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Whether you are a powerlifter, weightlifter, football player, or softball player, the squat is pretty much the go to lift. It’s the most bang for your buck. Of all the exercises known to man, the back squat recruits the most muscle fibers, so basically nothing gets an athlete more yoked. The back squat has been linked to faster 40-yard dashes, huge vertical leaps, and increased mobility. All in all it’s the perfect weapon for any athlete.
Powerlifters compete in the lift, so obviously it’s super important. If a weightlifter is efficient in the snatch and clean & jerk, the squat becomes the major movement used to improve the lifts. Back Squats are probably the most talked about lift on the planet. I believe that a weightlifter or any athlete for that matter can never have too big of a squat. As long as an athlete remains mobile and their relative strength remains the same or better, the athlete will profit from a bigger squat. Period!!!
Now that we have established that the squat is the King of all lifts, here are some of the principles that I have used to get it stronger:
• Squat often! I have found that three times per week is optimal. Once per week isn’t enough to become totally efficient in the lift. Squatting more than three times makes it difficult to prioritize other aspects of training.
• Paused Squats! This is probably the biggest secret that has produced so many big squats in our camp. Greg Nuckols is the master of paused squats. Greg will not only squat, but he will breathe and relax in the bottom. By relaxing, the smaller stabilizing muscles are forced to kick in.
• Keep the spine as vertical as possible! This will keep the bar and center of gravity over the hips and feet which is an optimal biomechanical position. A vertical spine is like a stable wall straight up and down.
• Control the descent and release the parachute. This means control the bar until the last second, and then relax the hips causing a slight dip at the bottom. This will allow for an optimal stretch reflex, and it will create a bigger bar oscillation that the athlete can ride to the top.
• During the ascent drive the back into the bar while pushing the hips through. This will optimize the athlete’s center of gravity.
• When the gains halt, add chains and bands. An athlete should always focus on compensatory acceleration or accelerating through the completion of the lift. Chains and bands teach this principle without the lifter having to think a lot about it.
• Spread the floor! During the descent and the ascent, pretend that you are trying to pull the ground apart with your feet. This will keep the glutes engaged the entire time aiding in hip extension.
• Eyes straight ahead and slightly up! This is a controversial one but studies have shown that this posture will engage more of the posterior chain keeping the athlete more upright. There will be slightly less recruitment from the quads, but all great lifter know that big squats are lost due to a loss of groove.
• Post activation potentiation! This is just a fancy phrase that means to find ways to let the CNS feel heavier weights than the actual weights it will be asked to lift. There are two solid ways that I use: 1. Bands can be used to deliver a load of 105% at the top and 70% at the bottom, or 2. Heavy walkouts. These really worked for my wife. For example if you are going to squat 405lb, walk out 440lb and hold it for 5-10 seconds. Then rack the weight, wait 60 seconds, and take 405lbs.
• Use your belt properly. First tighten the belt as tight as absolutely possible. Then take as big as breath as possible. Finally push your belly out against the belt hard. That will make the IAP as tight as humanly possible. This whole maneuver will keep the lifter stable in the bottom of the squat and throughout the movement.
Studies have shown that the only important aspects to muscle recruitment during the squat are range of motion and the load that one is using. Low bar or high bar doesn’t really matter, but the high bar squat allows the lifter to obtain a better range of motion and the spine is more vertical. Athletically the high bar is superior, but the low bar allows the lifter to carry a bigger load. Pick your poison! I don’t really care. I will say that my athletes use high bar except for my powerlifters. Even my powerlifters use high bar until about 4 weeks out from a meet. I have found that if a lifters high bar increases, so does their low bar. However that doesn’t work in reverse.
I hope this blog helps you guys increase that King of all Lifts. I will say that the Back Squat is one of the easier exercises to get strong. Coach McCauley says that building squats are like making diamonds: time and pressure. Good-luck making your diamonds!
We are hosting a Holiday Olympic Weightlifting Meet December 20th at the Mash Mafia Compound. Come hangout with the Mash Mafia Crew, some MDUSA Stars, Coach Mash, slam some bars, and of course KILL Some PRs! Click on the link to find out more:
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