Heavy conventional squats do a lot for muscular growth. Aside from the deadlift, you'd be hard-pressed to find another exercise that provides so many benefits. When it comes to lower body development, squats are undoubtedly one of the best exercises.
Problem is, the standard back squat isn't a perfect fit for everybody, and prolonged periods of heavy loading can be potentially harmful. How often have you heard lifters complain of hip, knee, or lower back problems?
Repeatedly beating yourself to a pulp in an attempt to make huge gains isn't the way to do things. After a certain point, you're going to come to the realization that there are some lifts you just can't do at a high frequency. Doing so leaves you wracked with chronic injuries.
Now, there's nothing wrong with being aggressive. We just need to appreciate the importance of making subtle modifications in our training.
Another Option: Hand-Supported "Hatfield" Squats
This squat variation is essentially a safety-bar squat with your hands holding onto a barbell placed in front of you, or on specialized handles. Placing your hands on the rack is also an option.
I recommend holding the bar instead or the rack. This movement can only be done with the use of a safety-squat bar because it can balance on your back and leave your hands free for additional support. If your gym doesn't have access to one, find one that does.
With the use of your hands, you can push through your weakest position in the squat. Also, the increased support allows you to control the eccentric (lowering) portion of the lift, which assists in taking pressure off your low back.
The trouble most people have with conventional squatting is their low backs often give out before their legs. With the hand-supported squat, you're able to effectively hone in on your legs while mitigating undue stress. Depending on your goal, you can easily progress or regress by changing how much hand assistance you use.
This lift induces a training effect similar to a hack squat, only you're reaping the benefits of regular squatting. It's also a good way to build competency with higher loads, making it a fantastic strength and muscle building exercise as well as a teaching tool.
No, it's not going to magically take your squat game to a whole different level. But it sure does a heck of job at improving your confidence and proficiency under appreciable loads. The aspect of un-racking and walking out with a heavy weight requires a ton of focus and concentration.
Don't Get Cocky
The only instance where folks can potentially screw up is if they get reckless by overloading the movement. The support of your hands does allow you to get more work done at maximal loads, so it's ridiculously easy to force-feed the exercise. Resist the urge to stroke your ego.
As with any exercise, pay attention to detail. Just because you can put on more weight doesn't give you the right to do it – choose your battles wisely. The goal isn't to kill it on day one. Progress appropriately. Use this time to apply a novel training stimulus along with reinforcing good technique.
Should You Try the Hand-Supported Squat?
- Well, it's an excellent substitute for lifters mired with injuries. You're imposing less stress on the spine, and it takes pressure away from your shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
- Since you can overload the exercise, it's a great option to build competency with heavier loads. You'll feel like a beast un-racking and walking out with a heavy-ass weight.
- Instead of chasing big weights, start with some high-volume work. With high-rep conventional squatting, your form will inevitably break down once fatigue builds up. Since you have your hands to help you, your lower body is in the driver's seat, making it one of the best exercises for legs.
- Some folks aren't built to handle conventional squats at a high frequency. The hand-supported squat can be used as an adjunct to back or front squats.
One More Tool in Your Toolbox
This variation isn't meant to take total command of your lower body training. Coordination under appreciable loads is something you still want to consider, and there's obviously less of it involved given your hands are assisting you in this lift.
Throw it into your toolbox and give it a try. Don't attach yourself to one training strategy. Always strive to get stronger, but don't be afraid to break tradition.