Written by Gage Reid
Here are 3 quick tips for improving your squat!
More Volume/Variety in Rep Ranges
Although this isn’t an accessory movement in itself, the concept of increasing the amount of training volume you do throughout the course of a given week, month and year is a crucial aspect to long-term progression. In order to continually see gains, you must increase the amount of volume you can do whether it’s in the form of more weight, more sets, more reps or more general volume tracked through total poundages (Sets x Reps x Weight). Tracking the amount of volume you do is the easiest way to see how you’re progressing throughout a training cycle without having to hit maximum attempts all the time- for example, if you start a Hypertrophy/Developmental Block Squatting 225 for 5 sets of 10 reps at an RPE of 6, then finish the block 4 weeks later doing 260 for 5 sets of 10 reps at an RPE of ~7, then you have undoubtedly gotten stronger. Although the sport of Powerlifting revolves around the 1RM in the Squat, Bench, and Deadlift, it’s imperative that you look outside of the realm of max attempts and understand that progress is heavily driven by volume (total workload), as well as technical proficiency. Since Powerlifting is a cyclical sport, you’re able to plan a training cycle accordingly with upcoming meets so that you are able to dedicate a portion of training to simply increasing the amount of total volume that you can do (for example, if you are 20 weeks out from your next competition, you can dedicate 8-10 weeks to a Hypertrophy/Developmental Block if you are a relatively new lifter or in the intermediate stages of your career. This will build the foundation required to hit bigger numbers once you transition into a General Strength Block, then eventually into a Peaking block when the time comes to get highly specific for the meet).
If you aren’t tracking your total volume in poundage or total sets/reps now, then I’d recommend you do so and try to improve upon each week/block of training so that you can be sure that you are progressing accordingly.
Squat More Often!
Now, I don’t mean that you should jump feet first into the Bulgarian style of training where you Squat every day, nor do I believe it is generally acceptable for MOST people to Squat more than 3 times per week, instead try to have more specific variety in your training coupled with more total sets/reps in a given training session. Squatting twice a week, 5 sets each workout with a ton of non-specific accessory movements may work for the beginner or early intermediate lifter, but the more trained individual will need more total sets across the board in their training program. I see a lot of intermediate lifters doing a 5x5 on Squats, followed up with leg pressing, lunges, etc. That’s totally fine in the short term, but in order to progress, you want to ensure you’re increasing the number of specific sets in a week. Typically what I recommend is one Squat Day being the competition-style Low Bar Squat where they will perform 5-6 working sets, followed by some form of Tempo or Pause Low Bar Squat with 3-4 sets depending upon the lifter, phase of training, recovery capabilities and so on. The second Squat Day of the week is almost always a High Bar Squat for 4-6 sets, followed by a Tempo or Paused High Bar Squat variation where they will again perform 3-4 sets in a given rep range. The overarching goal is to increase the total number of sets per week, while staying within the athletes own Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV) threshold (Typically a training block will start with 14-16 working sets of Squats per week, and will eventually build to upwards of 22-24 working sets per week during the Planned Functional Overreaching Week. Once again, it’s highly dependant upon the lifter and the phase of training).
Constantly Strive for Technical Improvements in the Squat
Although this may seem like an obvious point, many people tend to overlook the complex nature of the Squat. In order to continually progress in the Squat and stay injury free you must work towards being a more technically proficient lifter, this can be achieved with particular accessory movements tailored to the individual lifter- for example, an athlete may have issues hitting depth so they will often require specific mobility drills, Tempo Squats and/or Pause Squats to remedy their deficiencies. This is the main reason why I’m not a big proponent of cookie cutter based programming- if an athlete has a glaring dysfunction in the Squat it will only be exacerbated by driving the volume and intensity in the Competition Squat. Tailoring a program to the individual and ensuring that you are addressing other factors such as breathing/bracing, mobility, and general positioning are all huge key driving points in long-term success. Some athletes will need more accessory movements like Belt Squats, Hack Squats, and Leg Press to build up the quads and teach proper movement patterns. Particularly, the Belt Squat has been a huge teaching tool for me as a Coach, along with many others is it teaches the athlete to drive the knees forward and to use their quads in the Squat without having to worry about the bar on their back. Simple things like that have a huge short term and long term advantages, especially with smaller, less experienced female athletes who haven't been training as long or athletes that are coming off an injury that prevented them from Squatting. I once had a young female lifter who had knee pain due to poor movement patterns in the Squat, so I had her take a step back from the Competition Low Bar Squat and only perform Belt Squats 5-6 times per week for a training block, followed by High Bar Squats for 3 weeks, then eventually back to the Low Bar Squat where she completely changed her technique and has been lifting injury free while hitting PRs ever since. It’s important to know your athletes, know your target audience and address issues while they are minor, not when they become big problems that may result in injury.