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5 Things That Are Holding Your Squat Back

By Chad Smith | In Squat | on April 3, 2014

Is your squat stagnant? Have you plateaued? Chances just some small adjustments to your training can help you break through your stagnation and hit some new PRs. Check out these 5 tips and get that squat moving again.

1. You Aren’t Jumping

Great squatting requires great explosive power and nothing does that better than jumping. Box jumps, squat jumps and depth jumps are all great means to improve explosive power that will carryover to your squat. When you do box jumps, make sure you land in a parallel squat or above, don’t let them turn into an exercise in how well you can pull your knees up to your ears. Squat jumps, either holding weights or with a bar on your back, are a great and specific tool to improve the squat. These can be done from different depths (quarter squat, half squat, full squat) and introducing a pause to them will also yield a great benefit. Depth jumps have tremendous strength benefits but are also very taxing to the joints and CNS, so they must be used strategically. The stronger you are relative to your bodyweight, the higher box you can drop from as you will be able to better overcome the inertia of the landing. Be a strength athlete, get jumping and reap the squat rewards.

Go more in depth with your jump training in this article.

2. You Move Like Sh*t

If your hips, ankles, quads or calves are immobile/unstable, your squat is suffering. Movement deficiencies anywhere in the body can have a negative effect on your squatting technique and leave you injured or unable to train as hard as possible. Mobility or dare I say, suppleness, in the legs and hips will allow you to hit depth easier, stay in better and more powerful positions and most of all, squat more. The interrelated nature of movement and the kinetic chain is plenty of info for its own article-or book-and would be better covered by someone besides me, but for me I know that my problematic mobility areas are tightness in the quads which causes too much forward knee travel and tightness in the calves which limits ankle mobility making it harder to hit depth and causing knee pain. Both of these are solved for me through soft tissue work, a little stretching and just more frequent squatting. Improving movement quality doesn’t have to mean you are doing a full corrective program and never training hard but it is extremely important to your success.

Check out these great articles from Dr. Quinn Henoch to improve the bottom position of your squat and fix common errors in mobility training.

3. You Don’t Know How To Breathe

Say what?! Of course, I know how to breathe, I’m alive aren’t I? Well you don’t know how to breathe for maximum performance. Knowing how to properly breathe and brace your spine will make a tremendous to your squatting strength. For years you have been told to push your abs out into the belt or get ‘big air in your belly’, I’m guilty of cueing that myself, but it is only half of the equation. We want to create circumferential expansion of your trunk, creating 360 degrees of pressure through your low back, obliques and abs maximize tension and support in the squat. Think of breathing into your low back while flexing your glutes to create a neutral hip position to begin improving this position. Bracing a neutral spine position is stronger and healthier for maximum performance in the squat.

Ryan Brown goes in depth to how breathing can benefit your performance in the squat and other lifts…

4. You Do To Many Exercise Variations

I am not telling you to just do competition back squats like Malanichev does. You are not Malanichev and neither am I, he is the highest qualified lifter and therefore needs the most specific training, we are not and therefore do not. With that being said, the variations of exercises you do and their specificity should reflect your level as a lifter. More variations and less specific exercises are for lower qualified lifters, less variations and more specific exercises are for more qualified lifters. Specialty bars, bands and chains can all have their place in training when implemented properly. All of my squat training over the last 4 years has been comprised of competition stance squats, Olympic squats, front squats, pause squats, safety squat bar squats, squats with chains, dead squats and squats of varying width stances, that’s not very much variation. Your body doesn’t what a safety squat bar is or a cambered bar or bands or an Olympic squat or anything else, it just knows stimulus and stress and very small changes will present it with new stimulus to avoid adaptation. Relatively small changes in stance, bar placement, speed of descent, etc can present the body with new stimulus and help you address various weaknesses. Your competition squat should be the foundation of your training and nearly always present in your plan as it is practice for the competitive powerlifter, pick 1-2 other movement variations with high carryover to compliment it. Stick with them for 2-3 months at a time minimum to judge their benefit and train them hard but understand that their role is to build the competitive movement.

Check out this explanation of 3 common mistakes in squat technique and how to fix them…

5. You’re Scared

Scared of the weight and scared of the work. Confidence under the bar when you get ready for a heavy squat is HUGE. One of the most common ways I see people missing squats is that they get to a max weight and start going down way slower than they did with lighter weights, this wastes energy, doesn’t allow you to exploit the stretch reflex as well and isn’t the same technique you’ve been practicing in all your other sets. Get under the bar knowing that you are going to own that rep and dominate it from walkout to lockout. Heavy walkouts and reverse band squats are both useful tools to help you overload your body, prepare for heavier weights and build confidence. An overload of 10% above your max is plenty to yield the desired response, beyond that will not, in my opinion, give you benefits outweighing the extra stress on the body, nervous system and recovery abilities.

You also might be scared of the work it really takes to squat huge, scared of the pain, the soreness that real squat training will elicit. My last 3 squat sessions have been…

3/24/14
1) Competition Squat-545x8x3, 1 min rest
2) Olympic Squat-585x2x6
3) Pause Squat-495x2x8

3/28/14
1) Competition Squat-585x3x8
2) Paused Front Squat-455x4x6

3/31/14
1) Competition Squat-585×2, 635×2, 655×2, 675×2, 725×2
2) Olympic Pause Squat-605x3x3

And this is following a 3 week wave in which I did 104 work sets with 55-75% of my 1rm, squatting big weights takes work, you can do more than you are doing now. Increase your volume, increase your frequency, control your rest periods and watch your squat grow.

Squatting isn’t some great mystery, get strong all over, work hard and attack the bar. Give these 5 tips a shot and I know your squat will reap the benefits.

Related Articles: JuggerCube by Chad Wesley Smith

The Best Damn Squat Mobility Article, Period by Dr. Quinn Henoch

Chad Wesley Smith is the founder and head physical preparation coach at Juggernaut Training Systems. Chad has a diverse athletic background, winning two national championships in the shot put, setting the American Record in the squat (905 in the 308 class, raw w/ wraps) and most recently winning the 2012 North American Strongman championship, where he earned his pro card. In addition to his athletic exploits, Chad has helped over 50 athletes earn Division 1 athletic scholarships since 2009 and worked with many NFL Players and Olympians. Chad is the author of The Juggernaut Method and The Juggernaut Method 2.0 and The Juggernaut Football Manual.
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1 comments
schindler91589
schindler91589

One of the best squat articles ever -- puts a lot of information in one place that goes beyond what everyone knows. Jumps, breathing cues that go beyond 'push the belly out', useful overloads to deal with psychological barriers, no-nonsense prescriptions of higher work... 


Can't wait to start incorporating jumps next week and see what a difference it makes! 

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