Category Archives: Squat

Squats for Those Who Can’t Squat

10/11/13

Squats-for-those-who-cant-squat

Here’s what you need to know…

• Squats may be the king of exercises, but many lifters can’t perform them safely or effectively.
• You don’t need to squat ass-to-grass.
• Switching to front squats, controlling stance and depth, and sticking to moderate rep ranges are just some on the ways to improve the safety and efficacy of squats.

Squats are one of my absolute favorite exercises. Unfortunately, as much as I love squats, my knees and back don’t. If I’m not careful they can really do a number on me. I could nix squats altogether in favor of more single-leg work, but squats are too valuable to ditch entirely, plus I just enjoy doing them.
If you have a similar love-hate relationship with squats, here are some ways to make the lift more user-friendly.


1. Switch to Front Squats

Most lifters who train for general strength and physique goals are better off doing front squats than back squats. For starters, it’s easier to squat to an appropriate depth with front squats than back squats, so more people can do it well.
Moreover, front squats are a lot easier on the body. You’re forced to keep a more upright posture and there’s a built-in safety mechanism that prohibits you from breaking form too much – you’ll dump the bar before it’s able to get too ugly. You’re also using less weight, and any time you can get a comparable training effect with lighter loads, you’re doing your body a favor in the long run.
Lastly, front squats do a better job of targeting the quads, which is why most people squat to begin with. Unless you have a good “squatters build” (i.e., short and stocky), back squats generally end up looking like a good morning and in turn target the posterior chain to a greater degree.
The biggest knock with front squats is that it can be difficult at first to hold the bar, especially if you don’t have the flexibility to use a clean grip. If that’s the case, try using straps or the cross-arm grip and you should be all set.


2. Shoot for About Parallel

Front SquatAim to squat to parallel or maybe slightly below. For most lifters this means you need to squat deeper because most people squat abysmally high. Quarter squats are just an ego exercise; they allow you to handle more weight than you deserve to be lifting. Any time you mix ego and heavy-ass weights, bad things happen.
Some bodybuilders argue that quarter squats are better for targeting the quads, but usually that’s their way of trying to justify squatting high because they don’t have the mobility to squat deep. There’s research supporting the idea that full squats are better than partial squats for leg development, and if you need empiric evidence, just watch footage of guys sporting the hugest quads on the planet squat – Ronnie Coleman, Tom Platz, Olympic lifters, etc. They all get down there.
That said, there’s such a thing as “too low,” especially for those with lower back and knee issues. It’s cool on the internet to preach rock bottom or ass-to-grass squats, but going to that extreme range can be problematic for those with prior knee issues. The last few inches from parallel to rock bottom is where the pelvis tucks under for most lifters, putting the lower back at risk.
I used to squat rock bottom, so I’m not just some guy bashing something I can’t do. I’ve recently switched to at or just below parallel for my heavy work and my joints feel much better for it.
You’re also not giving up much from a muscle-building and performance standpoint by going to just under parallel as opposed to rock bottom. Of course, this is largely a moot point since most people fall in the high squatting camp, but it’s worth mentioning for the few “ass to ankles” squatters out there.


3. Control the Eccentric

When people talk about squats and knee pain, it’s usually the knees coming over the toes. I’m not too concerned with the knees coming over the toes – provided it’s not excessive – but I’m a lot more concerned with dive-bombing the eccentric and bouncing out of the bottom. One study showed that bouncing increases shear force on the knee by 33%, which jibes with my experience.
For folks with knee issues, I highly recommend controlling the eccentric portion of the squat rather than dive bombing to prevent bouncing. You don’t necessarily have to pause in the bottom position, but I suggest it. This will also ensure that you’re relying on the muscles to lift the weight rather than using momentum.


4. Get Wider

Some people advocate a really wide stance squat where you break at the hips and push your butt back while trying to keep the shins as vertical as possible. This will indeed take stress off the knees, but it’ll also puts more stress on the lower back, and it also makes for a shitty quad stimulus.
Others advocate a really close stance squat with an upright torso to smoke the quads and take stress off the lower back, but this forces you into a knee-break squat where the knees shoot forward excessively. I’m not worried if the knees come out over the toes to some extent, but a pure knee break squat is a bad idea for long-term knee health.
Instead, I recommend taking a moderate stance just outside shoulder-width and breaking from both the hips and knees at the same time. This will allow for a good torso position and still smoke the quads without putting quite so much stress on the knees. Personally, just moving my stance out a few inches has made a world of difference for my knees.


5. Squat to a Box or Pins

Box SquatThe primary reason for squatting to a box or the pins in a safety rack is to serve as a depth gauge. For high squatters, it forces you to go all the way down. For ass-to-grass squatters, it stops you from going too low. Squatting to a box or pins also encourages you to control the eccentric so you aren’t bouncing your ass off the box or bouncing the bar off the pins.
Whether you use a box or pins is largely a matter of personal preference and what you have available. Both work well, but remember that if you’re using a box, you’re just using it as a depth gauge, not rocking back onto the box like you would for a powerlifting-type box squat.


6. Use Chains

Chains are typically thought of as a powerlifting tool to help overload the lockout, but they’re also a great way to take some stress off the lower back and knees in the bottom position while still allowing you to move big weights.


7. Stick to Moderate Reps

Those with joint issues will do best spending the majority of their training time in the 6-12 rep range. Going much below that is flirting with danger, and doing super high reps can often lead to some gnarly form breakdown.
The good news is that 6-12 range is great for hypertrophy, so it’s not like you’re resigning yourself to a lifetime of being a skinny little bitch. Getting strong in moderate rep ranges is the best way to get jacked.


8. Squat at the End of the Workout

Squatting at the end of the workout ensures you’re sufficiently warmed up, and it also means you’ll have to lighten the load, which takes stress off the joints and makes it easier to maintain good form.
Most of the time with heavy front squats, the limiting factor is how much weight you can hold, not how much weight your legs can handle. With heavy back squats, the lower back is often the limiting factor, not the legs. If you pre-exhaust the legs prior to squatting, the legs become the limiting factor, which is what you want.


The Ultimate User-Friendly Squat?

Putting it altogether, my favorite user-friendly squat variation is the chain front squat to a box.
As a reference point, I’m using a 12-inch box, which puts me right around parallel. Taller lifters may be able to get away with using a slightly higher box, but don’t get carried away and start rationalizing that your 18-inch box puts you at parallel, because unless your name is Shaq or Dwight Howard, it probably doesn’t.
If you’re gym doesn’t have low enough boxes, you can also do chain front squats to the pins, like so:
The key here is to control the eccentric to avoid bouncing the bar off the pins, so think about resting it on the pins as quietly as possible.
Of course, if you don’t have chains, you can also just use straight weight. In that case I like to bump the rep range up a bit because I find my knees tolerate it better.
Now contrast that to how I used to squat with a closer stance while going all the way down. I no longer advocate that most squat this deep, especially if you have knee issues. If you turn the volume up on your computer and listen closely, you can actually hear my knees cracking!
I’m no doctor, but common sense tells me that can’t be good long term, even if it doesn’t cause pain in the short term.


Closing Thoughts

You don’t necessarily have to apply all the tips here. For example, if you prefer back squats to front squats, that’s fine. Same goes if you prefer free squats to squatting to a box or pins. Putting some of these tips into practice though will definitely help your squatting in the long run.


Works Cited

Ariel, B.G. Biomechanical analysis of the knee joint during deep knee bends with heavy loads. In: Biomechanics IV, R. Nelson and C. Morehouse (Eds.). Baltimore: University Park Press, 1974, pp. 44-52.

6 Truths About Squats



6 Truths About SquatsSquats are the ultimate test of total body strength and mental toughness and one lift that every strength athlete worth his salt takes very seriously.
However, being the big iconic movement that it is, it’s not surprising that there are 50 schools of thought on what exactly a good squat is and what isn’t.
I’ve always found strength and conditioning research fascinating, but some lifters let studies and research go beyond just an opinion with support and let them become indoctrinated dogmas in which there’s suddenly no other way of thinking.
This type of narrow mindedness leads to glorifying the minutiae in our field, not to mention a whole lot of failing to see the forest for all the damn trees. This article intends to break that trend and kick all the squatting dogma to the curb.


1. The Truth about High Bar vs. Low Bar

High bar squatting versus low bar squatting is a frequent point of contention. The few inches of difference between the two styles can significantly affect the geometry of your squat.
A high bar position (where the bar rests high on the upper traps) facilitates a more vertical torso, since the body doesn’t have to accommodate for the bar being too far behind the center of gravity by leaning forward at the waist.
As long as you’re mobile enough, having a vertical torso can have a huge impact on the depth you achieve in the bottom end range of your squat, .
Of course, if you’re looking to compete in the Olympic lifts and need that position ingrained to perfect your mobility for your first pull, then certainly train it.
I myself prefer not to load any barbell whatsoever on my cervical vertebrae (in the high bar position). I think the benefits of doing so come with enough disadvantages to make me skeptical of the overall need for it. I’d rather use other squat variations if bottom end range is the goal. 
Take home point: 


2. The Truth about Hinging

When people refer to “hinging” as it relates to squats, they’re referring to the initial “break” coming from changing the hip angle when they begin the movement. Many people will signify a proper hinge pattern by “spreading the floor” and pushing the butt back, possibly coupled with a notable forward pelvic tilt. This does a few things:

  • Allows ideal amounts of pressure to be placed on the back of the foot (the heel).
  • Encourages the low back to remain tight and not lose its arch, especially not too early.
  • Makes the posterior chain much more active.

A little more on that last point. When the pelvis tilts forward to create the hinge at the hip, the ischial tuberosities travel upwards, which pulls the hamstrings much longer and tighter. The added tension in the hamstrings acts to facilitate their activity much more.
One of my favorite coaches, Mark Rippetoe, uses this to his lifters’ advantage when squatting, since a pair of taut hamstrings will usually be coupled with a much smaller hip angle, potentiating much more hip drive to finish the lift. Check out a prime example below:

Here’s my take. If you want to work your posterior chain more, you’re going to have to apply tension to the right muscles so they’re highly active for a greater portion of the lift.
Hip hinging will activate the posterior chain more, and as a result of the hip hinge, the lowest possible back squat depth will be compensated due to the differences in geometry. And that’s fine, if depth isn’t what you’re after in particular.
Using a knee break to start the descent, Poliquin style, will encourage more quad activation since the knee gets to flex to a smaller angle and migrate differently. In his style, the torso also stays more vertical due to further forward tracking of the knees, and also due to the bar’s placement on the back. If depth and ROM are your goals, you can prepare for a deeper squat by using this style:

I’ve practiced both methods of hinging and prefer to break at the knees first. I find that if I don’t, my 6’4″ frame won’t get down nearly enough for me to comfortably deem it a “back squat” at all.
Below is a video of a heavy set. As you can see, my stance isn’t the widest (more on that later), but I do use the knees to break and track to get my most effective squat. There’s more lean forward than a high-bar squat encourages, and that’s because I still use a lower bar position – but that’s what works for me.

Take home point: 


3. The Truth about Foot Width and Muscle Recruitment

According to Stu McGill, professor of spine biomechanics, squatting foot width is more sensitive to depth and ROM than meets the eye. Most people consider an excessively narrow  wide width to take away from depth, and this is true in many cases.
However, as McGill mentions, we have to consider skeletal anatomy. The hip socket (acetabulum) isn’t located in exactly the same place on everyone’s pelvic girdle. For people whose sockets are placed more toward the front of the pelvis, they’d likely achieve more success deep squatting if they use a narrower stance to mimic their build.
There will be less resistance in the ball-and-socket joint since the femoral head will not be placed in an angled position in the acetabulum as the squat progresses.
To figure out what would be best for you, take this test:
6 Truths About Squats6 Truths About SquatsStart with your back mildly arched and knee angle at 90 degrees. Use your arms to “push” your butt towards your heels – it should look like you’re doing a sideways squat. Take note of what point in your “depth” your pelvis turns under and the low back begins to round.
Repeat the test with a different knee and foot width, narrower and wider. Whatever width promotes the deepest flat-back position is your money-maker, so use that same width when standing in your squat. As a bonus, you’ll likely feel less hip issues from squatting, especially if you squat often.
The cool part about all this is – depending on what width you use and what width is “correct” for your build – you may end up recruiting different muscles through your ROM.
A narrower stance deep squat keeps the hips closed and really curtails involvement of the inner thigh muscles, thereby doubling down on the quads. A wider stance squat on the other hand can activate more glute and hamstring tissue, along with the adductors doing their share to contribute.
Take home point: 


4. The Truth about the Hip Flexors

People always talk about lengthening and mobilizing the hips to assume a better depth. That’s all good and very valid, but people don’t talk about the importance of hip flexor strength relating to the stability of a bottom-range squat.
The hip flexors, in part, are made up of the iliacus, which is the common “go-to” when referring to the hip flexors group. These muscles flex the hip to an angle of roughly 90 degrees. Basically, anyone can train the iliacus muscles, directly or indirectly, through any weight training quad dominant exercise, even jogging.
The hip flexors to look at more closely are the psoas muscles. These bad boys flex the hip to an anglesmaller than 90 degrees. Translate that to a squat, and strong, responsive psoas muscles can actually helppull the lifter down into a deeper and more solid squat position far below parallel.
Of course, there are few exercises that target the psoas muscles directly, but if you’ve got any shreds of athleticism I’d recommend one thing: .
There are few other exercises or movements that accentuate a high-knee concentric action like sprinting, so it’s the easiest way to make the psoas muscles wake up from hibernation. Plus, it’ll get you lean and mean!
Take home point: and


5. The Truth about Tempo

In the previous videos, you’re given different examples of tempo to use when back squatting. My squats and the squats by the athlete in the Rippetoe video use a moderate-speed negative, and an inclusion of the stretch reflex to get out of the hole.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with this. Without getting into the different styles of squatting (like dead-stop box squatting or paused reps), it’s very important that you maintain your muscular tightness at all times when squatting, so load stress doesn’t get shifted to the ligaments. That includes abdominal pressure through the bottom phase too.
You’ll notice that by using a slower, more controlled negative, your stretch reflex will be slightly inhibited and you’ll also spend more time under tension, limiting the amount of weight you can ultimately perform for the same number of reps. The good thing about this method is that it allows the strongest muscle fibers to get trained.
Take home point: 


6. The Truth about Heels Elevated

Elevating the heels is usually done to ensure the full foot remains in pressure on the ground, and also to make up for any lack of depth from a flat footed position. Many view it as a “shortcut” in light of poor flexibility, but we have to remember that weightlifting shoes also perform the same function.
Taking a step back and looking at this objectively, if we want to have the deepest squat depth we can, as soon as possible, and elevating the heels was the way to achieve that, why wouldn’t we?
Elevated heels will change the pelvic angle and encourage the knees to track forward over the toes. This, as I mentioned earlier, will encourage much more quad involvement, depending on the depth you reach. Poliquin also uses heels-elevated squats as a way to tap into the strength of the quads, especially the rectus femoris and VMO, to specifically hypertrophy them.
I say to treat elevating your heels as an option, not only a solution. Work to achieve the ROM and mobility necessary to get as close to a full range squat as possible without anything under the heels. If you need to use heel lifts, use them, but do your accessory work on the side so that the end goal is you squatting without them.
Take home point: 


You Down With This?

6 Truths About SquatsIt’s just common sense. There isn’t a “best method” to do things – it all depends on your build and what you’re after in the weight room. Remembering this will help you keep your headspace open when it comes to the most universally revered (and criticized) exercise in the gym.

Does Everyone Need To Squat (Deep)?

Does Everyone Need to Squat DeepThis article is about squatting and whether or not everyone needs to (or should) squat deep. To cut the suspense, the answer is no!
Actually, the answer is “it depends.”
There’s a gulf between the word need and want. They’re two very different things.
For example, do you need to crush beers every weekend? No, but you want to. Do you need to bench press three times per week? No, but you want to. Do you need to DVR the Victoria Secret fashion show and watch it every time your girlfriend leaves the room? Yes, yes you do.
As a strength coach, I say people need to squat, and squat well, period. Depth, on the other hand, is more of a “want” issue; I want people to squat deep, but it’s just not always feasible. So I work with what I can.
Squats are invaluable for building strength, power, and improving athletic performance.
You’d be hard pressed to find another exercise that helps engage the entire body and, as a result, burn more calories, so even for those more concerned with fat loss or aesthetics, squats are an unparalleled exercise.
Furthermore, squats do a fantastic job of offsetting many of the postural imbalances we see from those who spend much of their lives sitting in front of a computer perusing Facebook or playing Angry Birds on their iPhone.
Someone who can perform a proper squat demonstrates that they have the ample ankle dorsiflexion, hip flexion, hip abduction, t-spine extension, core stiffness, and glenohumeral ROM (among other talents) to do so. This is quite a feat, given many people can’t sit down onto a chair without blowing out their back.
So the real question isn’t, “Does everyone need to squat?” but rather, 
While I’m 100% in favor of people squatting with a full ROM (which for me is when the front surface of the thighs drop below knee level), sometimes it’s just not feasible, and borderline counterproductive.
As an example, encourage someone with chronic anterior knee pain or Femoral Acetabular Impingement (FAI) to squat “ass to grass” and you’re setting him or her up for something bad.
Likewise, having someone with a degenerative disc issue do squats could be bad news, as it could for someone who goes into lumbar flexion (butt wink) when going to a certain depth, or someone who has any number of postural imbalances.
Of course, context must always be considered. Every person has a unique injury history and training experience that may or may not dictate what kind of squat variation is indicated.
Too wishy-washy? I don’t know about you, but my bullshit meter goes into hyper drive whenever I hear anyone use the words , or .
It’s human nature to seek out absolutes, but there really aren’t any in the fitness world, or in the “real” world for that matter.
Listen, I’m not saying that I don’t do it – I certainly have my biases. I feel everyone should deadlift (in one form or another) at least once a week.
Also, if you have a history of shoulder issues – especially dislocations – you should never perform another dip. Like ever.
Those examples aside, I do a pretty bang up job of not leaning too far to the left or right on any given topic. With few exceptions, I feel there’s a time and place for everything – yes, even leg presses (as much as it pains me to admit it), and I’d encourage everyone reading to foster the same approach.
Still, the squat is one hell of an exercise, and I generally lean towards the camp that thinks (most) people should include it – to some capacity – in their programming.

Squat Technique

Of course, much of the time it’s simply a matter of placing a premium on coaching someone to squat properly.

  • Groove a proper hip-hinge pattern (learn to sit back).
  • Coach a more vertical shin angle (especially for those with chronic knee pain), although we can’t forget that there’s going to be some forward translation of the tibia during any squat.
  • Teach clients to push their knees out. I can’t even begin to tell you how this simple cue works wonders in helping to clean up squat technique.
  • Learn to engage core stiffness (get tight). Each set should begin with taking a big breath and encouraging more apical expansion of the torso. This is something that I’ve recently started to realize that I’ve missed the mark on for many years.

Physical therapist Bill Hartman keyed me in on the notion that it’s unwise to only focus on pushing the belly out (which encourages more anterior pelvic tilt, and places far more stress on the facet joints of the lumbar spine). Along with pushing the belly out, we also need to be cognizant of attaining lateral and posterior (apical) expansion.

  • Learn to engage the lats, and as a result, the thoraco-lumbar fascia to provide more stability to the spine.
  • Try not to shit a kidney.

While there’s more to it than that, if everyone made it a point to hone in on those key objectives when squatting, we’d undoubtedly see less injuries and (probably) bigger numbers under the bar.
Nevertheless, it can’t be understated: 
A safe and acceptable depth for one person could be harmful for the next. It’s still possible to reap all the benefits of a squat without necessarily going “ass to grass,” so it behooves everyone to take the time to find out exactly what their “acceptable” range is.

Assessing Squat Depth

Does Everyone Need to Squat DeepA quick aside:  It’s a way for me to delve into the bigger picture and construct a program that will allow for the quickest and safest results possible.
More to the point, it’s also a way for someone to prove to me that they move well enough that I’m confident they’re capable of performing the movements or exercises I deem appropriate for their skill level.
It’s important to reiterate that squatting deep is  dangerous or bad. Contrarily, and without getting derailed, squatting deep (whatever that means to you) can be argued to be safer than the alternative, as I noted in this article.
But how do we “assess” the appropriate squat depth ?
While there are dozens of ways to do so effectively, a great starting point would be a simple drill discussed in the book Deadlift Dynamite, where both Andy Bolton and Pavel quote the godfather of spinal biomechanics, Dr. Stuart McGill:

Check out the video below for a demo:

But even this is a somewhat convoluted or limited way to assess things, as squatting by its nature isn’t performed in a quadruped position (not to mention squatting is a bit more dynamic in nature, especially under load).
At Cressey Performance, part of our initial assessment with every new client is to take a look at their standing overhead squat and ascertain their squatting proficiency.
If you’re curious to play along, here are some simple screens you can perform yourself.

Squat Screen # 1

Assume a shoulder width-apart stance with your toes facing straight ahead and your arms fully extended overhead and then squat down as far as you can go.
What do you notice?
If you’re one of the few who can squat all the way down without any major compensation(s) coming to the forefront (heels coming off the ground, knees caving in, excessive lumbar flexion, excessive forward lean, to name a few), congratulations, you get a gold star!
This is more of an evaluative squat assessment, and isn’t how I’d go about coaching someone to squat, but more on that shortly.

What this demonstrates is that you have ample hip internal rotation to go into deep hip flexion with very little (if any) ramifications. Granted, we could make a case for hypermobility/laxity, which has it’s own set of drawbacks, but the majority of people reading won’t have this luxury anyway.
More commonly people will have difficulty attaining proper depth performing this particular assessment, which is why I’ll tweak it further.

Squat Screen # 2

Widen your stance, allow for a little “out-toeing,” and perform the exact same drill.

Things tend to clean up significantly with this tweak, namely because you’re giving yourself a wider base of support and the out-toeing provides a bit more stability, which serves to open up the hips more to attain more depth.
This is how I prefer to coach someone to squat, and deem this more of a performance-based screen.
Plenty of coaches and trainers like to teach squatting with the toes pointing straight head – and more power to them, it’s not necessarily wrong – but I argue from a performance standpoint, squatting with a wider base and with some slight out-toeing allows for more weight to be lifted.
That said, if things still look a little dicey, we can move onto the next tweak.

Squat Screen # 3

Perform the exact same protocol as above, but this time, elevate your heels with a 10-pound plate underneath each foot. Most likely you were able to squat much deeper.
Much in the same way why Olympic lifters wear shoes with a high heel lift, it places the body at a mechanical advantage to squat deep(er).
In the likelihood that using a heel lift drastically improves your depth, it may dictate that you have the ankle mobility of the Tin Man and that you need to address it rather than rely on the heel lift as a crutch.
But let’s say that after all those screens you’re still having trouble attaining ample depth without compensating in some fashion. What happens then? Are you forever relegated to endless corrective ankle, hip, and t-spine mobility drills, or worse, those cute exercises on a BOSU ball your local pencil-necked personal trainer would have you believe is “functional training?”
Sadly, for many, this is the route they end up taking, and it’s all because they don’t take the time to dig a little deeper.

Squat Screen #4

Lastly, get rid of the heel lift, grab a 10-pound plate, hold it out in front of you with your arms fully extended, and again squat.

Usually we see a profound improvement not only in squat technique, but also squat depth.
By holding the weight out in front of you as a counterbalance, you’re forced to engage your anterior core musculature, which in turn gives the entire body the stability it needs to allow for more squat depth.
Without performing this last screen, many would automatically assume that the reason they can’t squat to depth is because of a mobility issue, when in fact, as Alwyn Cosgrove has noted on numerous occasions, it’s a stability issue.
Without this differentiation, we can see how many people would be barking up the wrong tree, and doing themselves a massive disservice on the training side of things.
Think what would happen if we omitted or neglected to perform the last squat screen – we’d assume that we have a mobility deficit somewhere and just focus on that one component, rather than address the realissue at hand, namely lack of stability.

So Now What?

Does Everyone Need to Squat DeepHopefully you understand that using the above screening process can help better determine what would be an appropriate depth for any individual.
And with that information at our disposal, we can also ascertain how to go about addressing some common squatting mishaps.

Like the Tuck Under (Butt Wink)

Some people picked the right parents, have awesome levers, and are able to squat ass-to-grass with no issues at all.

Due to any number of reasons, namely atrocious ankle mobility and lack of core stability, the butt “tucks” underneath the pelvis when attempting to go into deep(er) hip flexion.
As a result, it causes a boatload of compressive load on the lumbar spine, and to a lesser degree, which I can’t prove with any science, drives Dr. McGill bat shit crazy.
Returning to the quadruped rockback test, lets compare a passable test with a god-awful one.
We saw this one earlier:

As you can see, I’m able to get to a decent depth without any major red flags or noticeable compensation patterns rearing their ugly head. My spine stays relatively “neutral” throughout, and my arms look pretty freakin gunny, thank you very much.
But let’s look at what a train wreck looks like:

You should immediately notice a lumbar hinge, and unfortunately, if this were some random person, I’d probably refrain from having them squat past that point of no return.
I mean, if it’s this bad with no spinal loading, can you imagine how much of a walking ball of fail this hypothetical person would be if I placed a barbell on his back?

How Can We Fix It?

Fixing a majority of problems with the squat isn’t complicated. While everyone is different and I don’t like making general recommendations, I’ve found a few universal themes that generally work wonders for most:

Foam Rolling

It’s no one’s favorite, it’s admittedly not sexy or exciting, and I’m sure many are rolling their eyes as they read this, but just do your foam rolling. Staying on top of tissue quality is important, and foam rolling is one of the easiest ways to do so.

Hammer Ankle Mobility

Specifically hammer ankle dorsiflexion. We need roughly 15-20 degrees of dorsiflexion in order to perform a “clean” squat pattern. Unfortunately, most people live in plantar flexion.
To that end, getting out of any shoe with a heel lift and into one that encourages more of a “minimal” approach – say, the New Balance Minimus – would bode well in your favor.
Likewise, including more ankle mobility drills (knee break ankle mobilizations, wall ankle mobilizations, rocking ankle mobilizations) into your warm-up or as part of a filler to do in between sets of major compound movements would also be wise.

Hammer Anterior Core Strength

If I had to choose one component to serve as the umbrella or main area to spend, this would be it.
As I noted above, lack of core stability/strength is a major monkey wrench in what prevents many people from squatting to a safe depth without something funky happening.
If you’re tucking under when you squat it’s probably a relative stiffness issue, and it stands to reason that your anterior core is weak or unable to stabilize the pelvis.
There are a number of articles on this site that will provide ample core exercises to choose from, but my favorites in this context would be Pallof presses, various chops and lifts, and plank variations like “stir the pot.”

Squat to a Successful Depth

Even if someone elicits faulty squatting patterns, that doesn’t mean he or she can’t squat.
Instead, squat to a depth that prevents him or her from going into lumbar flexion and allows them some success.
Enter the box squat and squat to box, both superb training tools to teach proper squatting technique and allowing people the luxury of still attaining a killer training effect. Check out the tutorial below.

I know it may give some people a bad taste in their mouth, but if I have to resort to having a client squat to a 16-inch box, so be it. I can always progress them lower, and at the same time not feed into any dysfunction or cause anymore harm.

And I’m Out!

It seems everyone on the Internet can squat 500 pounds ass to the floor without so much as putting a crease in their Under Armor shirt. These same posters, however, are curiously absent when asked to post videos of their awesome “squat so low you leave a wet spot on the floor” technique, especially using superhuman poundages. Pity.
Hey, it’s the Internet, where the curtain of anonymity allows chest thumping and bravado to supersede logic and reasoning.
So don’t be discouraged. Use the test above to figure out your own personal “best squat depth” while incorporating the drills to help improve it.
And above all else, keep squatting. At least that’s something everyone online can agree with!

Why You Need to Know Your Squat to Clean and Jerk Ratio

The back squat, or simply the squat, has the greatest carryover value of any exercise to the Olympic lifts, short of the actual lifts themselves. It is simply not possible to develop a weightlifter to his or her full potential without performing thousands of repetitions of heavy back squats. It is not only an obviously great strengthener of the legs and hips, but also of the torso musculature, and furthermore stimulates the anabolism of the musculature.
Now before I proceed further, let me answer the obvious question of many – low bar or high bar. I am discussing the high bar squat as it is performed by weightlifters all over the planet. The low bar squat is an event, and as an exercise it has great benefit at improving results in the low bar squat. For weightlifters there are many more useful ways of directing energy than performing low bar squats. 
weightlifting, olympic weightlifting, back squat, clean and jerk, clean ratioPreviously I wrote about the snatch to clean and jerk ratio, but today I’m going to discuss the squat to clean and jerk ratio. In the 1950s and 1960s there were frequent incidents of elite level weightlifters being forced to withdraw from competitions because of knee injuries. These types of situations have abated greatly and in today’s world level competition their occurrence is extremely rare. The reason for that, I believe, is the increase in the squat to clean and jerk ratio along with better selection of athletes.
In the late 1970s the Soviets gathered data and found that their best lifters had best back squats that averaged 131% of their best cleans and jerk. As time passed there was anecdotal evidence that many of the top lifters in the world had even higher figures. 
As a coach I’ve used this 131% in calculating the target squatting figure for my athletes. For instance, if I am planning on having a lifter target a clean and jerk goal of 120 kg for the next cycle, I will plan all the training percentages for the back squat off of 157 kg or more, which is 131% of 120. This seems to provide the proper amount of loading on the individual, and enables to athlete to stand easily with whatever weight is cleaned.
Naturally there are variations among individuals, and since I work with Americans and we have no infrastructure for talent selection, the variations are even greater. Once my athletes have mastered technique, and their bodies have been balanced through training, we can plan on targeting back squatting weights at that 131% figure. This can be difficult for those with especially long femurs and who are lifting at a less than optimal bodyweight. Others have excellent squatting leverages and can routinely exceed that target weight. These adjustments in training weight have to be made when planning the training. 
weightlifting, olympic weightlifting, back squat, clean and jerk, clean ratioSince I’ve been developing weightlifters by teaching technique, balancing their bodies, and then prescribing appropriate squatting poundage, I have seen very few knee problems and no injuries. The strength levels have been appropriate as evidenced by the proper ratio of snatch to clean and jerk weights. 
So how often do I have my lifters squat? For my veteran lifters, I program squatting five to six days per week during preparation cycles, with one of them being front squatsFor very advanced lifters they may even squat twice in the same day. During pre-competition cycles, the back squats are done once or twice per week and front squats once or twice per week, depending on the individual’s needs. 80% at a minimum is programmed for each session.
Front squat intensities are calculated at 105% of the clean and jerk. Personally I prefer them to be higher. This will insure that the recovery from the deep squat in the clean is relatively easy and there is enough leg strength left for a successful jerk drive. 
This piece is being presented to assist coaches in understanding the interrelationship between back squatting, front squatting, and cleaning so that training can be designed in a manner that most effectively uses the energies available to the athlete.

Fillers: Pairing Strength with Mobility

I grew up in powerlifting gyms and played football into my early twenties. As reluctant as I am to admit it, this upbringing trained me to be a meathead.
I’ll give you an example of my problem solving logic as a nineteen year-old. Every problem could be solved by getting stronger.
Can’t squat deep? You’re weak. Get stronger.
Low back hurt? Stop being soft. Get stronger.
Can’t pick up chicks? It’s because they think you’re a pussy. Stop wearing your t-shirts tucked in. And get stronger.
Over the past few years, however, I’ve changed my focus a bit.
I’m still a big strength advocate, and I think toughness is something most people could use more of. But after some time, education, and experience, I’ve found there’s a lot more to getting stronger than stacking plates and hitting more reps. Clean movement is just as important for continually gaining strength.

Fillers: An Introduction

A few years back I was reading an Alwyn Cosgrove article when something clicked. He explained that making a distinction between strength and mobility training is pointless. They’re inseparably paired, each contributing to the other.
Around the same time, I was reading Eric Cressey’s programming and noticed the mobilizations he used during rest periods. He, and several other established coaches, called them .
These days, the term ‘filler’ is part of training vernacular. Back then, however, I was blown away. What a great idea! Fill time, keep sessions dense, and feel better.
At that point, though, I didn’t understand how to pair the right lifts with the right mobilizations. And I didn’t understand the dramatic effect mobility has on improving strength.
Observation, experimentation, learning more about biomechanics, and reading up on the nervous system gave me the insight to develop a pairing process.

A Match Made in Rehab

Pairing Strength with Mobility
Matching mobilizations with activation exercises started in sports rehab and has been adapted to fit in the strength world.
I’ve made friends with chiropractors that specialize in rehab – not just cracking necks and cashing checks. When they describe their treatment process to me it usually goes as follows:

That, of course, is my summary, most likely grossly over generalized. But it offers a simple template that we can apply for our own purpose – building mobility into our strength training sessions to add training density and improve big lift performance.
The treatment template above works from broad correction to narrow correction. That’s how we can apply mobility exercises to serve as active rest between sets of strength exercises. Applying a specific mobilization will be narrow, but will improve our overall movement for a given strength movement.
Three principles will guide our mobility exercise selection for each strength lift:

  • Improving sequencing
  • Improving patterning
  • Alleviating tension created by the strength exercise

Improving Sequencing

Muscles work in ‘force couples’ around a joint – agonists and antagonists, extensors in contrast to flexors, and vice versa. This arrangement allows for full joint range of motion with stability, but it can be limiting when trying to generate as much force as possible.
A tight, or short, antagonist limits the function of the agonist for a given movement. Not only will the tension in the antagonist limit joint range of motion, it’ll also divert neural drive away from the agonist. Recruited before the agonist, synergists are bumped from the supporting cast to the main roles.
Relaxing the antagonist while improving its extensibility will improve sequencing and function of the agonist for a given movement.

Improving Joint Positioning and Patterning

Pairing Strength with Mobility
I use the Joint-by-Joint approach to picture joint movement during lifts. If you’re unfamiliar, it is the system of understanding mobility and stability developed by Gray Cook and Mike Boyle.
Here’s a quick and dirty synopsis:

That’s simple enough. We give joints that require mobility more range of motion while improving the stability of joints that move less. By doing so, we can better position our bodies at the beginning of the lift and through its completion. You move better within a given lift and put more weight on the bar.
However, you won’t perform optimally if you can’t put your body in good positions. The key is matching the right mobilizations with the right lifts to improve specific function.

Alleviating Tension

Joint and segmental stability require a lot of tension. During the lift this is good – it means that you’re tight enough in the right places. Unfortunately, this tension can hang around even after the given lift, or session, is over.
Include drills that alleviate the tension during heavy lifts and you won’t have to buy slip on shoes and look like Herman Munster when you turn in your chair.

A Grand Interplay

The grand interplay between strength and mobility is facilitated by several factors: joint range of motion, joint positioning, patterning, and sequencing. These qualities are inseparable – they affect each other at all times, improving or impairing performance for each lift.
For example, poor thoracic mobility while squatting mars hip positioning. Sequencing is skewed, the wrong muscles fire at the wrong time, and the squatting task is unevenly distributed. Performance on a given lift is both affected acutely and over time because of sub-par mobility. Tragically, the story ends with a lot of shoulda-coulda-wouldas.
To avoid this, address joint limiting factors between sets of your big movements. Below is a chart that I put together to help with predictable limiting factors for each movement.

Movement Limiting Factors
Squat Ankle dorsiflexion, thoracic spine mobility, hip mobility, anterior core strength
Bench Upper-back strength/scapular stability, anterior hip mobility/hip stability, shoulder stability
Conventional Deadlift Thoracic spine mobility, hip mobility, hamstring extensibility
Overhead Press Thoracic spine mobility, shoulder stability, shoulder mobility, core stability

These are typical limiting factors – you may have one or more, you may have none. This is where training partners and taping your lifts come in handy. If you don’t have access to a camera and lift alone, it’s easiest to address them all.

Make the Match

Based on the potential limitations of each lift, and in the spirit of hoisting superior iron, here are solid strategies for adding mobility fillers to the big four lifts. Remember, the goal is performance. Pre-habilitation is great, and necessary, .

Deadlift

Pairing Strength with Mobility
Since the deadlift is all about starting strength, pre-lift positioning is big for promoting a successful lift. Check the chart above and you’ll find thoracic spine mobility listed first as a limiting factor.
Poor t-spine mobility devastates positioning, so train thoracic movement frequently before and between sets. Here’s how.

T-Spine Strategy:

  • Train t-spine mobility, extension and rotation
  • Before starting deadlift sets, train t-spine extension using bench t-spine extension mobilizations.
  • As a filler during your deadlift sets, train thoracic extension with rotation. The quadruped extension rotation series works well to meet this end.

Train extension before pulling to prepare for a neutral set-up. I like to avoid stretching the lats during deadlift sets – even if the stretch is active, I’d rather not take the chance and lose lat tightness. That’s why we use extension rotations as the filler during sets.
We also want the glutes to fire like a cannon. Screaming tight hip flexors limit glute recruitment, so we’ll use active  to quiet them down.

Hit sets of five to eight between all of your deadlift sets. If you have a side that doesn’t extend and rotate as well, do more reps on that side.

Squat

The squat is a tricky vixen. Since the movement starts with full-body eccentric movement and reverses into a strong concentric movement, the mobility and stability needs change constantly. It’s not as simple as grabbing a bar and standing up with it.
Though the squat starts with top-down movement, I like to insert fillers starting from the ground and moving up.

Ankle Strategy

Poor ankle dorsiflexion turns a squat into a grotesque good morning hybrid. It’s always the first limiting factor I address during squatting. Active mobilizations, such as ankle rocks and wall mobilizations, work well as fillers because weight bearing is required. But I also like to pull the ankle into dorsiflexion while it’s relaxed.

Pick a dorsiflexion move and hit five to eight reps between each squat set.

Avoiding the Knee Cave

Caving knees turn a powerful squat into something resembling the Carlton dance. Limited glute strength is a big player, but poor adductor extensibility also plays a role.
Pushing the knees out while ‘spreading the floor’ tracks the knees while creating tension and recruiting the posterior chain. As you sink into the squat, tight adductors will pull the knees in, causing them to cave. I use two strategies to avoid the knee cave.

  • Simply foam roll your adductors between squat sets, as it’s often enough to calm those bad boys down enough for your knees to track well and get better drive.

Sometimes, however, rolling isn’t enough and mobilization is warranted. You need a great adductor mobilization drill. Here’s one I picked up from Steve Maxwell. It trains adductor length and internal rotation simultaneously.

Bench Press

Pairing Strength with Mobility
Most great benchers have a great arch. It looks like the bench is the only thing stopping them from rolling completely into a circle. I’ve worked for years, training myself to arch this way, but it just won’t happen. Scoliosis is a mean bitch.
An impressive arch requires spinal extension out the wazoo. But it also requires something many lifters forget, namely glute drive. This is especially true for those of us without an impressively mobile spine.
Benching with rigid glutes facilitates your arch by giving you better leg drive. As a result, you’ll set up higher on your shoulders. Activated glutes also keep you stable on the bench.
For these reasons, I like to include glute activation in between sets of bench, especially when a lifter is learning to arch.
Typically, I use lateral activation drills or glute bridging variations. See the videos below.

Upper-back tightness necessary for heavy bench efforts locks up the t-spine. To perform well on squat and deadlift efforts, you have to keep your t-spine moving freely about.
Including thoracic mobility drills between bench sets is the best strategy I’ve found to keep heavy bench training from affecting squat and deadlift training. The drills included during the deadlift section work well, but standing thoracic mobilizations are great in concert with glute activation drills because they alleviate tension in the lower back.

Overhead Press

Pairing Strength with Mobility
The rest between overhead pressing sets is free time. Rather than spend it updating your Facebook status about your latest PR attempt (you know who you are), this is a great time to address mobility and stability weaknesses that can pay dividends in the rest of your training.
If you press at the beginning of the week, use t-spine mobility drills and glute activation exercises as your fillers. T-spine drills keep your scapulae moving well, and glute activation sets anchor your hips and core so you can press with optimal force.

Conclusion

Mobility fillers help improve patterning, improve sequencing, and keep unnecessary tension from affecting future lifts. Pairing strength with mobility is a no brainer – even for this meathead.

Break Up Those Hips and Fix That Squat

Break Up Those Hips and Fix That Squat

Ever hear a trainer try to explain why their client can’t get below parallel on a squat? Once you get past the token explanations about bad knees, aching backs, or tight body parts, the next issue is usually the hips.
It’s no secret that to have a great squat, you have to have great hip mobility. Unfortunately, saying that you need hip mobility to squat deep is like saying you need a lot of money to be rich; merely acknowledging that you need it doesn’t make it so. As any personal-finance guru will tell you, if you’re going to get rich, you’d better have a plan.
The hips have many different functions. They must be both stable and mobile at different times and in different planes, along with being able to abduct, adduct, extend, and rotate on demand. But when we discuss hip mobility in the context of the squat, what we’re really talking about is hip flexion.

Hip Flexion

Hip flexion is the technical term for a decrease in joint angle between the femur and pelvis. This occurs from either side of the joint, by raising the leg towards the abdomen – like when you run – or by lowering the upper body toward the leg – like when you squat down.
If you want to have any chance of squatting below parallel with a weight on your back, then you’re going to need at least 110-125 degrees of hip flexion. Achieving full squat depth with anything less than full range of motion at the hip requires your body to make a number of biomechanical compromises.
Following the joint-by-joint approach, when the hip lacks flexion, the joints above it (the lumbar spine), and below it (the knee) will overcompensate to make up the difference.
It’s something of a Ponzi scheme our bodies have developed, robbing stability from one joint to provide mobility for another. But while this type of compensated movement may allow you to achieve certain positions, it puts excessive strain on the back and knees.
When your body isn’t ready for these positions, the repetitive stress eventually leads to structural overload, inflammation, and a long-term relationship with your orthopedic surgeon. Show me a guy who says that squats hurt his knees or tweak his back and I’ll show you a guy with a hip mobility problem.
Typically when we see lifters struggling to reach full depth during a squat we immediately think of the posterior chain – tight hamstrings, glutes, lower back, etc. Yet limitations in hip flexion can come from the front or the back, depending on what’s being restricted. Hip restrictions come in three main flavors – muscular, capsular, and structural (bone) – each requiring different solutions.

Structural Problem

Break Up Those Hips and Fix That Squat

Structural restrictions occur when the femoral head and neck don’t “fit” properly into the acetabulum (the cup-shaped cavity at the base of the pelvis). Because this is often a genetic trait, sometimes you can’t do anything about it other than curse your parents for passing you their lackluster DNA.
However, these can also form as the result of increased exposure to activities that promote anterior pelvic tilt, like hockey and distance running. The forward tilting of the pelvis is usually the result of a shortening and tightening of the hip flexors and lumbar erectors, coupled with a lengthening and weakening of the glutes and abdominals. Vladimir Janda labeled this “lower cross-syndrome.”
This type of alignment sets the bottom of the pelvis on a crash course with the top of the femur every time you flex your hip. According to Janda, to fix this faulty posture, the tight hip flexors must first be inhibited through stretching and massage followed by strengthening exercises for the glutes and lower abdominals.
Exercises and articles on glute and abdominal strengthening are a plenty and don’t require much repeating – basically, don’t skimp on your planks, leg raises, bridges, and deadlifts.
Here are two drills to help melt away the layer of ice that’s likely formed around the front of your hip over the last decade:

Hip Flexor Stretch (Wall or Bench)

This is one of the most effective and universally-despised stretches ever. Perhaps this is because most lifters’ hip flexors are shorter than Gary Coleman ducking under a subway turnstile, or maybe they just don’t put enough effort into their stretches. Either way, grab a bench or a wall, pour yourself a glass of Scotch, and settle into position for 2-3 minutes a side.

Psoas Active Release with Plate

Psoas stretches might be a dime-a-dozen, but soft-tissue techniques are almost nonexistent. Because the psoas sits so deep within the body, it can be very difficult to access through touch. Here’s an easy way to get pressure onto this stubborn muscle using a common weight plate and some elbow grease.
Make sure to place the weight plate slightly off center, between the ribs and the pelvis. I like to center the pressure about two-inches from the belly button laterally, and about one-inch down. Once you feel weight pressing on the psoas, move your leg through hip flexion activation to breakup any scar tissue or fascial tightness.

Hip Accessories

hip flexors

Perhaps the least talked about or understood cause of limited mobility is tightness in the joint capsule itself. Like all synovial joints, the hip is encased in a flexible membrane – like a piece of fruit suspended in a bowl of Jell-O – that provides the hip with an additional layer of flexible support.
This membrane is referred to as your joint capsule. Although it might not receive much attention, it’s one of the most important pieces in the mobility puzzle. When the capsule becomes stiff and tight, it compresses the articulating surfaces of the joint and alters what’s called accessory joint movement.
Accessory movements at the capsular level are necessary for larger physiological movements like flexion or abduction to occur normally. For example, to avoid impinging the anterior capsule and psoas tendon during hip flexion, a slight posterior glide of the femur must occur. Without it, the joint must compress against these structures to achieve its goal of moving.
That brings us to the wonderful world of joint mobilization! This phrase gets thrown around a lot in the strength and conditioning world as a stand-in for any exercise that purports to improve range of motion.
However, joint mobilizations are actually very specific techniques that involve applying angled pressure to a joint to manually create accessory movement, stretch the joint capsule, and decompress the surrounding tissue.
Traditionally performed by a manual therapist with the assistance of a traction belt, many joint mobilizations can be recreated by yourself with a little bit of know-how and a two-inch stretch band.

Bottom-up Hamstring Stretch with Band

Loop a stretch band around a squat cage. Place your leg through the middle of the band, pulling it to where your hip and leg meet. Walk away from the cage, causing the band to stretch.
Once you have a good amount of tension, place the band-leg forward and the free leg back. Bring your hands to the ground, bending both knees. Then, keeping your hands in a fixed position, begin to straighten the knees as much as possible, pushing the hips back toward the cage. Repeat for 15-20 cycles.

Top-Down Forward Bend with Band

Starting from the same setup as the bottom-up mobilization, this time keep both legs straight and reach forward to touch the toes of the forward foot. Press your hips back toward the cage as you lean forward. Repeat for 15-20 cycles.

Squat with Band

Here the band is in the same position around the upper leg, but the anchor is lower to the ground (about 6-8 inches from the floor) so the tension is directed back and down. Walk away from the cage to increase band tension at the hip and perform 10-15 deep squats for each leg.

Soft-Tissue Restrictions

Last but not least are muscular restrictions. These are the big men on campus in the strength and conditioning world, receiving much of the attention from both trainers and clients.
These fall into three categories. First are soft-tissue entrapment issues, where tissue becomes gnarled or stuck together, like in the case of trigger points and myofascial adhesions. Second are problems with excessive stiffness or resistance to changes in length. Finally, problems involving muscle length, where a muscle has actually lost sarcomeres and therefore has become shorter.
Restrictions in the hamstrings, glutes, or lower back can all limit hip flexion. I find that a lacrosse ball works best to free-up entrapment issues, while a stretch band works best on length and stiffness problems.

High Hamstring Mash

The proximal hamstring attachments on the backside of the pelvis exist in an area of high stress and tension in the body, making them prone to stiffness and adhesions. Compound that with the eight or more hours most people spend sitting directly on this area each day – squishing it like an overstuffed flatbread Panini – and you have plenty of room for problems to occur.
To free up this area, place a lacrosse ball directly under the glute fold (slightly closer to inside) and then sit on something hard (insert your own jokes here) like a plyo block or the floor. Roll back and forth over the hamstring attachment, ungluing the ugly mess of matted down tissue that has likely formed there.

Hamstring Drive-Down

Loop a 1-inch stretch band about a quarter of the way up one of the columns on a squat cage. Lie down in front of the cage, with your head directly under the band and put one foot through the looped band. Keeping your leg straight, push the band down to the floor and then slowly control the movement back to the top. The heavy eccentric load forces a controlled lengthening of the posterior hip and hamstring, thereby increasing flexibility and decreasing stiffness.

Conclusion

Summing up, limitations at the bottom range of your squat can be coming from the backside of the pelvis through stiffness or adhesion, or the front side through capsular restriction and decreased accessory motion. Identifying the source of the restriction will have an obvious effect on correcting the limitations in range, as will taking the course of action described in this article.

Wikio

Complex Neuromuscular Training for Size and Strength

Squat and Sprint

Complex Neuromuscular Training for Size and Strength

Deadlifting for Strongman

What’s the best way to pack on pounds of lean mass? Heavy loads with long rest periods? High volume with short rest periods? A combination of the two, with a sprinkle of P-90X thrown in for flavor?
Though either approach can certainly “work,” you don’t have to look further than the nearest gymnastic training center to see that there are other effective ways to pack on appreciable muscle mass. Considering gymnasts often have some of the thickest arms and shoulders per pound of body mass of any athlete, it’s surprising you don’t see more gym rats hitting the rings or pommel horse.
And let’s not forget sprinters. Many 100m and 200m sprinters like Harry Aikines-Aryeetey from the UK have more beef on their arms, shoulders, and thighs than many gym rats could ever dream of building. On top of that, their muscles tend to have a “denser” look, possibly due to a higher concentration of contractile proteins than that of bodybuilders, where increased cell volume and intramuscular glycogen play a big role (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy).
I recall watching training footage of disgraced Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson before his performance enhancement drug scandal. For one particular workout, Johnson brought a squat rack onto the track and performed an extremely heavy set of back squats (I think he had over 500 pounds) for 3-5 reps, then immediately burst from the cage in a full speed sprint for 60m.
The reasoning behind this was to overload the nervous system in a sort of “pre-fatigue” manner with the back squats, and then have to generate power through the already tired legs to achieve top velocity.
To put it differently, he was working the fast-twitch fibers with high-force, low-speed contractions in the back squat, and then immediately hitting them with high-force, high-speed contractions in sprinting. It was two mechanically different activities requiring a high degree of neural activity to produce maximal force in a sort of bipolar manner.
This was interesting as much of the prevailing wisdom at the time regarding hypertrophy revolved around simply lifting heavier weights within an 8-12 rep range. As you got stronger you either lifted more weight or did another rep with the same weight in the subsequent workouts.
The idea of resistance and speed of contraction being inversely related didn’t take into account the muscle force production capacity, and the associated muscle activity to get it there.
Fiber Made Simple
This is why many athletes can generate huge muscle force components with relatively light resistance (baseball, punching, golf, etc.). If we were to crank up the resistance without significantly affecting the top-end movement speed, we’d see some explosive gains in size and strength.
So I started experimenting. I couldn’t take a squat rack onto the field, but I was able to position a squat rack and a cycle ergometer right next to each other. I’d set up the rack for a heavy set and then hop on the bike for a 6-second bout of very high speed sprint work that left my legs feeling like Jell-O.
After two months, both my squat weight and sprint speed were up significantly, along with noticeable growth in my quads and hamstrings. My acceleration and top speed in all the sports I was participating in was up, too.
I tried this workout again a decade later – being outside the fantastic adaptable teenage hormonal years – with similar results. I then tried it on a few of my “hard-gainer” clients, and found that with only two workouts a week in this scheme, both saw solid gains in size and strength.
One client gained 10 pounds of muscle in two months (going from 156 at 5’8″ to 166) without changing his diet, and after training hard for over a year. Another gained 14 pounds after already training for two years, but found that his diet definitely changed because he was eating almost anything that wasn’t nailed down.
By making the muscle contract in a high force/low speed and high force/high speed series, the body is put under a very high-intensity training stimulus, which provides three major benefits.
First, it extends the force production phase of the exercise beyond the 3-5 reps of the heavy squat and incorporates a cyclic natured movement that requires a high degree of muscle force production.
The increased time under tension of roughly 10 seconds of maximal power output will completely tax the creatine phosphate system and the neural systems’ ability to generate an impulse into the muscle for an extended period. The end result is a greater response from the endocrine system and muscle satellite cells to put everything back together, and a greater development and repair of muscle fibers.
Second, fast twitch muscle fibers, the ones that can grow to be the biggest within the body, are stimulated by both high force production and high speed production. By using a system that addresses both of these components, we’re getting the best variety of stimulation to the fast twitch fibers, as well as the highest intensity stimulation possible short of hooking our muscles up to a generator and redlining the sucker.
Third, although not a component of the exercise itself, the rest period is kept to just 90 seconds between bouts, allowing for an adequate recovery of strength and contractile energy sources while putting the body in the most advantageous position to pump out growth hormone and Testosterone.
Most powerlifting or high strength development workouts require the user to rest between sets for between 2-5 minutes, whereas keeping the rest periods short helps to continue the taxation of the growth hormone and Testosterone response within the body. What this means is that the maximal amount of weight lifted in a session is going to be slightly less as the sets wear on, so adjust the weights down as needed.

The Workouts

Deadlifting for Strongman

This program is meant to be used as a two-day-per-week substitution to an existing strength program for someone who has at least a year of good solid training under their belt. Make sure you have the finer points of lifting down for the specific lifts given, and that you have an understanding of the physical requirements for top speed sprint work. For those willing to give it a try, get ready to hate life for a few hours each day.

Workout One

Set
Exercises
Reps
Weight
Speed
Rest
1
Squat
10
60% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint*
80% Top speed
2
Squat
5
80% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint*
90% Top speed
3
Squat
3
90% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint*
Top speed
4
Squat
3
87% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint*
Top speed
5
Squat
3
87% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint*
Top speed
Set
Exercises
Reps
Weight
Rest
1
Chin-ups
5
Body weight
90 sec.
Jumps for max height
5
2
Chin-ups
3
45 lbs.
90 sec.
Jumps for max height
5
3
Chin-ups
3
45 lbs.
90 sec.
Jumps for max height
5
4
Chin-ups
3
25 lbs.
90 sec.
Jumps for max height
5

Workout Two

Set
Exercises
Reps
Weight
Distance/Speed
Rest
1
Squat
10
60% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint on rower
100m < 80% Top speed
2
Squat
5
80% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint on rower
100m < 90% Top speed
3
Squat
3
90% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint on rower
50m – Top speed
4
Squat
3
87% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint on rower
50m – Top speed
5
Squat
3
87% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint on rower
50m – Top speed
Set
Exercises
Reps
Weight
Distance/Speed
Rest
1
Bench press
10
60% 1RM
90 sec.
Resisted run device
25m < 80% Full speed
2
Bench press
5
80% 1RM
90 sec.
Resisted run device
25m < 90% Full speed
3
Bench press
3
90% 1RM
90 sec.
Resisted run device
25m – Full speed
4
Bench press
3
87% 1RM
90 sec.
Resisted run device
25m – Full speed
5
Bench press
3
87% 1RM
90 sec.
Resisted run device
25m – Full speed
These workouts are insanely intense, but considering the goal is to increase peak strength, peak velocity, and build muscle, you need to create a systemic strain on the muscular system that evokes the largest response in growth hormone and Testosterone.
Alternate these two days once each per week with at least two days in between. For instance, workout one would be on Monday, and workout two either on Thursday or Friday. This will give your nervous system a chance to recover before going into the next workout.
Once the first month (four times through each workout) is in the books, add 2-5% to each lift you’re performing for the second month. For instance, on day one, set 3 of back squats will move from 90% 1RM to 92% 1RM. For the theoretical lifter who maxes out at 315 pounds, this means the weight they will move from 285 up to 290 pounds. A 5% increase would mean going from 285 to 300 pounds.

Deadlifting for Strongman

This systematic increase in resistance is necessary to keep the relative intensity high throughout the workouts. Do not perform heavy squats on any other day of the week, although after the second week you may not be able to even walk, let alone squat on the alternate days.
What this workout program lacks in variety must be made up for in raw aggression. As T NATION contributor Tony Gentilcore says, you have to intimidate the weights when doing this program. Yell, scream, kick, and claw to get every rep out, and put every ounce of your being into every second of the sprint work. Since the rest intervals are only 90 seconds long, you won’t have full recovery before beginning the next set, so it will definitely be a mental test to get through these workouts. That said, the end result should more than make up for going through hell and back.

References

Shoenfeld, B. (2010) The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and their Application to Resistance Training. J. Str & Cond Research Vol. 24 issue 10, pp. 2857-2872.
Rahimi et al. (2010). Effects of Very Short Rest Periods on Hormonal Responses to Resistance Exercise in Men. J Str. & Cond Research Vol. 24 issue 7, pp. 1851-1859.

Cristea et al (2008). Effects of Combined Strength and Sprint Training on Regulation of Muscle Contraction at the Whole-Muscle and Single-Fibre Levels in Elite Master Sprinters. Acta Phsyiol. Vol 193, issue 3. Pp. 275-289.h


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