The squat is easily the most powerful movement you can do for your legs and even your whole body. Yet a lot of people, simply avoid the squat and fail to hit it hard every week. Many individuals also find it extremely difficult to progress on the squat, despite precise nutrition and a good training program. If you’re stuck in a rut and are failing to progress and add weight to the bar (which should be your main goal as a natural weightlifter, that is, getting stronger), then try out some of these tips. I guarantee you’ll be progressing once again.
Increase Your Squat
Tip #1 – Train Heavier
High reps aren’t so great for strength training. You can’t expect to do 20 plus reps just to “get a pump” and grow. Want to be bigger? Then get stronger. Try 4 to 6 reps, which will put you at roughly 80-85 percent of your one rep max, which is perfect for heavy compound weightlifting. When working in the 4 to 6 rep range, when you hit 6 reps on your first set, increase the weight by the standard 10 pounds (5 pounds on each side) and work with that weight until you get 6 reps again, and then increase the weight (you’ll most likely get 4 reps when you increase the weight).
Tip #2 – Check Your Form
I cannot stress this one enough. If your form is off, it’s going to be pretty darn hard to progress. Also, bad form is just asking for an injury, which is the last thing anyone wants. However, squat with good form and not only will you have no setbacks, but you’ll find it much easier to progress and get stronger over time. There are plenty of strength coaches out there and lots of information online about how to squat properly… and it’s also a good idea to film yourself from the side to make sure what you think you’re doing is what you’re actually doing.
Tip #3 – Squat Correctly (Hit Parallel)
This one is closely related to Tip #2, but it’s generally common to see individuals in the gym doing measly quarter-rep squats loaded with too much weight. Squat to parallel, and you’ll stay safe from any injuries and you’ll also get stronger over time. Any kind of partial range of motion on any movement only hinders your progress, and opens up a bigger chance for injury. Also, less range of motion means less muscle growth, and that’s why we go to the gym right?
Tip #4 – Improve Lower Body Mobility
Unfortunately, many people can’t squat to proper depth even if they wanted to. They simply lack the proper lower body mobility and flexibility to do so. That’s why, In my opinion and the opinion of many strength coaches, that some mobility work and stretching should be done a few times per week.
You’d be surprised how only 10 to 15 minutes of stretching a day can help transfer over to your training. Squatting and deadlifting will feel MUCH smoother and it’ll be much easier to progress… oh, and you’ll avoid injury too.
Here are some good stretches to include weekly. (Do NOT stretch before you train. This will lead to decreased performance and can even increase your risk of injury):
1. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
2. Psoas Quad Stretch
3. Wall Squat
4. Lacrosse Ball Ankle Rolling
Tip #5 – Do Paused Reps
Paused reps are absolutely great for learning how to “explode out of the hole.” The problem most people have while squatting is getting out of the bottom position, and pause reps can help with it. It’s quite simple to perform, just squat as you normally would but at the bottom position hold the rep for about 5 seconds and then complete the rep as you usually would. Start out lighter, then work your way up to training them heavier.
Tip #6 – Try Different Programs
There are A LOT of different programs out there for strength training, and also several squat programs. Depending on your current level of fitness, you could go with a beginner, intermediate, or advanced program. Some programs that I highly recommend are:
1. Starting Strength
2. Stronglifts 5×5
3. Candito 12 week strength program
4. Bigger, Leaner, Stronger (or beyond bigger, leaner, stronger for advanced lifters)
5. Wendler 5/3/1
6. Texas Method
7. Smolov Squat Program
Tip #7-Do More Front Squats
Front squats are a quad dominant movement, and they transfer over to back squats very well when it comes to increasing strength. If you focus on getting stronger on front squats, I can guarantee they’ll have a decent carry over to increasing your back squats. Just do more front squats, that’s it. And yes, they suck, and they’re most certainly very difficult to get used to doing, but practice makes perfect.
Tip #8-Get The Right Shoes
The wrong shoes can make squatting a lot harder. Some say Chuck Taylor’s are the best for squatting… but I disagree. You see, chucks are generally used by powerlifters who use a very wide stance. This makes sense. I know I would want to use flat shoes if I was using a wide stance. But for the general population, and if you don’t want to mess up your knees, squatting shoulder width with some Olympic weightlifting shoes is the best option for developing your legs. Olympic weightlifting shoes have a hard sole with an elevated heel which makes them perfect for squatting in a natural pattern. They’re expensive, but if you’re an avid gym goer then they’re certainly worth the money.
Take Home Message
Try out these tips, and I promise you you’ll be adding weight to the bar again. Plateaus suck, but you’ll bust straight through them soon enough!