The squat is the king of all exercises. There is no movement more essential or foundational than the squat. It is the basic ability to raise and lower your center of mass and express strength and balance through a range of motion. You will always need to squat. If you are sitting down, you must perform a squat. If you go to the bathroom, you must squat.
Losing the ability to perform the squat is losing the ability to live independently i.e.“Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Practicing and developing capacity in the squat is rehabilitative by nature. If you cannot squat well, you are only working at a fraction of your athletic capacity. Long story short…this is a movement we will want to do, and do well our entire lives.
Squatting is an amazing stimulus for the body. This multi-joint movement loads up the skeletal structure with high amounts of weight, increasing our bone density, fortifying joint strength and flexibility and strengthening the muscles that surround the spine. The compound intensity of the squat provides a strong hormonal response in the body. Want to see those abs and look good naked? Squat. Want to run faster or jump higher? Squat. The motor recruitment in the squat translates to all athletic endeavors.
There are lots of great strategies to improve your squat. Changing things up with continuous variation in squatting exercises drives progress. There are many different variables we can work on for the squat.
Here are 10 ways that I have found very effective to improve your squat.
1) Increase your Technique
Work on accessing the most powerful part of your body, the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors of the back) by sitting back as far as possible and keeping your weight on your heels. Doing squats to a box is great for this. Drive your knees out apart and away from each other to get better depth and engagement through the hips.
2) Increase Your Flexibility
Practice squatting below parallel with various stances and bar positions. For instance try a high bar squat (supported on the traps) with a more narrow stance. This is very applicable to Olympic lifting as well. Then try a wider stance with a low bar position (across the shoulders). This is more of a hip and back intensive squat. You will find that differentiating positions recruits into different muscle groups and requires varying types of flexibility.
3) Fortify Your Back
The spinal column is your transmission for applying force in the squat. The erectors of the lumbar spine are one of the most important muscle groups for maintaining a safe and strong position the core, as well as promoting lifelong back health. Strengthen the muscles of the back with deadlifts, hip extensions and good mornings. Work on the upper back with bent over rows and pull-ups.
4) Train Your Belly
The abdominals are critical for creating pressure around the spine for support. Train the abs with sit-ups (weighted and unweighted), Turkish get-ups, yoke walks and overhead squats.
5) Lift Heavy
Try to perform reps at 90% of 1 rep max or higher for 3-5 sets and 1-2 reps once per week.
6) Lift Fast
Try speed days where you lower the weight to 50-70% of your 1 rep max and move for as much speed as possible. You can try this for 8-10 sets of 2-3 reps once a week.
7) Use Dynamic Resistance
Vary the resistance at the top and bottom of the squat by hooking up bands or chains or both (most bad ass) to the barbell. Work at 50-60% or 1 rep max and use this as a speed day.
8) Increase Your Athleticism
Become athletic and explosive through the use of the Olympic lifts (snatch and clean & jerk) and plyometrics. This will help you develop your coordination, agility, balance, power and flexibility along with your strength training.
9) Do Bodybuilding Style Accessory Work for the Legs
Try some accessory exercises for 3 sets of 10 for muscle of the legs such as lunges and hamstring curls.
10) Increase Your Recovery
Incorporate the use of stretching, foam rolling, message and chiropractic work. Get 8-10 hours of sleep. Eat clean whole foods. Use ice baths and hot/cold contrast therapy and reduce inflammation and promote circulation and healing of the body.
There are few movements that can get you total body results quicker than squatting. If your squat is going up, chances are there are lots of other capacities that will rise with it. Try some of these strategies and apply them to your training program because after all “The squat is king!”