways Article series). When it comes to an ailing squat, however, there are few pieces around. Why is this? Probably, because there's just not as much demand. Let's face it: squats are tough, and far too many people neglect their importance. We know you're different though. That's why you'll find 5 proven techniques you can apply immediately to bolster your squat numbers and take your growth and development to the next level. Read on.
Listen, we'll start with probably the most boring component, but also the one that will provide you with instantaneous results. Read that again if it didn't sink in. I'm talking about something that if you rectify and include in your warm-up, you'll instantly be stronger.
When discussing warm-ups for squats, most people consider warming the hips and legs up thoroughly, which is correct. However, most people also have thoracic spine mobility issues. I do myself. Science shows that lifters who increase thoracic spine mobility prior to lifting show a marked improvement on all exercises during that training session. Isn't that startling? Just by warming up properly and including thoracic mobility work, you'll automatically be stronger. It's worth noting that the thoracic is equally as important for health as it is performance. Take this step seriously.
This is easy to talk about, but I understand you'll be looking for something to implement. Try this mobility drill (I use the exact one for my thoracic before every session), and you'll immediately notice a difference the next time you get under the bar in the rigidity of your posture and overall tightness.
-2 minutes of foam rolling the thoracic with either a foam roller or medicine ball, using a slow temp up and down and pausing on adhesions and tender spots. Try to imagine 'wrapping' your spine around the foam roller. I use a heavier medicine ball for added resistance.
-Thoracic rotations with knees retracted X 8-12 reps each side
-Lying lateral thoracic extensions X 8-12 reps each side
-De Franco's Y-Handcuffs x 8-10 reps
*For video demonstrations of all exercises, see this thread on our forum. YOU MUST VIEW THIS!
Try this drill in addition to your basic warm-up, (I like to use circuits for the hip flexors, rotating thoracic work in there) and you'll notice a profound difference. And, as aforementioned, the science shows it produces immediate results. Feeling better and improving strength simultaneously? Now that's called winning!
When you've got hundreds of pounds resting across your back, the last thing you'd advice someone to do was be relaxed. Yet I see it time and time again: folks spreading their arms wide and resting them over the bars, and thinking the squat is a simple up and down motion, where they can just glide up and down.
I can't emphasise enough how much of a difference this step will make. Next time you step under the bar, retract your shoulder blades in as tight as humanly possible. Lift your chin up to neutral, and get your chest raised outwards and keep it that way when you descend at the hips (not the knees, like most wrongly do). Grip the bar so tightly you imagine breaking spaghetti (which I also advice on the bench press).
After a single set of this, I've had overwhelming feedback from folks telling me how more compact and confident they feel when squatting. And confidence is a big factor in a lift as challenging in the squat. Get tight.
Another prevalent mistake trainees make before even getting the bar off their backs, is their feet positioning. I've heard some try to justify this by saying that they're trying to target the quadriceps more by moving their feet closer together. Save that dilly-daddying for the leg press. What makes chicken legs into tree trunks is having heavy loads placed upon your back, and then lifting them in a safe manner where we can progressively add resistance. And that's where your stance comes into play.
Your stance will vary based on flexibility, but try to analyse most top powerlifters as an example and get slightly wider than shoulder width - any narrower will be detrimental to your strength. You will notice how powerlifters spread their legs to distribute the force throughout the body, respecting the notion of the squat being a full body, compound lift. By spreading the floor with their feet slightly turned outwards to the side, you will incorporate underutilised muscle groups such as the glutes and hamstrings significantly more when you break at the hips on your descent. This will make you phenomenally stronger.
Don't worry if you lose an ounce of depth implementing a wider stance at first. This can be rectified through consistent practice of the movement and flexibility / mobility work. The most important factor is that you'll lift safer, be significantly stronger for it and also make the squat a more compound movement.
Far too many people break at the knees first (the hips should push backwards primarily, forcing your ass out), and this often leads to the myth of squats being bad for the knees. The best advice I have received on the simplicity of squatting as a movement, was to 'open your groin' on the descent of the squat. This will push your knees outwards, allow you to utilise the hamstrings and glutes, and increase overall strength. Focus on this tip next time you lower yourself on squats and watch the profound difference it makes in incorporating muscle groups.
Westside Barbell pioneer and powerlifting legend Louie Simmons is the biggest advocate of box squats on the planet, and with dozens of guys squatting over 800 pounds through his tutelage, I think it's time we stand up and listen to his methodology.
According to Louie, not only are box squats the best way to teach a squats movement pattern, they also hold several advantages over conventional squats, including the following factors:
Box Squats are the perfect antidote to incorrect technique, and they can even replace your conventional squats in your routine temporarily if you want to reassess this aspect.
You'll also notice that the first three tips in this article where about preparation before you even lowered the bar when squatting. That's a telling factor that most individuals squat incorrectly to begin with, and if you need further assistance with your technique, you can apply those three tips to the box squat, and I promise that you'll notice a dramatic increase in strength on your conventional squat within a matter of weeks if you show persistence to them.
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