Sometimes the only thing holding you back from achieving new personal records in the squat is fear.
In fact, contrary to popular belief, when President Roosevelt made his famous speech that included the line, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," he was actually talking about squats. Never mind that he had polio, he didn't let a little thing like that hold him back.
No sir, the man had pluck.
You history buffs can debate the veracity of that story all you want, we don't care. What matters is how we overcome this fear.
Enter Heavy Supports.
They're not really an exercise, but a method. We think you'll forget the semantic inaccuracy once you try them.
The method was allegedly developed by former Mr. America Chuck Sipes, but it comes to us courtesy of Charles Poliquin.
Sipes claimed the method simply built tendon strength and thus allowed the lifter to squat greater loads. Poliquin, however, believes it heightens the shutdown threshold of the Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO), which is a tension/stretch receptor located in the tendon.
According to Poliquin, "The GTO inhibitory effect can be seen when two people of unequal strength arm wrestle. As the weaker person loses, it looks like he's suddenly quitting and gets his wrist slammed to the top of the table. What's really happening is that the GTO perceives a rapid rate of stretch during the eccentric contraction, at which point it yells to the brain, 'Shut down, or this pimply-faced goon is going to rip the biceps apart!' The brain then sends a rapid signal to inhibit the contraction in order to prevent a muscle tear."
Apparently the same thing is true of your legs when you do squats. However, you can raise the GTO threshold by interspersing 8-second heavy isometric holds, a.k.a. supports, in between regular sets.
This his how you incorporate Heavy Supports:
Set 1: Full squats 5 RM at 85% of max (rest for three minutes after each set).
Set 2: A heavy support of 8 seconds at 200 % of max. Basically, it's 1/16th of a squat. You just unrack the weight and hold an upright position with your knees just short of lock-out. The weight should be heavy enough that your knees start to quiver like a certain seasonal fat man's belly when he laughs.
Set 3: Full squats 5 RM at 85% of max.
Set 4: Heavy support 8 seconds at 210 % of max.
Set 5: Full squats 5 RM at 85% of max.
Set 6: Heavy support 8 seconds at 220 % of max.
Poliquin maintains that the loads you use during heavy supports go up dramatically (we've only just begun to experiment with the method so we'll take his word for it).
While the percentages indicated are generally accurate, you might want to use even greater loads then the ones suggested. Don't be afraid.
Regardless of whether the method improves your squat poundages through building tendon strength, inhibiting the GTO, or simply eliminating fear, it works.