The Squat has been called the king of strength training exercises for good reason. Nothing trains the lower body musculature quite like a Squat. It is a fundamental movement for humans, which, when performed correctly, can dramatically increase athletic performance by helping you run faster, jump higher, jump further and hit harder.
Squats may seem incredibly simple, but Squat technique can actually be pretty complex. If one thing is off, it can detract from your training and potentially even cause an injury.
1. Squat Often
This one is a bit obvious, but if you expect to see your numbers climb and your legs turn into tree trunks capable of creating tremendous power, you must train the Squat often. In the off-season, one day of squatting won't cut it. You should aim for at least two workouts a week with Squats included in them.
2. Use Variations
Performing different variations of the Squat is a great way to kickstart your lower body strength. Variations target slightly different muscles and parts of muscles and change nervous system stimulation. Some of the best are:
- Barbell Front Squats: Barbell Squats in a front rack position with elbows up. Rest the bar on your front deltoids and focus on keeping your elbows up and pointing straight ahead through the whole movement.
- Rear Foot-Elevated Squats with Dumbbells or Barbell: Place one foot behind you on a bench or box at knee height and place the other foot out in front of you in a lunge position. Grab the dumbbells or position the barbell on your back. Keeping your torso upright, lower down until your back knee reaches the floor or slightly above. Return to the top.
- Barbell Wide-Stance Back Squats (Sumo Squat): Set up with a slightly wider than normal stance and angle your toes out slightly. This targets the adductors and glutes more than a traditional Back Squat, which is more quad-dominant.
- Pause Squats with any other variation: Take a 3-second pause at the bottom of the lift or at the halfway point.
- Anderson Squats: Start at the bottom of the Squat with the bar resting on the pins. Stand up, squat down, set the bar on the pins and repeat. Starting in the hole puts you at a mechanical disadvantage, and you must rely on raw strength to push up and out.
Every time you train during your warm-up, hit a few sets of Bodyweight Squats and/or PVC pipe Back Squats. This will reinforce the squatting motor pattern. Practice makes perfect.
Focus on creating torque using your feet. Drive your feet into the ground hard and try to rotate your feet to the outside of your body, but not so hard that you actually move them. Creating torque will help you "stay tight," meaning it will be easier to stay in proper position throughout the movement.
Brace your torso by taking a deep breath in right before you descend into your Squat, and push out on your abs all the way through the movement.
6. Don't Ignore the Little Things
A Barbell Squat may seem simple, but there are many little things to perfect in the Squat. Here are two that are often overlooked.
- Wrist Position: Keep your wrists straight in an unbroken position. Don't let them bend back. This will keep your upper back in a tight, power-focused position. It will also save your wrists from any potential problems.
- Head Position: Don't stare at the ceiling when you squat. You probably learned to stare at a point on the ceiling back in high school, but it's wrong. Your head should remain in a neutral position, eyes looking straight ahead throughout the Squat.
If you want to increase your power (i.e.,the ability to move the weight quickly), then you must train for power. Control the eccentric descent, and as soon as you hit depth, explode powerfully. Imagine exploding up so fast that the weight flies off your shoulders and through the roof.
8. Core Training
Squats aren't just a lower-body exercise. They also engage the core musculature of your torso—a lot. By training your core muscles specifically, you will benefit everything athletically, not just your Squat. For a sweet core workout, check out this article.
Squats are extremely revealing of any problem areas you may have. If your ankles lack adequate mobility you will know when you start to come up off your heels and onto your toes. If your shoulders are super tight, you won't be able to get your arms into proper position, and you may have difficulty maintaining straight wrists. By using the Squat as a strength training exercise AND a screening tool to find problem areas with your mobility, you can't lose.
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