Recently, I spoke with Lee Boyce about understanding how much you should be able to squat in this article on Men's Journal. Developing a big squat requires lots of time, reps and work, but what if there were a few quick fixes to help you tighten up form and bust through squat performance plateaus? Here are 5 strategies you can use to improve your squat performance immediately:
1. rip the floor apart
The simple act of gripping the floor with your feet as if you were attempting to rip the floor apart while you squat solves 2 potential squat hazards. First, this will help you avoid the deadly knee collapse which can drain your squat power and set you up for injury. Second, this will engage lateral gluteal musculature, which support a strong squat.
2. get your core in check
Squatting with no awareness of core or pelvic positioning will result in a weak squat while shifting stress to undeserved structures. Squat power is all about hip performance and hip performance is all about proper pelvic positioning. Get the details on how to tune your core position up and get more out of your squats in this video:
In addition to core positioning, a monster squat requires great core stability and endurance. A weak or relaxed core during squat action will result in folding of the torso, diminished squat performance or even worse - injury. One great exercise to train your core to be strong and stable for the duration of each set of squats is the loaded carry. Loaded carry variations challenge the core while standing, similar to how a heavy squat does. Here's a video on how to master the loaded carry:
3. keep your chest up
One of the cues that I use during squat training is to consider that you have a laser pointing out of the middle of your chest. You want to be sure that the laser in the center of your chest is always pointing in front of you and never starts to dip towards the floor. This will ensure that you avoid allowing the chest to tip over, turning a powerful squat into a low back stressing deadlift-squat mutant. Keeping the chest tall while you squat also allows you to incorporate more of the intended robust hip musculature that drives a big squat.
4. finish the squat
If you want an impressive squat, it's important to finish the movement. I regularly see squats executed properly until participants reach the top and fail to lock the knees out while squeezing the glutes. This common error is like slowing up before the finish line during a sprint - your performance suffers. Driving heavy weight away from the ground requires that you get through the finish line or lock your knees out. Stopping prior to terminal knee extension not only causes squat power to suffer but also causes you to rock back into a potentially painful low back extension. The video below reviews the pitfalls and corrections related to locking out the knees:
5. jump first
Ever get tired of fitness professionals claiming that gains ONLY come from lots of hard work? In general I promote this message as well but in this case I've got a treat for you. This is one of those rare instances where a simple training trick can result in quick squat performance improvements. Try standing on a box 15-20 inches off of the ground, drop off and immediately jump maximally off the ground into a soft/athletic landing. Step back up to the top of the box and repeat for a total of 2-3 reps. Perform these depth jumps 20-30 seconds before your next set of loaded squats to put up your best squat numbers yet.
Partaking in several reps of depth jumps/plyometric squat jumps prior to your heavy squat will tune up your neuromuscular system for optimal peformance. With all cylinders firing, you will be prepared to push more weight away from the ground during your heavy squat work.
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Tim DiFrancesco, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS is the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and Founder of TD Athletes Edge, where he provides fitness, recovery and nutrition guidance to aspiring and professional athletes. For training advice, visit www.tdathletesedge.com and follow him on Twitter/Instagram through @tdathletesedge.
Beardsley, C. (2013, September 26). Can Depth Jumps Acutely Improve Maximal Squat Strength? Retrieved December 3, 2015, from http://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/2013/09/26/depth-jump-squat/