3 Practices to Boost Your PR
Great programming is vital. But in the quest to build a stronger squat, lifters get too wrapped up in sets and reps and loading schemes. We sometimes forget about the basics, like creating tension and stability, and doing an effective warm-up that doesn't waste time. Here are three things that could lead to a new PR after just a couple of weeks.
1 – Warm-Up With Movement, Address Restrictions Later
The purpose of the warm-up has been muddied and confused. If general fitness is the goal, then doing mobility circuits and some foam rolling before you work out is fine. But if the goal is to build high levels of strength and muscle, then a warm-up like that can be excessive and even counterproductive.
Although mobility circuits may make you feel good, research shows that dynamic movement drills (resembling the movement planned for that day) aimed at increasing tissue temperature is the deciding factor in increasing performance. This just means we need to move through a complete range of motion with some resistance or load repeatedly to warm up and prepare the body for lifting.
We don't need to work on achieving new levels of mobility. Warming up the posterior chain for heavy pulls can be as simple as spending a minute or two unlocking and extending the hips with a resistance band pulling on you.
Posterior Chain Warm-Up
Attach the band to something behind you, step through it, pull it all the way up, and do 40-60 slow controlled movements where you just touch your end range of flexion.
Other methods to get all the tissues in the body warm are medicine ball slams and loaded carries or pushes. Here's a favorite warm-up circuit that takes about 30 seconds and will get you ready for a hard lift.
30 Second Dynamic Warm-Up
The modified Hindu press-up done at the start helps warm the entire upper body and also touches the limits of thoracic extension, while the kneeling medicine ball slams prepare you for any overhead movements. The plate push can be done on any mat or towel that will slide on your gym floor. It's used to make sure the hips, trunk, and the rest of the lower body are prepped for the intensity of training.
As for the foam roller and long list of mobility drills, save them for after. The workout will reveal where you need to focus those efforts anyway.
2 – PAP the Proven Way
Post-activation potentiation, or PAP, is basically anything done before an activity that improves performance in that activity. Jumping or doing plyometric drills before going for a 1RM on the squat would be an example.
Evidence shows this is possible because PAP improves rate of muscle contraction, but like so much in strength and fitness, the volume needed to actually improve instead of fatigue is specific to the lifter and something he has to discover on his own.
If used properly, PAP can help you PR, but just throwing a bunch of shit at the wall isn't going to cut it. Instead, here's a cheat sheet based in reality, research, and science:
- Doing max effort jumps before maxing with weights can help, but the movement has to be similar. For example, a max vertical jump or jump squats could improve a squat while a maximal broad jump could improve a deadlift.
- For the vertical jump, there's no need to jump up and touch a marker. Just descend into a quarter squat rapidly and try to touch the ceiling, raising your arms above your head and stretching out your body as long as possible. Rest a couple of seconds between each jump to make sure you jump as high as you can. Likewise, there's no need for a marker for the broad jump. Just jump as far out as you can and rest between each attempt.
- Less is usually more. Novices should only do 1-2 sets of jumps while more advanced lifters may need 2-3 sets. Neither needs 5 jumps per set.
- The more stressful the jump, the less volume you need. For example, depth jumps expose the body to very high stresses, so you don't need to do more than one set of 5. Less stressful jumps would need 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps, include box jumps and tuck jumps. (Tuck jumps are stationary jumps where the lifter jumps as high as he can, brings his knees to his chest, and then brings his legs back down before he lands).
To make use of PAP, do a general warm-up, then do 5-10 minutes of some dynamic movement drills that include squat movements. Then, perform your max PAP jumps with the recommended volume according to your ability level and training age.
After that, start your warm-up and ramp-up sets until you start hitting singles and going for that new max. Make sure to go for the new max within five minutes of your PAP jumps. Unless you did too many ramp-up sets or rested too long between them, the magic should start to happen in that 3-5 minute range.
3 – Start From The Bottom
Coaches often give sermons about tightness and posture at the top of the squat after the bar is walked out. Despite their best efforts, many lifters who may be tight and rigid at the top still look terrible going into and coming out of the hole.
While mobility and stability drills have traditionally been used to address this problem, improving a movement requires actual practice of the movement while challenging your limits. Bottom-up squats teach you how to maintain that same rigid position at the bottom of the squat while forcing mobility and stability changes.
If you can learn to create as much tension and stability in this bottom position as at the top while also increasing starting strength, you'll be able to lift much more weight during a conventional squat.
- Set the safety pins below parallel as your mobility and stability allows. The goal is to challenge your limits, but bad practice will never yield desired results.
- Get under the bar, making sure to feel pressure on your whole foot, and screw yourself into the ground to create tension in your hips/glutes.
- Breathe into your abdomen very deeply, exhale hard, and tense the abs and then breathe again into your tightly braced trunk.
- Stand up in perfect position while driving with your hips.
- Take your time in the set up and be sure to exhale and inhale into that braced position before every rep.