The following article is a quick five tips to help you with your squat. The squat is a tough exercise to master for most people and I was no exception. To help qualify things if you don’t know me, I have squatted over a 1000 pounds in multi-ply gear 13 times and over 1100 pounds four times with a best in competition of 1124 lpounds. Double or triple those numbers if you count training. My point in telling you this is to plant the seed that BIG squatting can be accomplished if you set your mind to it. These five tips will help you on your way to reaching that goal.
It took me six years of training to get my first 1008 pound squat, which came at the APF Senior Nationals in Baton Rouge, LA, in 2004. When I started powerlifting, a 1000 pound squat was just a day dream, but once I hit it good and fast, all I thought about was 1100 pounds and the ultimate 1200 pound squat. I did not get the 1200 pound squat I wanted. It actually got me with a serious quad tendon tear in 2007. I started out squatting in the low 500’s with poor form and at the time thought that high 500’s and 600’s were wonderful. I am proof that you can double your squat with proper training, technique and focus.
Over the years, I picked up a few things that have helped me train my squat and perfect my form.
Know this: without the form and technique you’ll never maximize your potential.
Even modest adjustments in form and skill will improve your performance. Most from adjustments can give you a 50 to 100 pound jump.
Here are five squat tips to start doing NOW!!!!
1. Learn how to arch your lower back with the PAD TEST
Arching your lower back continuously from pick up (set up if you walk out) to the finish of the squat is not a new concept, but most lifters have no idea what it means. In order to increase your squat, your lower back has to be united with your hips, legs and upper body from the start of your squat to the end. Here’s an easy way to “get it.”
Get a box that’s parallel or slightly higher. Make sure you have a one inch pad or a one inch anything that can be slid under your tail while you sit on the box. First, squat onto the box in the stance you use in competition using what you think is a good arch. Once on the box, have a buddy slide the pad up to your bottom as it’s seated on the box. Now, the important part, arch your lower back even harder now. Your tail will lift up and off the box where the pad is if you do it right. Tell the person to slide the pad until it hits your bottom again. Normally the pad will move two to three inches if you arch really hard. Pay attention and hold this arch. Within 5 to 10 seconds, you’ll feel your glutes, hips and lower back lock TOGETHER. This is what it’s supposed to feel like for the entire rep of your squat when you are under load.
2. Use your hips to pick up the bar.
This is another very simple sounding one, but pretty much at every meet and at the gym I see it without fail – a guy or girl who doesn’t use their hips and legs to pick up the bar. Often they pick up the bar with what I call a “trap pickup” and lower back. All this means is that they shrug the bar out of the rack mostly with the brunt force in their traps and lower back instead of using their legs from the very start.
What’s wrong with this? Very simply, shrugging the bar out of the rack separates and disconnects your upper back from your erectors and lower body briefly as you start your squat attempt. Because of this disconnect, your body has to try and reset itself once you get the weight out of the rack. This is a waste of time and energy and it doesn’t allow your central nervous system to fire everything simultaneously. So essentially, you don’t begin your heavy squat using all the muscle you could have.
How to fix it? This is an easy one but you’ll have to consciously do it each time you pick up the bar to squat. Grab the bar with your thumbs wrapped around the bar and pull your grip of the bar in just a little. This will force your shoulder blades together and fire up your upper back and erectors. Now, think about nothing but your hips picking up the bar, some say arch the bar out of the rack, this is the same thing essentially. If you walk it out of the rack setting up this way will be a little more difficult but try your best to drive your feet into the ground as you pick up the bar. If you arch and just use your legs and hips, the top portion of your glutes will fire immediately once you have it up to lock you in place. This is also an activation signal for your central nervous system to light up every muscle it can to help you with the lift.
3. Head up and slightly above parallel and knowing how to keep your arch.
I know…you know this one. Nah, I doubt it. What I’m talking about here is the tendency of guys and gals to either look down at their feet or up so hard that they look like they are trying to look up someone’s nose. Focusing your eyes in either direction is a disconnection for your body. This goes right back to not fully involving all of your muscles, joints and leverage points that you have available at any given point in the squat.
Ok, the fixers. You will need an empty bar or one with just a little bit of weight on it. Set up like you’re going to squat. First, keep your head slightly above parallel like you’re looking off at something in the distance. Your shoulder blades should be pulled in tight and your lower back should be arched. Squat to parallel or slightly below and pause at the bottom. Next, drop your head down as far as it will go. You’ll feel your lower back “drop out” or lose most of its arch. This is the disconnect that I’m talking about. You’re literally disconnecting your body and losing all of your squatting potential right now. Then pick your head back up to slightly above parallel again and you will feel your lower back reengage again. When it reengages and locks back in with the rest of your body this is how it’s supposed to feel the ENTIRE time you’re squatting until
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