Let’s face it. When you read an article about improving your squat, you’re not particularly bothered about developing the way you move. Nor are you especially concerned about keeping squat injuries at bay. And even if you have these aspects in mind, there’s one thing you want more – you want to squat heavier, and you want it now.
It’s your lucky day. This article contains an eight-step guide on how to squat better – I mean, how to squat more. Not only that, but it’s a step-by-step guide. Do these things, in this order, and you’ll see immediate improvements in how much weight you can lift. Let’s get started.
1. Get Tight Before You Accept the Load
By “before you accept the load,” I don’t mean before you acknowledge how heavy the load is. I mean before you bear any of the weight on your back. By the time you have a loaded bar on your skeleton, it’s too late. Squeeze your glutes and lats, and tighten up your core. Do this while you are standing there right next to the bar, before you get under it. This is where your squat begins, not once you have taken the bar out of the rack.
2. Grip the Bar Hard
While we’re on the subject of getting tight, grip the hell out of the bar. Yes, grip matters even for a lower-body movement. Gripping the bar with can-crushing intensity has a number of instant benefits:
- Makes the bar more secure
- Irradiates tension to nearby muscles
- Tells your brain you are in control
This last point is particularly important. If your brain believes you are in control, it will allow you to access the strength to perform your heavy squat. If the brain receives any sign you are not capable or in danger, it will try to shut you down. This is not particularly helpful when you are trying to squat.
3. Stop Shrugging
Leave the shrugging to indifferent teenagers. Shrugging has no place in a squat. I understand you need a secure place to put the bar. Rather than performing a shrug, create a shelf for the bar on your back by getting tight, pinning your shoulders back and down, and firing up your lats. This will create a nice shelf for the bar to sit on, and your lats will assist in keeping the bar stable.
4. Stop Taking So Many Steps Back
So you’ve created a ton of tension, you have the bar on your back. You’re almost ready to squat. You take a few steps back, and….
Woah, hold it right there. What’s with all the walking? Consider why we are taking any steps back in the first place. It’s simply to clear the rack. And that’s all you need to do. Anything more is losing all that tension you’ve worked so hard to create.
Ideally, we would all use a monolift – watch a video of the biggest squats in the world and you’ll probably see this contraption in action. It’s basically a squat rack that moves out the way instead of you stepping back. This is important at the highest level, where the weights are so heavy that even a small loss of tension would be significantly less effective and possibly even dangerous.
Take your lead from the big guys and minimize your steps back. One step back with one foot, one step back with the other foot, and an adjustment step if required. Done.
5. Slow Down
I understand you’re eager to get this squat over with. It’s heavy, and you’re creating lots of tension to make it happen. That’s not a comfortable place to be. But take a little time in getting down into the hole. Drop it like it’s hot, and you’re in danger of losing all that tension – and that’s going to make it tough to get out of the hole. Think of it this way: the harder you make it to get down into the hole, the easier it will be to get out of it.
6. Give Yourself Some Room
I don’t mean to be rude. But your legs need to be placed wide enough for your ass to fit in between them. I’m not saying you have a big ass. It’s just the way we are built as humans. Your pelvis is slung in between your legs. You can think of your legs like two trees, and your pelvis like a hammock slung in between them. And that’s what the bottom of your squat should feel like. Put your feet too narrow, and you’re in danger of your squat looking like a hinge. Which gives us no chance of driving up through the bar.
7. Drive Up Through the Bar
This is a precursor to our final point, and an important piece of ensuring we have the most chance of success in nailing a heavy squat. Our objective from out of the hole is to send that bar upward. Make sure this is your priority, both mentally and physically. Don’t just think about standing up with the bar. Drive your shoulders up through the bar, and make sure your elbows are aligned under the bar too, not pointing backward. You’ve worked hard to get yourself into the hole while retaining tension. Now get the hell up and out of it!
8. Drive the Bar Through the Roof
Wow, we’re on the eighth step of performing a squat. That’s a whole lot of steps for a movement that many perform without a thought in the world. But you’re not many people. You want more. Now that you’re here at step eight, make use of all the hard work it’s taken you to get to this point.
It’s human nature to ease off at the top of the lift. You’ve worked hard to get yourself tight out of the rack, slow down into the hole, and hard and fast out of it. So when it gets to relatively easy part at the top of your squat, you tend to slow down and back off. We’ll save the science for another article, but know that deliberately accelerating the bar throughout the whole of the concentric phase trains more motor units to fire faster, which means more force. And force is good. So drive that bar through the roof.
There’s nothing in this list that you can’t action immediately for instant improvement. Consistent application of each of these points will make them integral parts of your squat process, which means gains that keep on giving.
So go squat, and start putting this step-by-step process into action. Post your PRs below.
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