Here's what you need to know...
- Heavy squat stand-ups are one of the simplest things you can do to gain confidence in your squat and add more pounds on the bar.
- Do heavy squat walk-outs to make your normal poundages feel lighter and help you learn to brace and keep tight.
- Set the safety bars at about one-third the distance of your normal squat and do overloaded top-half squats.
- Anderson squats have tremendous carryover to regular squats. They begin at the bottom of the range of motion, eliminating the stretch reflex.
It Starts With Your Head
The squat is the backbone of strength training. Adding strength to your squat will carry over into everything, including life itself.
However, there will come a point when your squat numbers will slow and your progress will come to a standstill. Adding more weight to the bar isn't always the answer. A stronger squat often starts with your mind.
You need to build confidence while at the same time teaching your body to handle heavier weights.
Here are four squat variations that will allow you to keep slapping on plates.
1. Heavy Squat Stand-Ups
Squat stand-ups are one of the simplest, yet most effective things you can do to gain confidence in your squat and add more pounds on the bar.
They're very simple to do. Let's say your 1RM squat is 400 pounds. Work up to your 1RM squat, but don't do a full squat.
Simply load the weight on the bar in the rack, get under the bar just as if you were going to unleash a hellish squat, and just stand up with it.
Don't squat. In fact, don't move. Just stand there holding the weight on your back for 8-10 seconds.
Rack it and add 10% to the bar so you're now at 440 pounds. Again, set up and get tight as if you're going to squat it.
Brace hard, keep your upper back and core tight, and simply stand up with the weight. Hold it for about for 8-10 seconds while keeping everything tight and lower it back to the pins.
From here add another 5-10%, if you're strong enough to handle it.
Try working to 15 to 20% above your current 1RM squat.
The benefits are numerous:
- Once you get comfortable with heavy weight on your back, your normal squat poundage will feel much lighter.
- Standing with a heavy load on your back will make your upper back, traps, and core work like nothing else. Just holding heavy weight in position like this will cause your body to adapt and work hard with a very low chance of injury.
- Your nervous system will get a serious wake up call.
2. Heavy Squat Walkouts
Heavy squat walkouts mesh nicely with heavy squat stand-ups. But don't go as heavy as you do on stand-ups – about 10-15% above your squat 1RM will do the trick.
There's obviously going to be movement of the legs and ankles, so there's a much higher risk of things going wrong. Leave your ego at home and train smart. Set the safeties high and if possible, have a 3-point spot (three spotters).
Get the weight on your back, get tight, stand up, then walk backwards and set up as if you were going to squat. But don't squat. Just hold the position for 8-10 seconds while staying tight and bracing your core and upper back.
Once you've held the squat at the top for 8-10 seconds, walk forward and rack the weight.
Again, once you're used to walking out with a big weight on your back, your normal poundages for your sets and reps won't feel nearly as heavy.
You'll also acquire a lot more confidence in tackling something really heavy. When I was training to break the Canadian squat record of 210.5 kg (463 pounds) at 83 kg body weight (183 pounds), I'd load up the bar to 465 pounds on every single workout.
The first time I stood up with it, I felt like my spine was going to collapse. The second time I tried it, I did a squat walkout with it. I did it twice more, and by the fourth time, I thought to myself, "This isn't so bad."
Two weeks later I did a full squat with the weight. This gave me massive confidence going into the Nationals where I broke the record on my second attempt.
3. Top-Range Heavy Partial Squats
Once you get used to having heavy weight on your back, the next step is to start progressing towards a full squat, and top-range partial squats are a great way to build confidence and muscle.
Working only in a partial range of motion allows you to lift more weight than your normal, full-rep max so you can train your muscles at a far higher threshold.
Set your safety bars so that they're about one-third the distance of your normal squat. Lower them enough so it's not just a knee bend.
In addition to gaining confidence and muscle, you'll also improve connective tissue and be forced to brace hard, giving you a crazy core workout.
4. Anderson Squats (Bottom-Up Squats)
One of the easiest ways to improve your squats is learning how to properly use your upper back to assist in the lift.
Most people think squats are primarily a lower body exercise, but when you're squatting heavy and your goal is to move heavy weights, you want to use every muscle in your body.
Your upper back is one of the biggest areas of muscle on your body and when you learn how to use it properly in your squats, the weights will fly up.
A great way to get your upper back into a squat is getting tight with the bar and "break" the bar across your back. You want your back tight throughout the whole squat. When you start the concentric portion of the squat and start to come back up, focus on driving your back into the bar. This really gets the upper back into your squat.
One of the best exercises you can do to learn how to drive your back into the bar is the Anderson Squat. Named after legendary Olympic weightlifter and strongman Paul Anderson, the Anderson squat begins at the bottom of the squat range of motion.
Load the bar from the bottom portion of the squat (using pins), get under the bar, get tight, and then drive from the bottom. This eliminates any stretch reflex and it really makes you work hard to get the bar moving. For convenience, you can also start from the top and use a dead-stop at the bottom.
The Anderson squat also forces you to focus on driving your back into the bar, which will have great carryover when you're doing traditional from-the-top-down squats.