The squat is arguably the greatest movement for building big and strong legs. How you do it is as important as how often.Leg day is either the highlight of your week, or it can be worse than going to the dentist as a kid. You would do anything to get out of it, but it has to happen. This is especially true if squats are a part of your leg training protocol. This is because the squat is actually much more than just a leg movement. It really does take the entire body to work as a single unit if you want to master the movement.
For the squat to be as effective as possible, everything has to be right. Yes, everything. This goes from your approach to unracking the bar to your mindset and even when you return the weight to the rack. When it comes to squatting, the popular phrase rings true. It isn’t just about counting the reps. It’s about making the reps count. The tips that follow will help you do just that and your results will satisfy you whether your goals are powerlifting or bodybuilding.
Protect Yourself with Safety Equipment
I’m not just saying this because we’re on HarbingerFitness.com. The fact is that safety is important for squats, and the right equipment can help you improve your lifts. First and foremost, you need to wear a belt. Whether that’s a traditional belt with a buckle or a Velcro one is up to you based on your needs and goals. You also need something for knee support. If your sole purpose is powerlifting, then go with wraps like the Redline Knee Wraps to help provide that spring at the bottom when you come out of the hole. However, if your goals include hypertrophy and maintaining healthy legs, then you should consider knee sleeves like the Stabilizer or Compression sleeves from Harbinger. They will provide that support you need for the entire knee area as well as make you work for your reps with minimal assistance.
Then there is the question of wrist wraps.
Wait. What? Yes, you should consider wrist wraps when squatting. Think about it. When you unrack the weight, the bar is sitting on your shoulders and you’re holding it to maintain balance. As the weight gets heavier, that pressure will affect the wrists. Having strong and stable wrists can keep the bar balanced, which means you stand a better chance of squatting it. Wrist wraps like the Red Line or Pro wraps will be very beneficial.
Warm-Up Like You Work
Warm-up time is when you’re sending blood to the muscles, preparing the tendons and joints, and establishing that mind/muscle connection so you can be ready when those extra plates go on. While you shouldn’t use the same loads for your warm-ups as you would your work sets, you should be attacking these sets with the same intensity and focus. Athletes in other sports practice before games. The warm-up sets are practice for you.
Approach the Same Way Every Time
Whether it’s the first rep or the last or any of those in between, you should approach the bar with the same routine every time. Step with the same feet, unrack, step back the same way, breathe the same way, etc. Every aspect of your performance should be a calculated, precise routine. The more you become familiar with your own ritual, the more likely you’ll be successful with your lifts.
Separate Your ThighsHow many times have you been squatting and had a spotter or partner tell you to push your knees out or to separate them? The answer is probably more than you can count right now. The issue is your knees may still go out and create issues with your descent.
Try this instead: as you lower yourself into the hole, focus on creating separation at the inner thighs. Doing this will force you to stick your butt out and keep the weight going down in a straight line. This will help you activate the glutes and quads when it comes time to push back up.
Pop Your Chest Up
Speaking of pushing back up, as you go to come out of the hole and return to the standing position, don’t just think about pushing through your feet. Remember that you want to be standing tall when you go back up, so make it a priority to stick your chest out as well. This practice will help you straighten your spine as you’re pushing through your legs, so standing up with the weight will become easier.
High Reps Are Good Too
There are three types of muscle fibers. When you go for lower reps, you’re working your Type 2B fibers. There are also the Type 2A fibers which are challenged when the reps get higher. Finally, there are the Type 1 fibers which are working as the set becomes more about endurance. Don’t forget to perform sets with more reps so these Type 1 fibers can work, too. This will improve your overall development and strength. Sets of 15 or 20 would be great after your heavy work is done.
Stretch, Stretch, Stretch
Squatting is about more than power. To be your best at squatting, you need to be able to descent down into the hole at least to the point that your thighs are parallel with the floor. You also want as much nutrient rich blood to get to the muscles as possible. All of this means that stretching is a must. You should be stretching before, during, and after training. Working on this will improve your mobility and function as well as help prevent long-term health issues later. Make sure you commit to stretching the entire body, not just the legs. Remember those shoulders and how they are supporting that heavy weight. Prepare them and help them recover, too.
When it comes to squatting, the whole isn’t necessarily greater than the sum of the parts. Taking each part seriously will go a long way in helping you maximize your potential both in strength and size. If you’re new to squatting, take each of these tips under serious advisement before you commit to heavier training. If you’ve been in the game for a while, consider this a refresher course. Did you see something here that was new to you? Share this post and help others master their squats.