Tag Archives: squat
Have you ever asked yourself if you should be using Olympic weight lifting shoes to squat? Below is powerlifter Jonnie Candito’s opinion. (It’s decidedly different from previous recommendations he’s given in the past, as he states in the video.)
I already wrote an article about weight lifting shoes, if you’re interested.
This is another post inspired by a strengthcamp video. The video is below and it’s a workaround, if your gym doesn’t have a squat rack.
- A ‘gym’ without a squat rack isn’t really a gym at all. It’s more like a health club… whatever the fuck that means.
- The squat is more than an exercise. It’s a primal movement pattern that you should train, even without access to a squat rack.
- If you are unable to gain access to a squat rack, train the prime movers (your legs in this case) with isolation movements, but still do squat movements for neural efficiency.
Optimal Solutions to Your Lack of Squat Rack Problem
Before I’m going to give you alternatives to the back squat, I want you to first do your absolute best to somehow gain access to a squat rack. If none of the options presented will work for you at all, then move on to the alternative exercise selection.
Option 1: Buy Your Own Squat Rack
This one is pretty straightforward. If you have the room at your house or in your garage, maybe it actually makes sense to cancel your shitty gym membership and buy a squat rack instead. While the racks at Rogue Fitness are beyond awesome and what I would recommend to anyone without hesitation, not everyone can afford them.
If you’re on a budget and that’s why you’re at a terrible gym without a squat rack, maybe you can find a used rack on Craigslist or one of the following are a nice budget-friendly option for you.
For $370 (shipped), you can get a decent power rack like the one below. It’s nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.
If you can’t fit that or it costs too much, maybe just get a squat stand ($140 shipped) and some mats to ditch the weight onto. You might have to practice dropping the weight off your back, but Oly lifters seem to do okay without a power rack.
You’ll also need a barbell…
This is probably your overall best option. Let’s say you end up buying a power rack for $370, a nice bench for $165 (you might be able to find one cheaper used), a barbell for $100 and weights for $500 (more or less depending on current strength levels). That’s a pretty good start to a home gym for about $1100. A gym membership might cost $30/month or more plus whatever it costs to get you back and forth… let’s say another $30/month.
So $60/month invested total. 1100 divided by 60 is 18.33, which will be the number of months it takes for the home gym to have paid off. So if you plan on training for more than two more years, it’s a good investment. Especially if you don’t have a squat rack at the gym and now you do have one at home!
Option 2: Build Your Own Squat Rack
If you’re very handy, maybe you can weld one together out of metal. The cheaper, easier option would be to build one out of wood. Click here or on the wooden squat rack picture below for instructions on how to build one!
It says it’s about $100 to build this one, so you’d be saving about $270 as opposed to buying a regular power rack. You can also customize this to fit wherever you need it to, because you’re building it yourself anyhow. Obviously you’ll still need to buy the rest of the equipment… or build it yourself. Good luck building a barbell!
Option 3: Switch Gyms
This one is probably the easiest. Find a gym with a squat rack and go lift there instead of your current health club.
Alternatives to Heavy Squats
If you can’t make the above options work for whatever reason(s), then here are some nice options to still train the squat movement pattern without heavy weights.
Clean to Front Squat
For this to work, you need to learn how to do a barbell clean. Watch the three part series from Glenn Pendlay at California Strength below.
After you can clean the weight up, just do some front squats with it.
This will allow you to use the most weight possible in absence of a squat rack.
Front Loaded Bulgarian Split Squat
These will allow you to overload one leg more. To make it work without a squat rack, you’ll have to clean the weight obviously, just like with the regular front squat.
Another nice squat movement that forces a vertical torso like the front squat. You can use a kettlebell like in the video or a dumbbell. It doesn’t matter too much.
Goblet Bulgarian Split Squat
These are squats done on one leg, so you can use less weight to heavily tax one leg at a time. Good eading material on the topic of pistol squats: Breaking Down the Single Leg Squat by Ben Bruno
You can assist these movements with heavy isolation work like the leg press, but try to still train the squat movement pattern with what you have available to you. Good luck with your training!
Chad Wesley Smith, 905lbs (410.5kg) raw squatter and strongman, teaches the squat in the following video. He also offers some advice to improve weaknesses with the squat movement. I really like this video a lot.
Another one from Jonnie Candito. The squat movement he describes basically combines the advantages of the high bar ATG (ass to grass) Olympic style squat with the low bar powerlifting style squat into a hybrid squat movement. I like to squat this way myself for the most part and can only recommend it.
In this article, I’m going to break down my approach to assistance work for the barbell squat. If you’re interested in information about the squat movement itself, read my Squat 101 article.
To get better at the squat, most of my assistance work is simply squatting more. Because I currently use Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 (with principles from his new book Beyond 5/3/1), I do my warmup sets and then my 5/3/1 work sets. This is the main portion of my workout that almost never changes (unless I’m maxing out), but the rest of the workout will vary from cycle to cycle or even week to week.
Personally, one of the things I struggle with is speed, so a lot of my squat workouts recently have had a dynamic work component. This means, for example, that I will do 8 sets of 2 repetitions with 60% of my one repetition maximum. You can get a lot more details about the Dynamic Effort Method from ‘The Westside Barbell Book of Methods‘ (by Louie Simmons from Westside Barbell). You can also read about it in Jordan Syatt’s article ‘Incorporating the Dynamic Effort Method‘. The main point to take away from that is to find a weakness in your squat and improve it.
Similarly, if you’re weak out of the bottom of the squat, pause squats are a great idea. When you reach the bottom position of the squat, stay there for a second, and then use your glutes (as you always should) to squat back up. This almost eliminates the stretch reflex (or the ‘bounce out of the hole’) and allows you to train your glutes, which are extremely important for a strong squat. The pause squat variations shown in the video of the month I posted up a couple days ago are also great and will improve your flexiblity a lot.
Again, all of these are just examples. The point is to find what a weakness is in your squat and attack it with some variations of the squat. Bands and/or chains might also benefit you to alter resistance. I would recommend reading this article about bands and chains written by Dave Tate.
Posterior Chain Work
Because I squat high bar, the movement places more stress on my quadriceps than my hamstrings. As a result, I do some work for my posterior chain after I’m done squatting.
Band Good Morning
This is quickly turning into my favorite posterior chain exercise. I choose this variation of the Good Morning movement for a very simple reason: At this point in the workout, I’m generally tired of having a barbell on my back from all the squatting, so I choose to do these with a band instead. It allows me to get some valuable posterior chain work in without having to put a barbell on my back.
If you have access to a safety squat bar, it might make the regular Good Morning a more feasible option for you. A video of the Band Good Morning is below, but I actually hook the band to something in front of me as shown in this video. Also check out this video about the Barbell Good Morning.
Stiff Legged Deadlift (SLDL)
Another excellent exercise for your hamstrings and entire posterior chain.
Cable Pull Through
This one is great for your hips as well.
These will also hit your hips and your entire posterior chain. They will also help make you more explosive.
I also like to do a band variation of this movement right now because most of my energy is used for squats, but doing them with a loaded barbell is a great idea as well.
Another great one for your hips and glutes.
Glute Ham Raise
I can’t do a posterior chain exercise list without these.
Strong abdominal muscles and core stability are important with the squat. I don’t like sit ups, because they tend to involve the lower back (not in a good way) a lot unless your form is absolutely perfect. I’m also not a fan of most crunch variations for the same reason, but I do like the one below.
Standing Cable Crunch
I actually do this one on my deadlift day, because it’s basically the opposing movement pattern. It could easily be used on squat day as well though.
Ab Wheel Rollouts
These are my favorite abdominal exercise. It’s optimal to have an ab wheel to perform this exercise, but you can also load some plates on a barbell and do rollouts with that.
These are a great exercise to build some baseline core stability. I think you should be able to hold a plank for 60 seconds or longer. The ability to hold your core stable will help in keeping your torso rigid during the squat. This will help prevent rounding in your back. The Hardcore Plank can also be a challenge on its own. Some more plank variations are shown in the video below.
Rotational Core Exercises
These are mainly to strengthen your obliques. Elliott Hulse describes a few variations in the video below.
Explosiveness and Conditioning
Dynamic effort or speed squats as described above (in the ‘More Squats’ paragraph) will help develop more explosive power and speed, but there are some other ways to do this as well.
Other jump exercises can also benefit you. You can make jumping an entire separate workout, so choose something simple if you’re doing it at the end of a squat workout.
These are terrific. Like sprints and jumps, you might want to make these a separate workout. You’ll need a prowler or just get the Butcher from Rogue. It’s basically the same thing and a little cheaper I believe. Or you can go all out and get this badass push/pull sled.
A lot of the posterior chain exercises will target this (i.e. the Good Morning and SLDL), but if you need some more lower back work, here are a couple exercises I like.
Back Extension or Hyperextension
You can also use a jumpstretch band and wrap it around your neck. Or simply hold a weight. (My personal preference would be a band though.)
Who better to teach it than Louie Simmons?
While I don’t think it’s wise to replace bilateral leg exercises with exercises done on one leg, I do think unilateral exercises can be a nice addition to your squat workout. Below are a few exercises I like.
Bulgarian Split Squat
There are a ton of different lunge exercises you can do. They’re great for increasing flexibility and also strengthening your legs.
Body Weight Forward Lunge
You can add a weighted vest, a barbell (front rack or on your back) or hold dumbbells to make it more difficult.
Rear or Reverse Lunge
This one is shown with a front loaded barbell, but you can do them without weight, with dumbbells, etc. as well of course. I actually prefer these over forward lunges.
Other Things to Consider
Obviously the list above is not a complete one of all the options available to you. They are simply a selection of my personal favorite exercises within those categories. I don’t do all of these exercises every squat workout, but I try to hit my weaknesses in various ways when I have the energy and time. You will have to prioritize what is most important to you and select exercises accordingly.
Hip flexibility and ankle flexibility are very important with the squat. I’ve written articles on both topics already, so I’m not going to cover them in this article. It’s already getting long with all the exercises. Most of my mobility and active recovery work is done with separate workouts, but a nice way to finish a squat day is to do a few explosive hip mobility drills as seen in the video below.
I think that about covers my approach to assistance work for the squat. This actually turned into a longer article than I was expecting. Again… I wouldn’t recommend doing all of the exercises listed all the time. They are just some options I like to target weak areas. Simply squatting a lot will usually translate to a stronger squat, but sometimes you need to tweak things a little bit to improve something.
I’m not a doctor, personal trainer or anything like that. I’m simply a guy who loves to lift weights and acquire knowledge on the topic. If you have something to add to this article, feel free to leave a comment.
Female powerlifter Natalya Kuzmina from Kazakhstan recently hit IPF world records in the squat, bench, deadlift, and total for women at 84kg/185lbs at IPF Worlds in Russia. Her 560kg/1232lbs world record total consisted of a 210kg/462lbs squat, a 125kg/275lbs bench press, and a 225kg/495lbs deadlift.
The most impressive part about all of that? Those aren’t even her personal records! She actually beat all of those lifts at the Kazakhstan Classic Championships back in March 2013. Below are the videos of the lifts that got her an incredible total of 597.5kg/1317lbs.
Do I even lift?
I covered the deadlift basics in a previous article, so now it’s time to cover the squat. As with the deadlift article, this will mainly be an assortment of videos that have helped me improve my form over the last three years of barbell squatting regularly.
High Bar Squat vs Low Bar Squat
The first video will go over the differences between the low bar and high bar squat. Accordingly, you can make a choice for yourself, whether you want to use a low bar, high bar, hybrid of the two, or a combination of more than one of these in your training.
Low Bar Squat
Arguably the best book for a description of the low bar squat: Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe
So you’ll notice that Mark Rippetoe prefers the low bar squat. Ultimately, the choice is up to you. Below is a video of Candito teaching the low bar squat.
High Bar Squat
This is often called an Olympic Squat. Here is a video describing the high bar squat.
Probably the best video on this topic.
And below is an older video where he briefly touched on the subject of the hybrid squat.
So You Think You Can Squat?
An awesome series of videos by powerlifter Matt Wenning about learning the squat. There are 5 parts. Part 1 is embedded below, the rest are linked underneath.
As you notice in the video series, the guys at Elitefts believe in box squatting just like Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell (creator of the Westside Method). Here is a video of Dave Tate teaching the box squat.
Also read Dave Tate’s article: Master of the Squat
My favorite assistance movement for the back squat. The front squat forces good posture, the torso must be kept upright for the duration of the lift, the upper back will be the limiting factor. Less weight will be used by most lifters in the front squat as compared to the back squat. It closely mimics the movement pattern of the clean also. The front squat requires good ankle, hip, shoulder girdle and wrist flexibility/mobility. Here is a video on how to do it.
Mark Rippetoe teaching the front squat is another good video.
If wrist flexibility limits you, here is a pretty good video on using the cross grip or a variation with straps. Personally, I use a clean grip and most people should be able to use it with 2-3 fingers on the bar (which is enough to keep the bar in place with a proper front rack position).
Because the upper back limits the movement and tends to tire out first, I like to keep front squats at low reps when weights are heavy. Otherwise your upper back will fatigue, round forward and thus put more stress on your wrists and elbows with the bar rolling forward. This will make it hard to keep your elbows up like you should and maintain a good rack position. I prefer doing multiple sets of 5 or less repetitions, but of course that’s something you have to decide for yourself.
Lower Back Rounding (a.k.a. ‘Butt Wink’)
Specifically for low bar squats, here is an interesting video on low bar squats and why you shouldn’t go past parallel on low bar squats in order to avoid lower back rounding. (Note: It’s perfectly okay to go past parallel on a high bar squat, if your flexibility allows this to happen with good form.)
Breathing During the Squat
Head Position During the Squat
Another good one from Candito. He also covers the deadlift head position in this.
Shoes for Squats
For most people, Olympic weightlifting shoes are a must when squatting high bar to full depth or front squatting to full depth. The elevated heel increases range of motion at the ankle joint and allows you to squat deeper. Alternatively, you can put plates under your heels. Some people with great ankle and hip flexibility can squat to full ATG depth without a raised heel (so wearing flat shoes or going barefoot).
For a wider stance or low bar squat, you’ll want to wear flat shoes with good stability.
Avoid sneakers with cushioning.
Improving Mobility for the Squat
If you have trouble hitting depth or are experiencing any sort of pain (actual pain, not soreness), it’s usually a form issue with the movement. This is often caused by limited mobility in the range of motion required by the squat. Most of the time, it’s a hip and/or ankle (usually both to some degree) issue, if you can’t squat ATG (ass to grass, all the way down) without your knees collapsing inward or your heels coming off the ground. Corrective stretching and self myofascial release as part of an active recovery routine can help this a lot. A low back squat (or the hybrid between high bar and low bar mentioned above) will be more forgiving with limited ankle and hip mobility than an Olympic style back squat or the front squat.
The easiest stretch to do is to put the bar on your back, squat down ATG and stay in the hole for 2-3 minutes (work up to it). This will stretch you in the position you want to be in. If you can’t accomplish that yet, an alternative would be to support yourself with a band around your waist or by holding something in front of you, then squatting as low as you can go (with good form) and trying to get down into a full squat over time. Always push your knees out to stretch your hips.
Some squat mobility videos: Tight Ankles? | Squat Stretch for 10mins | Hip Opener for Squats (Great Warmup) | Front Rack Problems? (Front Squat Specific) | MobilityWOD 3 Day Squat Series: Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 | MWOD YouTube Playlist for Calves | Pre-Squat Hip Opener (‘Couch Stretch’ Against Wall) | Hip Mobility Exercises from Candito (I do these immediately after every lower body workout.) | Hip Mobility with Mark Bell | High Hamstring Mobility
As always, this is just my personal approach to the squat and some videos that have helped me improve my form over time.
Here are some articles that might interest you.
300-Pound Complexes for Max Strength by Wil Fleming
High-Pull for the Power Look by Christian Thibaudeau (This one actually convinced me to try the Snatch Grip Hang High Pull. A fun movement for sure.)
Best Lifting Shoes for Performance by Jordan Syatt
To Compete or Not to Compete, That is the Question by Eric Maroscher
Do You Really Need a Lifting Belt by Mike Robertson (with other coaches)
Vitaly from VITALYZDTV is probably my favorite YouTube prankster. He recently did some funny lifting related prank videos.
“Do You Even Lift?” prank video:
“Do You Even Lift?” (Gym Edition) prank video:
“Do You Even Squat?” (Ladies Edition) prank video:
He’s a wild and crazy guy, that Vitaly.