3 Tips to a Bigger Squat

3 Tips to a Bigger Squat

If you’ve been on the Conditioning Centre Facebook page recently you’ll have seen that we do a lot of squatting, and that our members are pretty good squatters because of it.

It’s the foundation of our lower body days on the No Excuses programme, all of our Olympic lifting programmes and an obvious pre-requisite for all of our powerlifters. We even include them in every circuit session, every beginner session, and even every warm-up.

So with all we know and all we do surrounding the squat, we’re going to share with you 3 tips to improve your max effort squats. We’re talking your 1-3 rep sets where you’re working at 90% and above.

These things are going to be the difference between you hitting 100% of your 1 rep max and that crucial 105%. The 5% more than you’ve ever done.

As well as being a display of brute strength, squatting big is a serious skill, and the problem with skills is that if they’re not practiced enough and well enough, under stress they fall apart.

That stress can be mental or physical. The fear of a big weight on your back is as stressful as the feel of it and is just as likely to make you balls it up. Under stress you always revert to your most practiced technique, so put these tips n place on EVERY SESSION, then when it comes to your big sets, your most practiced becomes your best.

1) A fast squat is a good squat

The speed of your squat is crucial to its success. If it slows down too much, it stops, the same as anything else really. Simple concept, but often ignored.

You need to enter every rep of every set with the intent of pushing and accelerating the bar throughout the entire rep, not just a bounce out of the bottom and not just a push past the sticking point and cruising through the rest.

You need to drive that bar up constantly and get that bar jiggling at the top due to the speed of your rep.

Drive and accelerate everything from bottom to top. If you practice slow, you will be slow. If you practice fast, you will be fast.

So whether you’ve got 60%-70%-80%-90% on the bar, hit it with the same speed.

Whether you’re on your warm-ups or your top set, hit them with the same speed.

Whether you’re feeling good or feeling bad, hit it with the same speed and either way, you’ll be surprised what happens.

Then when it comes to 90%-100%+ day, your central nervous system will be ready to push hard and fast both out of the hole, AND through the sticking point in the middle because you’ve built and practiced a fast squat.

2) Maintaining your torso angle is key

After being too slow, the second biggest reason for a missed rep is losing the angle of your torso.

Now I’m not going to get into what is the best torso angle for you or any other lifter, but put it this way, it’s easier to push something over that’s already leaning. This is why I personally always favour high bar upright squats where possible.

In a squat you want to take a heavy bar down and up, and the easiest way to do that is in a straight line. Losing your torso angle by leaning forward and pushing your hips back brings in more forward and backward movement than is necessary, making it inefficient.

It will also cause a quick and sudden shift in which muscles are driving the movement, normally from the quads to the lower back. The lower back is often weaker than the quads therefore more likely to fail on strength in a big lift.

Also, even if they are strong enough, the muscles that suddenly take the load will need to find a ton of extra tension from somewhere in a flexed position of a max effort lift so be able to support it, which is near impossible.

Practice sets with weights that allow you to keep a constant back angle (whatever that is for you) more often. Doing too many sets where you lose it will result in failure on the big weights. Sure you might make one or 2 early PR’s this way, but it won’t last.

3) Balance Your Weight

An old adage for squatting is “weight on your heels”. I figure it was designed to stop beginners with poor mobility and strength from lifting their heels when they first start out.

It’s a crappy cue when it comes to big weights though.

Any standing exercise starts at the foot, so you need to balance your weight accordingly. With your feet side by side, having your weight more on our toes will use more of your quads, and having it on your heels will use more glutes and hams.

Squats are predominantly a leg/quad exercise, which is why lifting shoes with heel pushing you onto your toes normally give you an instant improvement in your lifts. Deadlifts are predominantly a posterior chain exercise, which is why you do it barefoot with no heel and also why you’ll even see bodybuilders RDL-ing with their toes elevated to get more tension in the hamstrings.

But with deep squats, past parallel (the only ones that count on testing day), the load does shift to the hips and hams and glutes the deeper you get, and it moves to the quads as you ascend again. This is why you get stuck in the middle, as the weight transfers from one to the other.

So, because both are being used, you want the best of both, so you want your weight on your mid-foot throughout. Too far back and you won’t be able to recruit your quads enough on the ascent, too far forward and you’ll get stuck in the hole as you didn’t have enough tension round your hips to drive out.

Simply put squatting is all about balance and precision. If you are balanced and precise, your can apply your full strength, quickly. If you do that you will probably make the 105% rep because the bar will never slow down enough to stop.

Put these tips into practice on your next squat day and let us know how you get on.

Ian.