With the gym reopening this June, the athletes are back to their lower programming combining the strengths of the sprint, plyometrics, and the squat. The squat has long been a popular exercise in both athletic and regular gym goers routines, relied upon to improve power, strength, and lean muscle mass. However, most athletes I start training express that while they’ve been squatting in some respect, usually in a PE or commercial gym environment, they haven’t gotten much performance improvements out of it, and even worse, often add it gives them knee and back pain. So why the gap in expectations versus actual results? The truth is that much as a football, and the football field itself, is the exact same for all the teams in the NFL, yet year after year, some teams are consistently bad (like the Lions), and some teams are consistently good (like the Patriots), getting results is not as simple as the fact that you squat; it’s HOW you squat. And frankly, most athletes aren’t getting the results they want because they’re going about the squat all wrong. Here’s 3 simple ways to maximize the squat:
1. Technique is Paramount
Good technique is critical in the squat, because it ensures the lift is done safely, without damaging knees, lower back, or any other number of maladies that can arise with a haphazardly performed squat. Good technique is also important because it mirrors the joint angles and positions of movement in sport, allowing the squat to be a key driver of speed and strength improvements on the field. However, far too many athletes start squatting with little to no coaching or correction. The result is poor technique that becomes ingrained in the CNS, causing a weak squat, little to no translation to the field, and often, improper loading of the knees and lumbar spine. Rather, to build a strong safe squat that turns an athlete into a faster, stronger version of themselves out on the field, the squat must be treated as skill, with attention to every rep being done in a manner that correctly loads the hips and posterior chain. The weight must start very small: we start athletes with a 20lb dumbbell. As the athlete learns the movement, we progress to heavier dumbbells, and then eventually the bar; even then, we only add small amounts of weight if the athlete demonstrates they can continue to hold the movement pattern. Each rep is coached, cued, and reviewed. Over time this creates mastery of the movement and allows the athlete to ultimately squat big weights (relative to them) safely, correctly, and with intent (speed). For a field athlete, there is no point to squatting “big” when the knees are caving in, the back is folding over, and the bar is moving at the speed of a slug on a hot day. If your goal is to build a squat that actually benefits the athlete, it will be a patient process, with a focus on technique throughout.
2. Train your posterior chain
Building a squat that emphasizes the hips and posterior chain is easier said than done, as most athletes are extremely weak in those areas. This makes targeted accessory work critical in order for an athlete to make good progress. Tools like the glute ham, back extension, and reverse hyper all build up the posterior chain and allow an athlete to not only build up their posterior chain directly, but hold proper movement patterns under heavier loads in the squat. Another tool for training your posterior chain is instead of squatting down and up, squat to a box: this allows the athlete to sit back into the squat better, thereby emphasizing the hips, glutes, and hamstrings even more.
3. Use the Dynamic Method
The Dynamic Method is defined as lifting a submaximal weight with the highest attainable speed. This method is used to improve the rate of force development and explosive strength. Simply put, F = M x A, and no athlete will every maximize their sport ability, or their squat, without developing their accelerative strength. Every Friday our athletes know the focus of the training session will be on moving the bar as fast and explosively as possible. We also attach bands to the bar, helping the athlete to move the bar even faster by accommodating resistance. By combining the correct percentages of bar weight and band tension, the reps are performed in the optimal relationship of force and velocity, and the athletes can make tremendous improvements in their speed. Furthermore, the submaximal nature of the method also helps with ever important technique improvements.
Like any worthwhile endeavor, building a strong squat takes time and effort. Applying these 3 steps will make sure that your time and effort is not being spent in vain!