7 Habits of Highly Effective Squatters by Chad Wesley Smith
Run faster, jump higher, tackle harder, whatever your athletic goal is, improving your squat will help you reach them. The squat is ultimate developer of quad, hamstring, glute and hip strength and these are the muscles that are responsible for sprinting speed and jumping ability. It is no coincidence that Olympic sprinters, the fastest athletes on the planet, possess tremendous lower body development. Ben Johnson, the former World Record holder in the 100m was said to have squatted 600 pounds for 6 reps at a bodyweight of only 175 pounds. Whether your goal is powerlifting dominance, legendary strongman performances or tremendous athletic feats, these tips to build your squat will help you get there.
1. IMPROVE YOUR MOBILITY- A lack of mobility will make it difficult to for you to hit proper depth and if you are able to hit depth, it will be difficult for you to maintain your strongest body position. This inability to maintain proper body positions is more likely to lead to injury and if you are injured you can’t squat. Consistently stretching your hips, quads, hamstrings will help you maintain better squatting positions and stay healthy so you can train hard.
2. SQUAT TO DEPTH ALL THE TIME-If you are going to be a great competitive squatter you must squat to depth all the time. Do not fool yourself into thinking that you can squat high in training and then will hit legal depth in a meet. I have always made it a motto to “Leave No Doubt” in my squatting. I don’t want to have to even look for 3 white lights when I finish a squat because I should already know that I hit proper depth. Film your squats from the side to check your depth or having your training partners assess your depth for you and remember, friends don’t let friends squat high.
3. SPEED, SPEED, SPEED!-The best way to squat big weight is to squat fast. Generating great speed and force is the best way to drive through sticking points. Focus on imparting maximal speed to the bar all the time. From 135 to your max, you need to be trying to drive the bar through the roof. When you are looking to develop great bar speed you need to jump and do speed work. Jumps of all kinds (box jumps, squat jumps, jump for distance, depth jumps) will all help improve your Rate of Force Development so make sure you are jumping at least once per week. Jumps will also serve to activate your central nervous system prior to a heavy squat session. When you are doing speed work for the squat, I suggest you use straight weight (no bands or chains) in the 55-70% percent range for sets of 2-4 reps and focus on performing at least 1 rep per second. Get out a stop watch and time your sets.
4. DOMINATE THE WEIGHT-Do you know how I put 905 pounds on my back and smashed it for the American Record (raw w/ wraps-308 class)? Confidence. One of the most common mistakes I see people making when attempting a max squat is to slow down their descent. This happens for 1 reason…fear. There can be no fear when getting under heavy weight. This supreme confidence comes from proper preparation, both physically and mentally. If you have trained to the best of your abilities there is no reason to have a doubt in your mind when stepping on the platform. Not only must your training be great, you must also prepare your mind. 905 was a number that was constantly in my mind leading up to squatting it, mentally I owned 905. I had squatted it hundreds, if not thousands of times in my mind. Fill your mind with positive mental imagery and know that you own whatever weight is going on your back, unrack it powerfully, descend with it confidently and then explode with it out of the hole; be on a mission to lockout.
5. BUILD STRENGTH OUT OF THE HOLE-The most common place for a raw lifter to miss a max squat is right out of the hole (ie. The bottom portion of the lift). Putting extra attention to this portion of the lift is what I believe is most responsible for improving my squat from 800 to 905 pounds over a 10 month period. The two best exercises to improve your strength out of the hole are dead squats and pause squats. Dead squats are performed by placing the pins in a safety rack at 1” above parallel, getting under the bar in that position and squatting up from there. Try this 3 week training cycle of dead squats…
Week 1-10 sets of 1 at 60% with 30 seconds between sets
Week 2-7 sets of 1 at 67.% with 45 seconds between sets
Week 3-4 sets of 1 at 75% with 1 minute between sets
Pause squats are another great option to improve your strength and power out of the hole in the squat. Pause squats done with 1, 3, 5 or a 7 second pause will not only help you build strength by diminishing or eliminating the benefits of the stretch reflex out of the hole, they will also build static, supportive strength in the lower back, hips and abs, teach you to stay tight and help your body find its strongest position. Try this 3 week training cycle of pause squats…
Week 1-3 sets of 5 reps with 50% using a 7 second pause
Week 2-3 sets of 4 reps with 60% using a 5 second pause
Week 3-3 sets of 3 reps with 70% using a 3 second pause
6. BUILD UP YOUR BACK-Bill Kazmaier, arguably the strongest man of all-time, said that “A strong back equals a strong man”, I don’t argue with Kaz and neither should you. Back strength is often the limiting factor in someone’s ability to squat. If you back (upper and lower) is weak, you won’t be able to support heavy weight. Your hamstrings, quads, hips and glutes may be strong enough to squat 500 pounds, but if your back can’t support it, you aren’t going to squat it. A great starting place to improve your lower back strength is to avoid wearing a lifting belt as much as possible. Not wearing a belt will make your midsection work much harder to support the weight and in turn, make it that much stronger when a belt is worn. Another great exercise to build the static supportive strength necessary in the lower back for a huge squat are deadlift hypers. A deadlift hyper is a combination of a 45 degree back raise and a deadlift. Set up the bar on the floor, take a snatch grip on it and do a back raise while holding the bar. I have personally gone over 300 pounds on this exercise for a set of 5. Adding in a 1-3 second static hold at the top of each rep will also be effective. When looking to strengthen your upper back to improve your squat, all type of rowing and pulling variations will help. My personal favorite is the chest supported row and again adding in a static hold at the top of each rep for 1-3 seconds will be of tremendous benefit. Front squats or safety squat bar squats are also a great way to build up your upper back in a very specific manner. I would definitely encourage you to include these variations in your training.
7. HONE YOUR TECHNIQUE-If your technique in the squat is poor you are wasting your strength. Great technique is what allows great strength to be expressed effectively. Not everybody’s technique will be the same, individual body dimensions, leverages, strengths and weaknesses will dictate what technique is most effective for you. From an empty bar to your max, you must practice great technique on every rep. Great technique starts with a great setup so get TIGHT and create a good shelf for the bar while driving your sternum up and your head into your traps. Technique can only be perfected through practice, so make sure you are turning the volume up on your squat training. I have had squat sessions with as many as 18 work sets of squats and squat variations. With that being said, if you want to be a great squatter and have great technique, you must practice that skill, you must squat. The Barbell Back Squat must be the foundation of your training and front squats, box squats, pause squats, dead squats, etc are there to supplement that work. I start every squat session with the back squat and work on other things after. If you want to be great at something you have to do that thing, not just something similar to it. I can confidently say that my best squat ever, 905 pounds, was also my most technically proficient squat ever.
These 7 tips are only a glimpse into what is necessary to become a great squatter and strength athlete but they will give you a great start on the road to success and building a legendary squat.