Menu
Home
Forums
Links
Sponsors
Site map
Articles
Bodybuilding
Schwarzenegger
Fitness
Power lifting
Cardiovascular
Routines
Supplements
Nutrition
Diet  Fat loss
Recipes

Pictures
Bodybuilding
Fitness
Videos
More..


The Squat



Accessory Onslaught #1 - The Squat
My first 3-part article series dealt with how you can use biomechanics and technique to improve your total. However, choosing the right exercises and performing them correctly in your daily workouts can go a long way to improving your total as well. This first article will describe common exercises performed to improve your squat.

Primary Muscles Used
Before describing the exercises, it's best to have a basic understanding of the muscles that are working when you squat. Below are the primary muscles used when squatting:

Quadriceps
The quadriceps is the large muscle group that runs along the front portion of your thigh. The quadriceps muscles include the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus intermedialis and vastus lateralis. The primary role of the quadriceps is extension of the knee (increasing the angle between the posterior thigh and lower leg).

Gluteus Maximus, Medius and Minimus
The gluteus maximus is your primary butt muscle. The primary role of the gluteus maximus in squatting is hip extension (increasing the angle between the posterior thigh and posterior trunk). The glute medius and minimus muscles are also important because they help abduct the hips (e.g. move them away from the midline of the body). This leads to that "tight" feeling in your hips when you are forcing your knees out.

Hamstrings
The hamstrings are the major muscles on the back portion of your thigh. The hamstrings are made up of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus muscles. The primary roles of the hamstrings are hip extension and knee flexion (decreases the angle formed by the back of the thigh and lower leg).

Abdominals
The abdominal muscles include the rectus abdominus, external and internal obliques, and the transverse abdominus. The functions of these muscles are too numerous for this article, but their primary role when squatting include increasing intra-abdominal and intra-thoracic pressure, as well as aiding in stabilizing the spine.

Spinal Erectors & Multifidus
The spinal erectors are the muscles of your lower back. They include the longissimus, iliocostalis and spinalis muscle groups. The primary role of the spinal erectors when squatting are extension and gross stabilization of the spine. The multifidus muscles also provide extension and stabilization, but to a lesser degree than the erectors.

Primary Assistance Exercises
Primary assistance exercises are usually performed on your 2nd low-body day of the week. They are called primary because they are an excellent way to develop the same muscles as the back squat, but usually in a slightly different manner. These exercises should usually be placed first or second in your workout.

If I may go onto my soapbox for a minute, I want to describe why I like to use different types of squats first on my second low body day. Whether it's front squats, speed squats with accommodating resistance, safety bar squats, etc., TO GET A STRONG SQUAT YOU HAVE TO SQUAT! With that being said, I'm not sure how many of us could recover from two heavy back squat workouts per week. By using different forms of squats, we are still squatting, but in a different manner than we are accustomed to (and usually with a slightly decreased load). For instance, front and Olympic squats put a premium on an upright posture, quadriceps development and core strength. On the flip side, squats with accommodating resistance put a premium on speed and acceleration versus pure, grind-it-out strength.

Think about it like this, how many times in a meet have you been rushed on the platform and not set up properly? Either the bar was too high, you didn't sit back far enough, etc. Chances are you missed the lift because you were out of your element. If you have trained with a wide variety of squat stances and bar positions, you immediately increase your chances of getting that very same lift the next time, simply because you were more prepared to perform in a chaotic environment.

Speed Squats
In his book Fundamentals of Special Strength Training for Sport, Yuri Verkhoshansky states that to optimize performance both absolute strength and acceleration strength must be emphasized. We know that, as powerlifters, we need to move heavy weights to get stronger; but now more than ever it seems that we need to give acceleration training some priority in order to achieve greater success.

Prime movers
Quadriceps,
hamstrings,
glutes
Set-up
Speed squats can be done with either straight bar weight, or used in combination with accomodating resistance mediums (e.g. chains and bands). For beginners and rookies, I would start off with straight bar weight and make sure your technique and speed are up to par. After that, chains are the next logical step, and then finally bands for the intermediate to advanced lifter.

The set-up for the speed squat is identical to that of the competition power squat. The hands should be in as close as flexibility will allow. The back should be tight with the head and chest up. For a complete description, see my Improving the Wide Stance Squat article in the January Issue.

Performance
Again, the performance is identical to the power squat, but remember that the emphasis here is on speed and acceleration! Chains and bands also teach you to hit the hole with speed and increase your eccentric strength: By hitting the hole with speed you are utilizing the stretch-reflex to its fullest capability.

One final note on speed work: It's better to err on the side of being too light versus too heavy. Unless you are in a circa-max phase (where the bar speed will be reduced) it's really of no benefit to you to move slowly.

Exercise Tips
Keep the technique identical to the power squat
Hit the hole with speed but UNDER CONTROL
Explode out of the hole and back to the starting position
Speed Squats will help your squat by:
Improving and reinforcing technique (by using lighters weights and performing more repetitions)
Improving eccentric and concentric acceleration
Front Squat
The front squat is a main-stay in the training regimen of Olympic lifters, simply because it's the receiving position for the clean. However, many powerlifters are currently using the front squat in their training programs because it provides a nice compliment to the traditional powerlifting squat. The front squat puts a premium on core strength since the bar is in front of your body, as well as an emphasis on the quadriceps since you can't sit back nearly as far (at least without dumping the bar and probably breaking your wrists!)

Prime movers
Quadriceps,
hamstrings,
glutes
Set-up
Grasp the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder width-grip. From here, step into the bar and rotate the elbows underneath the bar until the upper arm is parallel to the floor. Don't be frustrated if you can't get all your fingers underneath the bar; start off with one or two fingers on the bar and add more as your wrist and forearms become more flexible. At this point the bar should be resting on the upper pectorals very close to the neck (it should almost feel like it's choking you.) In the starting position, the feet should be approximately hip width apart with the feet slightly turned out and the chest elevated.

Performance
Break at the hips and sit back into a low squat position, pushing your knees out to activate the muscles of the hips. A key here is that as you go down, the chest will have a tendency to cave in and the elbows will want to rotate down to the ground. Don't let it happen! As you go down, focus on keeping the chest and rib cage elevated, and as you go down push your elbows up. This will counteract the tendency to come forward. From the bottom position, push the knees out and use a little dip to activate the muscles of the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and hips to bring you back up to the top.

Exercise Tips
Push the knees out
Keep the chest and rib cage elevated
As you go down, push the elbows up
Front Squats will help your squat by:
Improving posture
Keeping those who get bent over more upright
Increasing core strength and stability
Olympic Squat
Another exercise from our Olympic-lifting cousins that can help us improve our squat is the Olympic squat. This version is different from the powerlifting style squat in several areas. First, the bar is carried much higher on the trapezius muscles. This creates a longer lever between the bar and hips, which causes an overload of the trunk musculature (e.g., abs and low back). Again, this puts more stress on the quadriceps muscles as well because you aren't as able to sit back as far.

Prime movers
Quadriceps
hamstrings,
glutes
Set-up
Much like the powerlifting squat, you still want to grasp the bar evenly and retract the shoulder blades to form a "shelf" with your back muscles. The only difference is that now the bar will sit higher on the traps than usual. Set-up with the feet turned out slightly and approximately shoulder width apart. The chest should again be elevated and the head up.

Performance
The Olympic style squat is almost identical to the powerlifting squat. Begin by pushing the butt back and pushing the knees out to activate the hips. Since the bar sits higher, you will have a greater tendency to "cave" in at the chest, so it's very important to elevate the rib cage/chest and keep it up throughout the course of the movement. Sit back until your hamstrings touch your calves, then return to the starting position by pushing back into the bar and pushing out on your knees.

Exercise Tips
Push the knees out
Keep the chest and rib cage elevated throughout the movement
Olympic Squats will help your squat by:
Improving posture
Keeping those who get bent over more upright
Increasing core strength and stability
Safety Bar Squat
The safety bar squat is similar to the front and Olympic style squats, but it's a different beast simply due to the increase in the length of the lever arm and the yolk of the bar throwing the weight forward. On top of this, it takes the upper back synergists out of the equation, making this another excellent exercise for trainees who tend to cave in or fall forward when squatting. You will also realize once you increase the weight that the Safety Squat Bar has a real tendency to magnify your weaknesses. This makes it an excellent training tool for the beginner up to the advanced lifter.

Prime movers
Quadriceps,
hamstrings,
glutes
Set-up
The set-up with the safety squat bar is extremely easy, because all you have to do is walk underneath it and let it rest on your traps. With the bar high, walk out and assume whichever stance you choose (narrow, medium or wide, dependent upon your goals).

Performance
Before starting your set, make sure to focus on elevating the rib cage and inflating the chest. Remember, this bar makes for an extremely long lever and the weight is in front of you, so you must focus on staying upright. Otherwise, the performance is identical to the two previously mentioned exercises.

Exercise Tips
Choose a stance that meets your needs and goals
Focus on keeping the rib cage elevated and the chest inflated
Force the knees out to maximally activate the hip muscles
Safety Bar Squats will help your squat by:
Improving posture
Keeping those who get bent over more upright
Increasing core strength and stability
Box Squats
Box squats have been around for quite a long time, and while I'm not as huge an advocate for them as I used to be, I still feel that there is a lot of training value for those who use box squats in the their program. I will keep the description to a minimum, especially since this topic has been covered quite often.

Prime movers
Quadriceps,
hamstrings,
glutes
Set-up
Essentially, the box squat set-up is identical to that of a competition squat. Start by setting up a box that is approximately 1" below parallel behind you. Grip the bar with your usual grip, and walk under by pulling the shoulder blades together to form the "shelf" for the bar to rest on. Walk out and set-up with a wider than normal stance.

Performance
Inflate the chest and elevate the rib cage. Sit back and push the knees out to maximally activate the muscles of the glutes, hamstrings and hips. Lower with speed but under control until you reach the box, staying tight the whole time. Upon reaching the box, pause briefly, then explode up by pushing out on the knees and pushing back into the bar with the upper back.

I feel the length of the pause is very dependent upon the federation you lift in and the gear that you are currently using. If you are lifting in a raw or single-ply federation, very little pause is necessary (if any at all), because the suits are more dependent on exploiting the stretch shortening cycle. The purpose of the box is to make sure that you are consistently hitting below parallel and to develop starting strength. However, if you are in a multi-ply or unlimited federation, a longer pause is used because this more adequately matches the way the suit works. The stretch shortening cycle is still utilized, but not to the same degree. The canvas or multi-ply suit stops you in the hole, versus a single-ply suit which uses more spring or rebound to help you explode out of the bottom.

Exercise Tips
Use a wider than normal stance to develop the hip muscles
Do not bounce or drop onto the box, jarring your spine
Stay tight throughout the movement and explode off the box
Box Squats will help your squat by:
Developing explosive strength out of the hole
Consistently hitting proper depth
Pause Squats
For people who don't like or don't believe in box squats, pause squats are an excellent substitute. Not only do they have many of the same benefits, but they can also aid lifters that are scared to "go deep" or are uncomfortable in the deep position.

Prime movers
Quadriceps,
hamstrings,
glutes
Set-up
Again, the set-up for the pause squat is identical to that of the competition power squat. The complete description is detailed in my "Improving the Wide Stance Squat" article in the January Issue.

Performance
Set-up just like you would for a regular power squat. Usually, 70-75% of your work set max is used for pause squats. For example, if you are using 400 pounds for reps, 280-300 should work nicely for your pause squats. The technique is identical, only when you get below parallel, stay tight and stop in this position for 1-3 seconds. The key here is to stay tight in the hole and then explode out. I wouldn't go over 3-5 repetitions as these can be a grueling exercise even with the reduced weight.

Exercise Tips
Keep the technique identical to the power squat
Keep everything tight in the bottom position; focus on keeping the chest up and the knees out
Explode out of the hole
Pause Squats will help your squat by:
Improving your comfort in the bottom position
Improving explosive strength out of the hole
Secondary Assistance Exercises
Secondary assistance exercises are usually performed later in your workouts for two reasons:
They aren't as demanding on the neuromuscular system. Squats and deadlifts are especially grueling because they not only use all the major muscle groups in the body, but you are also forced to COORDINATE these muscles into a fluid movement; and
They are usually performed in order to bring up specific weak areas of the body. Again, squats and deadlifts hit all the major muscle groups, but if you only perform squats and your hamstrings are the weak link, they will always be the weak link unless you focus on or prioritize them. Thus, the need for secondary assistance exercises.
You will also notice that there are virtually no machine exercises on this list. There are several reasons for this, but I will touch on a few of them.

Most machines are biomechanically inefficient. On top of this, machines such as the leg curl and leg extension put a great deal of torque and stress around the respective joints they are trying to isolate.

While machines are busy trying to isolate only one muscle group, the exercises below are responsible for "integrating" movement into a smooth, efficient motor pattern. Just because these are secondary exercises doesn't mean we can only hit one muscle group at a time! For instance the glute-ham raise and pull-thru's develop the hamstrings, but they also hit the glutes and low back. You don't use one muscle group to squat, so why would you perform isolation exercises that hit only one muscle group?

Time. Everybody wants more of it, so why waste it performing 5 or 6 sets of leg curls when you could perform 2 sets of heavy good mornings and get better results? Remember, we are talking QUALITY over QUANTITY here, so use the basic exercises and watch your results improve dramatically.
Last, but certainly not least, is the weight factor. Are you going to experience more growth and stimulus with a set of 315 on RDL's, or cranking away at 125 on the lying leg curl machine? I think you know the answer to this one. Don't kid yourself; it's a lot harder to load the plates up and do heavy RDL's than it is to lay on a machine and push a pin into a slot. The hard work shows up in your total, so if you don't care about yours, keep cranking away on the Nautilus circuit.
Glute-Ham Raises
The glute-ham raise is one of the best accessory exercises you can perform for your glutes, hamstrings and calves. One note on glute-ham machines: Don't buy one with a skimpy toe plate! A skimpy toe plate essentially turns the exercise into a manual leg curl. These cheap versions are everywhere, so be wary when you purchase one, if you can try it out first, even better.

Prime Movers
Glutes,
hamstrings,
calves (Spinal erectors in first 1/3 of movement)
Set-up
Start off by setting up the bench so that the toe plate will be in line with your lower leg. If you are a beginner, you will want to move the toe plate back so that your knees actually slide down off the arc at the top position. This way you won't have to "curl" as much of your body weight up, as well as giving you a better mechanical advantage.

Performance
In the starting position, your legs will be straight and approximately parallel to the floor and your toes will be pressing against the toe plate. Your upper body should be folded over the arc, with your upper body approximately perpendicular to the ground. Start the motion by contracting the spinal erectors and pulling yourself up to parallel. Once you are parallel, press your toes into the plate HARD and squeeze the hamstrings to bring your body up. Squeezing the glutes as you come up will help finish the motion off. One thing to make sure of is not allowing yourself to hyperextend the back as you are coming up. Lower under control to the starting position, break your momentum, then repeat for the necessary number of repetitions.

Exercise Tips
Make sure the first part of the motion is only back extension
Press the toes into the plate hard to really activate the hamstrings and calves
Do not hyperextend the back when coming up to the top position
Glute-ham raises will help your squat by:
Developing the muscles of the glutes and hamstrings
Getting you off the leg curl machine and making you move your own body weight against gravity
Pull-thru's
The pull-thru is another great option for developing the muscles of the posterior chain. The pull-thru can be used by trainees who don't have a glute-ham machine, or those that are looking for another option in their training arsenal.

Prime Movers
Glutes,
hamstrings,
spinal erectors
Set-up
Start by attaching either a single-handle or rope extension to a low cable pulley machine. Grasp the handle with both hands between your legs, and walk out to a point approximately 3 feet out from the machine.

Performance
From the starting position, let the cable pull you back and down into what looks like a hybrid between a good morning and a half squat. Keep your chest up and an arch in your back; this should give you an excellent stretch in your glutes and hamstrings. From here, you want to squeeze your glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors to help you return to the starting position.

One of the keys to this exercise is balance. At the top you want to have most of the weight on your heels, and as you lower down shift the weight to the balls of the feet for counter-balance. As you rise back to the top, shift the weight back to the heels. It will take some practice, but the benefits of this exercise are worth it.

Exercise Tips
Keep an arch in the back throughout the movement
Start with the weight on the heels, and shift it to the toes as you get to the bottom position
Pull-thrus will help your squat by:
Developing the muscles of the glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors
Back Extensions
The back extension is an often forgotten exercise in the powerlifting world nowadays. However, I think it's an excellent exercise for development of the spinal erector muscles and should be used in almost every trainees program. The great thing about the back extension is that it really "isolates" the back extensors and takes them through a dynamic range of motion.

Prime Movers
Spinal erectors
Set-up
Set-up a back extension or glute-ham machine so that the ankle pad is even with or slightly above the level of the hip pad. This will ensure that the knees are not hyperextended during the course of movement. In the starting position the legs will be straight, the low back will be in a neutral position and the upper body will be folded over the pad and almost perpendicular to the floor.

Performance
From the starting position, squeeze the muscles of the lower back and raise your trunk to a position that is parallel to the floor. The name of this exercise is the back extension, not the back HYPEREXTENSION! By going past parallel you put a lot of stress on the lumbar vertebrae, and as competitive powerlifters and strength athletes this is the last thing we need. Come up to parallel, hold for a second, then lower under control to the starting position.

Exercise Tips
Focusing on using the muscles of the low back during the exercise
Don't use momentum to come up to the top
Don't allow the back to round or the upper body to come past parallel to the ground
Back extensions will help your squat by:
Increasing dynamic spinal erector strength
Keeping those who get bent over more upright
Increasing core strength and stability
Good Mornings
Good mornings are an excellent exercise because they hit the hamstrings hard, as well as making the spinal erectors work in an isometric or stabilizing role. This is essentially the role the erectors play when squatting, so this is an excellent choice for anyone trying to get their squat weights up.

Prime movers
Glutes,
hamstrings,
spinal erectors
Set-up
Start with the hands out wider than you normally would to take the upper back synergists out of the lift. Position the bar where you normally would while performing a competition squat, or slightly higher to increase the length of the lever arm. Walk out and set up with your feet and your competition squat width or slightly narrower.

Performance
From the starting position, inflate the chest and lift the ribcage to set a nice arch in your low back. From here, concentrate on maintaining your arch and pushing your butt back as far as possible. Don't just fold over from the waist; the key to really hitting the glutes and hamstrings is to push that butt back. When you feel like you are going to lose you arch, push your back into the bar and squeezes your glutes and hamstrings to return to the top.

Exercise Tips
Keep the chest up and the back arched throughout the movement
Focus on pushing the butt back rather than folding over at the waist
Good mornings will help your squat by:
Increasing isometric spinal erector strength
Keeping those who get bent over more upright
Conclusion
The exercises listed above (and their variations) should keep your squat training fresh for years to come! In coming issues I will deal with accessory exercises for the bench press and deadlift, as well as a whole article devoted specifically to unilateral (single-leg) exercises and how they can be of benefit to the powerlifter. Until then, train hard and get stronger!

About the Author:
Mike Robertson, M.S., C.S.C.S., U.S.A.W., is the Director of the Athletic Performance Center (APC) in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The APC offers sport performance training, injury rehabilitation, and personal training services to its clients. Mike received his Masters in Sports Biomechanics from the Human Performance Lab at Ball State University, has been a competitive powerlifter, and is the USA Powerlifting State Chair in Indiana. To contact Mike, please send an e-mail to mikerob022@yahoo.com

 






eXTReMe Tracker