When you hit a plateau and squatting more just doesn't seem to cut it, give these lower body exercises a shot.
Athletes that are serious about training and increasing their lower body strength and power know that there’s no substitute for the back squat. But how can you make your squat even stronger? How do you break through a plateau so that you’re moving more weight than you ever have before? If you’ve got the technique down, and still aren’t making any progress, perhaps it’s time to mix in these five exercises that will have a direct impact on improving your squat.
The pause squat is a simple exercise designed to get you comfortable with a heavy load while you’re in the bottom portion of the squat. This exercise is performed with a bar on your back and your feet in normal squat position. The weight on the bar should be around 65%-70% of your one rep max to start. To begin, simply push your hips back keeping the weight in your heels and squat down. It’s extremely important to keep your lower back tight and your chest out. Once you’ve reached a position where the top of your thigh is parallel to the floor, pause for 3 seconds. The correct depth is extremely important when you squat. Why? Because depth equals dedication. If you’re dedicated and want to get better, you’ll get to parallel. After your 3 second pause, push yourself back up into starting position. Perform 3 sets of 3-6 reps.
Coach Jay DeMayo did an excellent job of demonstrating this lift and breaking it down piece by piece using the name, Rear foot elevated split squat. We’re performing the same but we’re going to use a barbell. To begin, place a barbell on your back in squat position, elevate your rear foot using a scoop, bench, or box, and step your front foot out far enough so that when you squat, your front foot stays flat, you get deep enough, and your knee doesn’t go out over your toe. Once you’re in the right starting position simply squat down using one leg. Yeah, not all that complicated, but you’ll be better off for having done it. Go down to the parallel position again, because as you now know, depth equals dedication. After you’ve performed the required number of reps on one side, switch to the other side and complete the set. Perform 3 set s of 6-8 reps.
The split squat is very similar to the one leg squat, with the only major difference being the placement of the rear foot. In the 1 leg squat, the rear foot is in an elevated position. In the split squat, the rear foot will be on the ground with the toe in and the heel up off of the ground. To begin, place a barbell on your back, split your legs so one leg is in front with your knee slightly bent and one leg is in back with the heel remaining off of the ground throughout the entire exercise. Make sure your split is long enough so that your front foot stays flat, you get deep enough, and your knee doesn’t go out over your toe. Once you’re in the right starting position, simply squat down to parallel, because depth equals dedication, and push back up. Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so. Anyway, perform required number of reps on both sides. Perform 3 sets of 6-8 reps.
The name really says it all on this one. Find a box, bench or scoop to use as a step and make sure it’s high enough to challenge you. Place a barbell on your back and begin by stepping up onto the box and straightening your leg. Once you’ve straightened your leg, step down and step back up onto the box with your other leg. Continue alternating legs until you have completed the required number of reps. Make sure to use the leg that’s stepping up onto the box to push yourself up, but don’t even think about using your trail leg (the one on the ground) to push up. You said you wanted to get better, right? Perform 3 sets of 5-8 reps and you should be good to go.
Coach DeMayo did a great job of breaking down different variations of this exercise as well. For this purpose, we’re going to use a barbell. Place a barbell on your back and simply step out with one leg and squat down so that your front foot’s flat, the top of your thigh is parallel to the ground, and your knee remains slightly off of the ground. Once you‘ve achieved this position, while maintaining a tight lower back and upright chest, push back hard with that front foot and return it to its starting position. Be sure to keep your back foot in place throughout the range of motion and when returning your front foot back to the starting position, don’t drag your heel. Repeat after me: lift and return… lift and return. Alternate legs and perform 3 sets of 6-8 reps.
There you have it. Nothing overly complicated, but when performed routinely these five exercises will help you build muscle, gain strength, and push your squat numbers through the roof. Remember that with each lower body exercise described above and with the back squat, you’re only as good as your technique, so take it seriously. If your technique starts to break down drop some weight, but as long as your form is solid, get heavy and get after it. Oh and most importantly please remember following: depth equals dedication. How good do you want to be?
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