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The 400lb Squat

There are a few serious landmarks in the gym worth taking notice of. A 315lb bench press, a 500lb deadlift, and, a 400lb squat. Here's how to blow your current squat out of the water and hit that landmark rapidly.

My Story

At school, I was the skinny dude. In my own head, I still am. Despite taking my bodyweight from 125lbs to over 200 at my heaviest, I've still retainedmy narrow proportions, short clavicle and thin joints. Some things we cannot change. Yet despite all of this, I did it. I got exceptionally strong for my body weight, and that correlated to excellent size gains that filled out my frame.

One of my biggest achievements was squatting 195kg (429lbs) at 20 years old after starting out with a paltry 95lb quarter squat just 4 years earlier. Ever remember the guy who wore the pussy pad to protect his neck and shunned squats every time Friday's leg session rolled around? Embarrassingly, that was me. Yeah, I've been there.

But I was determined to improve not only my chicken legs, but also my overall gains in terms of strength and size. That meant time under the bar, and there's no other exercise that can illicit the gains that serious squatting does. So I embarked upon a quest to become a beast of a squatter. After hitting my 429lb squat at a bodyweight of 192lbs, I'm well equipped to give you my story of how I got there and what works effectively for average guys like me.

Here's how to turn heads next time you walk under the rack, and also achieve something you can be truly proud of in the gym. This, ladies and gentleman, is how to get your squat up to 400lbs rapidly. (A little over 180kg)

Squatting Form - Breaking it Down

First, squats are hard. Very hard. They're even harder if you can't perform them correctly.

Does this apply to you? Maybe. But the first thing I stopped doing when I began squatting seriously was the following things:

  • No more quarter squats. Squats had to be all the way to the bottom, or at least breaking parallel.
  • No more pussy pads. My neck had to toughen up to resist the stress of the barbell.
  • No more Huntchback of Notredamn-style posture when squatting. I would have to learn to brace my arch in order to move big poundages effectively.

Most people have problems with the 1st and 3rd points in particular. The second is easy to get rid of - just dispose of that pathetic pad and man up. The first is also easy to do - just lose your ego and understand that until you're breaking parallel, your squats don't count for shit. The third, however, is something that needs to be coached effectively.

The most common problem with squats, contrary to belief, is not that people are too chickenshit to do the (well, maybe it is), it's that when they do perform them, they make such a mess of the movement that the potential risk of injury outweighs the benefits.

A safe, properly performed squat, should look like Rippetoe cues in this video:

Along with the hip drive Rippetoe evidently points out, it's also essential to pay close attention to bar positioning on the upper back. If you wan to maximise the weight you shift under the bar, then you should seriously consider adopting a lower bar stance. Changing this stopped me crumbling like a pack of playing cards on the descent as well; the lower bar position encourages tightness and transfers more stress to the hamstrings and glutes, making the movement even more compound.

Let's review how to perfect the squat from start to finish.

Setting Up

  • Feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, flared slightly
  • Completely central under the bar, bar positioned on the lower trap muscles
  • Head driven back into the bar, neck neutral
  • Chest out and upper back tight
  • Lower back arched
  • Lift off the bar

Performing the Squat

It's imperative to maintain the aforementioned tightness from the set up all the way through the complete range of motion on the squat. None of the following steps to completing the movement will work effectively unless you maintain all the previous coaching cues from the set-up. You need to be ready to squat before you actually perform your first rep. Sounds obvious, but so many forget how important the set up is and the end up failing half way through the lift immediately after racking it.

  • Push the hips backwards
  • Open the groin on the descent as you lower into the hole
  • Push the knees out as hard as possible to transfer energy to the posterior chain (incorporating more hamstrings, glutes and power as a result)
  • Once past parallel, drive through the hips as hard as possible as Rippetoe outlines in the video above ("This is where you squat from").
  • Return to neutral position in lockout. Proceed to next repetition.

Just reviewing all these points, you realise that the squat is an exceptionally technical lift. If you want to lift incredibly heavy iron and change your physique and performance as a result, it all starts with getting your form nailed. This may sound tedious, but it's a prerequisite to the assistance exercises and program I'm about to outline to skyrocket your poundages.

Form first, strength second. Simple.

Blow Your Existing Squat Out of the Water: 2 Amazing Movements

Now that you hopefully have nailed the technique to this gruelling lift, progression will come a lot faster alone. However, we're after something to really skyrocket our weights and toast our legs in the process. If you're intent on adding size, then this article is relevant to you as well - a big squat will build meaty thighs. Just ask Tom Platz or Ronnie Coleman.

So, what assistant exercises are actually useful in boosting our squat total? For a raw lifter, I've found two in particular unbeatable when it comes to building a powerful posterior chain, explosiveness out of the hole, and overall core strength, coordination and impeccable technique. All of these are absolutely essential factors that need to be on point if we're to master the squat.

Enter the Box Squat, shortly followed by the Glute Ham Raise.

Box Squats

Why Box squat? Here's my colleague Paul O'Brien's interpretation, pulled from his article on the Nation site about box squatting's unique benefits:

  • Enhanced Recovery ? box squats do not fatigue the body anywhere near as much as conventional squats, this means that people can even do them twice a week or for competitive athletes it means they can do them without experiencing unwanted soreness which could affect performance days later.

  • Overload of the key squatting muscles - It is generally accepted that you should keep your shins perpendicular to the floor when squatting. With box squatting, you can go past this point (that is, an imaginary line drawn from your ankle to your knee will point toward your body), which places all the stress on the major squatting muscles- hips, glutes, lower back, and hamstrings. This is a tremendous advantage.

  • Every rep is the same depth ? With normal squats you generally find that when a person starts using heavier weights they start to squat higher and higher , with box squats every rep is the same depth.

  • Box squats help build/increase your Deadlift ?As an added bonus, box squats will build the deadlift as well by overloading the hips and lower back muscles. Your ability to explode off the floor will increase greatly. Many powerlifters have built phenomenal deadlifts from doing a lot of box squatting but very little deadlifting.

  • They put less stress on you knees ? this makes the exercise ideal for people who find conventional squatting tough on their knees or for athletes who are trying to build strength back up after a knee injury.

Box squats have been responsible for more world record squats than squatting alone has. Louie Simmons, founder of Westside Barbell, has 5 people at his elite facility in the US that squat over 1,000lbs. All of these lifters use the box squat as their primary lift.

Regular squats are a fantastic compound movement. But if you want to get your regular squat total up significantly and fast, the prominent eccentric phase and lengthening of the muscles make it more difficult to train as frequently as box squats do. By breaking up the lift into segments, you can, in turn, train it more frequently, for faster progression and greater gains!

Here's me at 20 years old performing a 190kg box squat. Shortly after this I raw squatted 195kg (429lbs).

How to Box Squat correctly (By Louie Simmons): First, push the glutes rearward as far as possible. With a tight back arch to descend to the box. Push your neck into your traps. Push your knees apart to maximally activate the hips. When sitting on the box, the shins should be straight up and down or even past perpendicular. This places all the work on the hamstrings, glutes, hips, and low back. These are the precise muscle groups that do a very large percent of the squat. After sitting completely on the box, some glute and hip muscles are relaxed somewhat. Then forcefully flex the abs, hips, and glutes and jump off the box. To ascend correctly, push the traps into the bar first. This will flex the back muscles, then the hips and glutes, and finally the legs. If you push with the legs first, you will be in a good morning position because the glutes will raise first, causing you to bend over. 

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