The squat is the fundamental component of a fitness program, and it’s vital to your health. On the performance front, the squat is the primary hip extension exercises, and hip extension is the base of good movement. Not only will a good squat improve your athleticism, but it’s essential to keeping your ankles, knees, hips and spine functioning healthily. Improving your squat strength therefore means a fitter and healthier you.
There are a number of programming methods to increase squat strength. However, before you get caught up in those, get the basics right first. Everyone should begin by mastering the air squat. This is an unloaded, bodyweight only squat. Starting to add load in a front, back or overhead squat before the air squat is mastered is unsafe and ineffective. Mastery of the air squat is earned when the key positions are maintained through quick and multiple repetitions.
1. Feet about shoulder width apart and toes turned out between 5°-20°. The greater your ankle and hip mobility, the lesser the turnout.
2. Keep your neck in a neutral position throughout the movement. Imagine holding an orange under your chin to foster this position.
3. Keep your midline very tight. Without crunching, pull your rib cage down and draw your belly-button in.
4. Move your butt back and down.
5. Drive your knees wide over the toes, allowing the trunk to sit in-between the legs.
6. Keep your weight on the heels.
7. Don’t let any part of the spine flex (i.e. round).
8. Stop when the hip crease is below the level of the knees. That is, squat below 90°.
9. Return up via the same path. Drive your knees wide, keep the weight on the heels and lock your knees and hips as you stand.
10. All muscles of the body should be involved.
If you can maintain these key positions through 85 squats in two minutes, your technique and performance are sufficient to add load. Progressive overload is one of the primary principles of training. It refers to the requirement of increasingly greater (training) stressors in order to improve performance.
There are countless programming methods to increasing squat strength, but all of them have the same ultimate goal – to get more load on the barbell. To achieve that, you need to gradually increase the amount of weight you are squatting.
For example, if you performed five reps of a back squat at 100kg for two consecutive weeks, you can then on the third week load the bar up to 105kg. This stimulates the body to adapt to the greater training stress.
One of the most overlooked factors in training programs is variety. The extent to which you adapt is matched by the extent of the stimulus. And if you expect different results by doing the same thing over and over again, you might be classified insane!
If you want to increase your overall squat strength and ability, squat heavy and light, perform different types of squats, and employ high and low volume workouts.
Variance is not random though. It needs to be structured to be effective.
When you train the musculoskeletal system sustains damage, and the nervous system is fatigued. That is what stimulates the body to get fitter. However, if you don’t recover adequately, the repetitive training stimulus exceeds the body’s ability to recover and you end up in a state of over training.
To avoid over training follow these simple guidelines:
• Work on mobility daily.
• Base your diet on meats, a variety of garden vegetables, no starch or sugar, little dairy and some nuts and seeds.
• Master the movement at a particular load before increasing the weight.
• Every 5-7 weeks have a ‘de-load’ week whereby you use low loads and volumes in training.
• Be patient.
If possible, work with a strength and conditioning coach who is able to identify and correct technique errors. They will also be able to help guide you through proper programming.
Have you found these tips helpful? Is there anything specific you’d like to ask Imtiaz about squat strength?