A couple of weeks ago I discussed deadlift strength and the use of exercises to help bolster the numbers. This week: the back squat.
Hoodie addressed the importance of back squat position last week – hips back, knees out, chest up, low back tight and weight in heels. To add to this, I’m going to take you through some exercises that can be used to help correct any inflexibilities, as well as strengthen weak points in the lift.
Firstly, to get into that ideal position you need adequate adductor (groin), calf and thoracic mobility. This will prevent the knees rolling in, allow the knees to come forward and maintain a high chest position respectively.
The next step is to look at where you get stuck on a heavy lift. Typically, either you find it hard to get the weight moving from the bottom position (“firing out of the hole”), or the chest collapses forward with a rounded back (common in those who are hip-dominant and much prefer deadlifting.)
To get extra drive out of your bottom position:
- Bottom to bottom squats: set the rails in the squat rack so that when you set the bar on your back from the rails it matches your squat depth. Essentially we’re trying to increase the strength focus in the bottom of the squat (“the hole”) by removing any ‘bounce’ or stretch reflex available. You can also mimic this by pausing at the bottom of each rep for one to two seconds
[I prefer the rails methods because it forces you to tighten everything from a relaxed position - a very hard thing to do at the bottom of a squat. Great for neural activation.]
For the hip dominant:
- Weighted GHD extensions: a strong focus on glute and low back strength to help maintain the neutral spine during a heavy back squat set.
For any type of squatter:
- Banded bodyweight squats: the band wants to pull the knees in, and by resisting it you effectively train the right muscles to keep the knees out wide during squatting. Great in warm ups.
- Core work: ring rollouts, prone holds and side prone holds to name a few. They each reinforce the maintenance of neutral spine during the squat, and are a common point of weakness during heavy squats.
- Pistols (weighted if you’re game!): they maintain left and right balance as well as making both the quads and glutes work very hard from the bottom position. Do not let yourself collapse forward when doing these!
For nutcases and more serious squatters (working towards double bodyweight squats):
- Back lever progressions: these develop enormous amounts of core strength and stability, combined with emphasis on low back control and activation (you can never successfully hold a back lever without it.)
Try a few of these out and see how you go. As always, if in doubt, talk to the trainers!