The squat is one of the most effective lifts you have at your disposal. For strength gains, fat burning, athleticism or muscle building, the squat is king.
To get the most out of your squatting, there’s a few things you should know. This is a big exercise, using big weights and challenging your body to the limit. It should be treated with respect. Here we will look at 5 ways you can rapidly improve your squat performance. All of these are going to quickly increase your squat numbers and overall strength levels.
- Mobility – I start the conversation with mobility for a simple reason. That is because it’s the area where I consistently see people lacking. In every gym I go to, it is rare to see someone who has proper mobility to perform a perfect squat with full range of motion.Without the required mobility to squat properly; at best you will be missing out on the benefits of using range of motion and the opportunity for maximum growth. At worst, you set yourself up for injury and possible harm.Before you worry about loading up the bar with more weight, or hitting max reps for time, you need to ensure you can perform a full range of motion squat with perfect form. First without any weight, and then carrying it over to weighted.The first place to look for your mobility cure is the ankles. I see everyone trying to stretch their hips out all of the time, and that is important, but the ankles are much more often the limiting factor in squatting. With the most flexible hips in the world, you will still not be able to squat properly if you don’t have sufficient mobility in the ankles.Focus on increasing ankle mobility first, and then assess if you need more hip mobility.
- Single leg work – One of the best ways to improve stability, strength and balance in the squat is with single leg work. Lunges, step ups, single leg deadlifts and pistol squats are all great ways to get better at squatting, without having to load up heavy squats.Much of the single leg work will be challenging your glutes and other muscles around the hips, improving stability and balance. All of which allows you to display more strength in the normal squat movement. A lack of stability doesn’t allow you to display the strength that you might well have. If you’re losing balance, you can never exert maximum force.A regime of single leg work twice per week will soon build stability and ensure you have balanced strength between both legs. This will make you stronger, but more importantly, better allow you to display the strength that you already have.
- Keep your feet stable – You might have seen people squatting in bare feet, or wearing special weight lifting shoes? This is to keep the feet stable. Refer to the above point for the importance of stability.If you are squatting in running shoes or other training shoes that have a soft heel, your weight will be rocking backwards and forwards over the soft sole, costing you stability. This means you are not as stable as you could be, and therefore not as strong, while being more prone to injury.Simply taking your shoes off can sometimes improve your squat as you gain more stability.
- A rock solid core – You’ve probably heard the term ‘core stability’ thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean for you when you’re squatting?The core is considered to be everything around the midline; the lower back, as well as the abs. When squatting, this area needs to be locked in place and as stable as possible, to allow force transfer from the body down in to the ground.The first important part of core stability is your breathing. When you take a large breath in and brace your core muscles, you create stability. Failing to hold your breath, or breathing in and out in too relaxed a fashion will lead to a weak link in your mid-section. Before initiating a lift, breathe in at the top, hold it on the way down and allow some air to come out on the way up.As you breathe out on the way up, you should never fully breathe out. Instead, partially breathe out by hissing through your teeth, ensuring you keep your abs braced. The time to reset and breath in again is at the top of the movement.If you are lacking stability in your midline, you cannot properly transfer force and like a lack of stability, will not be able to display the strength that you already have.
- Pull yourself down – This is something almost everybody gets wrong. When you squat you are not just letting gravity and the weight on your shoulders push you down into the ground. At least, you shouldn’t be.You want to actively pull yourself down on the descent. This loads all of the right muscles and ensures you have stability and control on the way down. To do this, you want to engage the hip flexors and hamstrings and actively pull yourself down into the squat. Try it and you will immediately feel the difference.
Put these 5 tips to action and your squat will start to take off.
As it’s a lovely sunny day, I’m feeling generous, so I’ve thrown in a bonus 6th tip for you.
Bonus Tip 6: Squat more often – The squat is an exercise that you can train a lot. Every day if you so desire. The legs can take a lot of volume and a lot of frequency. As long as you squat with good technique and are keeping the weight off the lower back, you can squat regularly. The more often you squat, the faster you will progress. Strength, muscle gain, fat loss; all will be accelerated by squatting more often.
Of course, most people do not need to squat every day, but 2 or even 3 times per week is a reasonable amount for anyone. The more you squat, the quicker you will progress.