The picture above is none other than Ray Williams setting the raw squat world record this past weekend with an astonishing squat of 1,005 pounds. Contrary to popular believe I am leaving this here to inspire you and not make you depressed. Anyway, I digress.
So far you have seen me divulge the five best accessories to build both your bench press and deadlift. Now, I will take you through the top five accessories to build your barbell squat. Since the dawn of weightlifting the squat has been a highly regarded power lift variation that demonstrated true overall power. Just because we all do not possess the ability to load 600 pounds on our backs does not mean that you cannot make significant progress with your squat and improve your form and range of motion with various accessory exercises. From exercises that do not involve a barbell, to variations you can add to your barbell work, these accessories will target improved form via muscle memory and added strength, and help develop power through the entirety of the range of motion.
First and foremost, the goblet squat is a great exercise to use with beginners as they develop the proper mobility, stability, and motor control to perform the squat properly. By using a dumbbell that is loaded anteriorly, goblet squats simplify the squat movement because they do not require the added shoulder stability and mobility that a back loaded squat entails. In addition, they are a great alternative to use for rotational athletes (think hockey and baseball players), or lifters with elbow and shoulder pain, who do not want to compromise these areas by engaging in a back squat. Goblet squats can aid in developing necessary strength throughout the full range of motion while allowing a way to practice creating torque and driving out the knees, maintaining a neutral spine, and getting a feel for the proper depth required for the squat. So, go pick up a dumbbell, and master proper form and motor control that will lead to a better barbell squat.
Bulgarian Split Squats
One way to improve unilateral strength (each individual leg), while again practicing the proper squat cues is the Bulgarian split squat. This variation is a great way to build your quads, hamstrings and glutes, while also building significant mobility and stability in your individual legs. While performing the split squat it is imperative that you still practice the same squat techniques so you do not develop poor habits and have the exercise become a detriment to your motor control. Be sure to hip hinge prior to engaging the knees, so that the exercise places the load on your hips and hamstrings and does not place too much stress on your knees. If you do this with your barbell squat you are staring down the barrel of an impending knee injury. Also, as an added bonus, split squats are a great way to improve single leg eccentric strength and starting strength (the two most important components to agility) so split squats also provide a great benefit to team sport athletes. So, use split squats as a good way to not only build unilateral strength and control, but to also practice critical facets of squat form.
Yes, I know this was an accessory I included in the five best accessories to improve your deadlift. However, this does not mean that hip thrusts are not equally as important to help build your squat. Look at this as one of those “kill two birds with one stone,” situations. Adding hip thrusts to your routine will augment not only your deadlift but your squat as well. Having strong glutes is imperative to help you drive out of the hole when squatting. In addition, if you load your hips properly, most of the stress of the squat will be placed on your posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, and hips). So, as you can see, developing your glutes will be key to ensuring you can be in an optimal position to perform a squat correctly and effectively, and also enhance your overall strength, power, and stability.
Dynamic Effort Box Squats (with bands, also known as “futures” method)
Now, you heard me mention power way back at the beginning of this article, and you are probably thinking to yourself, “When the hell is this guy going to actually address this?” Well I am a man of my word and that time is now. Firstly, let me explain the concept of power. Power is a product of speed and strength. Basically, I like to think of it as how quickly you can utilize your strength to create force and be explosive. The best way to develop power is through compensatory acceleration training. Made famous by Dr. Fred Hatfield, compensatory acceleration training is a method, which focuses purely on bar speed. Think about it. What better way is there to develop power than to emphasize speed on a movement that requires strength? A good way to cue dynamic effort training is to emphasize three-five seconds for the eccentric (negative) phase of the movement, and then a one second concentric (upward movement) portion of the movement. This will help develop ultimate power for team sport athletes and general lifters just looking to improve their squat. Finally, adding bands from the top down (think putting a band around the end of the barbell and then attaching it to the top of the power rack) is a great way to acclimate a lifter’s central nervous system to heavier loads than they can handle as the bands will help drive the load during the duration of the lift, but allow the athlete to adapt to the heavier load simultaneously. This is a great way to advance towards heavier loads in the squat.
Slow Eccentric (Negative) Pause Squats
Slow eccentric pause squats are a great way to develop necessary eccentric strength, which will be key when you begin to advance to heavier weights. Anatomically, the body is stronger in extension (think the top half of the squat) then it is in flexion (think the bottom half of the squat). This basically means that you can handle a far heavier load at the back end of the movement then you can as you lower the bar and enter into flexion. With this being said, I am always a proponent of attacking weaknesses, so I feel that slow eccentric squats with a slight pause are a great way to improve this strength in flexion and help with your ability in the bottom half of the squat. Adding pauses are a great way to increase the time under tension, and maintain the contraction, which will aid in building strength and muscle mass.
I have given you the tools to build a better squat, so go push some heavy weight and reap the multitude of benefits in the process!
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Gerry DeFilippo: ISSA CPT- CPPS, AAPS. Founder/Owner: Challenger Strength.