7 Tips From a World Class Squatter

Inflate your wheels with these strategies from a man who specializes in squatting bar-bending loads

Building maximum size and strength without squatting is about as likely as catching a buzz from a six-pack of near beer. The most oft-repeated questions in this business revolve around how to get bigger or stronger. Well, the squat provides you with both – all you have to do is put in the time. Put simply, if you want to get bigger or look better – and not just in your legs – you’ve got to squat. Here are seven tips to have you get the most out of your time in the rack

This is not an evening stroll through the park. Save your energy for the squat, don’t expend it walking out. Those steps back may seem insignificant but you are still carrying that heavy load across your back, which still requires a ton of energy (if you expect to maintain stability, that is). No more than three total steps are needed to walk a weight out and get set to squat. Step one gets you back and out of the rack. Step two sets your first foot. Step three places the opposite foot in the squat position

Some advanced lifters can do this in two steps by picking the weight up off the rack, stepping back with one foot to the set position then doing the same thing with other foot.  A walkout should be no more than three steps -- save your energy for squatting heavy pig iron

The trainers doing leg presses at Curves might tell you to breathe in and breathe out — this is not the case for squatting serious iron. Big time squatters take big breaths prior to squatting. Taking in and holding a big breath before squatting increases intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) and intrathoracic pressure (ITP.) This is safer for your spine because it helps it stay stable and rigid and, of course, allows you pile more pounds on the barbell

After you have taken your breath, get your core extremely tight — brace your abs hard — now you are ready squat. Losing tightness leaks power. Hold your breath while squatting, exhale at the top, inhale deeply and repeat

Your muscles and your central nervous system do not know the actual amount of weight on the bar while squatting; they know muscle tension and force produced. Lifting your lighter sets with maximal force is called compensatory acceleration training (CAT). Greater amounts of force exerted into the bar will create higher amounts of muscle tension. This will not only build strength but aid in muscle hypertrophy because you recruit a higher amount of fast-twitch muscle fibers (the ones with the most potential for growth). With enough speed, you can out run sticking points

Eight sets of three reps does not provide the same training effect as two sets of 12 reps, even though both are 24 total repetitions. Your one-repetition max (1RM) is obviously one rep. Performing eight sets of three reps provides a better training stimulation for maximum strength because you can concentrate on greater force production and you get more “first reps.” For all eight sets you have to walk the weight out, get set just like you would for a maximum attempt. For two sets of 12, this would only be done twice.  More sets and fewer reps equals crazy fast strength gains

Science shows squats have an ascending strength curve. In bro science terms, this means as you complete the lift, it gets easier – much less force can be produced at the bottom of a squat than at the top. Ninety percent of folks at the local chrome palace gym do partial squats because they can lift much more weight, satisfying their ego in the short term. To get good at the full squat, you have to build hellacious power out of the bottom. This can be done with the dead squat

The dead squat is performed off the pins in a squat rack. There is no eccentric (negative) phase of the lift, so no elastic-like energy assists you on the concentric (positive) phase of the squat. You are lifting dead weight as in a deadlift. The only measure of whether or not you are capable of completing the rep is your starting strength

Start dead squats 1-2 inches above parallel. With normal squats, the initial spring out of the bottom is from the elastic-like energy stored on the negative portion of the squat, assisting you significantly to right above parallel. Because of the energy stored on a normal squat descent, starting a squat without it is a huge bottom position overload, attacking where you need it most: out of the hole. Build strength there and you’re bound to be beasting your way to a new PR in no time

A great free throw shooter in the NBA makes 90 percent of his free throws. During basketball season as a fifth grader, I shot 75 percent from the free throw line because I had a coach that made us shoot 100 free throws a day. This taught me an early lesson: repetition is the mother of skill

I would walk up to the free throw line the same way every time, dribble the ball twice, and shoot. The repetition of doing the same skill correctly over and over became a habit. Similarly, squatting the right way over and over builds a skill. Some say that it takes 10,000 correctly performed repetitions to master a movement. Every rep you perform squatting, from your first warm up to your heaviest set, provides an opportunity to perform a rep correctly. Focus on getting proper alignment on the bar, hand spacing, walkout, foot spacing, depth and just overall technique

Some old-time powerlifting aficionados have stated that every inch of depth equates to 40 pounds. If your squat max is 400, but you squat 500 through only four inches, in theory, you are actually squatting 160 pounds “less.” You are robbing yourself of the benefits of a properly performed rep. Every rep, every set is a chance to get better.  Focus and use it your advantage

Bill Kazmaier, one of the strongest men of all-time, said that, “A strong back equals a strong man.” Along the same lines, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Multitudes of gym rats and bodybuilders have the thigh strength to squat 500 to 600 pounds but don’t have the back strength to squat 405. This is a weak link in the chain that compromises your total potential gains in size and strength

Some ways to strength your lower back are deadlift hyperextensions, which are a hybrid a 45-degree back extension and a deadlift. To do it, set up the bar on the floor, take a wide grip on it and do a back raise while holding the bar. Also, good mornings are an effective squat-specific exercise to bring up the strength and stability of the lower back. Finally, upper back strength is very important and is most effectively built with pull-up and rowing variations