The squat is often considered the supreme exercise by bodybuilders and weightlifters to increase lower body strength because it works the full range of those muscles: lower back, hips, abs, thighs and calves.
Improving your squat is beneficial in achieving greater weight lift amounts and developing greater strength, power and speed.
Here are important areas which you can target to improve your squat:
Improve Overall Strength
In order to improve your squat strength, you first should develop the specific muscle groups which are employed during squats. Create a strength training routine which is designed to target your lower and upper back, hips, abs, glutes, quads and balance (unilateral movements acquired through lunges, one-leg deadlifts, etc).
When it comes time to perform squats, be sure to utilize the proper weight in order to get maximum benefit from the exercise. You should seek to lift between 85% and 95% of your 1RM (one rep maximum). You want to squat 2-6 reps of this weight in each set.
Improve Squat Power
Developing greater explosive power in your legs will help to improve your squat. This is accomplished by incorporating exercises into your strength training program which are designed for this.
A couple power-building exercise suggestions are: Olympic lifts which help develop explosive lifts when under the bar and box squats which encourage the increase of power at the bottom of the lift.
Improve Squat Speed
Squat speed, along with power, helps to accelerate the weight from the bottom of the lift. Improving squat speed will help to explode greater amounts of weight from that critical point.
Add several sets of speed squats which utilize 70-80% of 1RM. Also, use bands or chains to help with bar acceleration. Plyometric exercises such as box jumps and depth jumps will also help encourage more rapid muscle response.
Improve Squat Technique
You can also significantly improve your squat by sharpening your squat techniques. Consider tweeking areas like:
- Use your hips and glutes more. Employing your hips and glutes will give you much more power and control over the weight, allowing you to lift more. Move your hips forward and squeeze from the glutes.
- Widen your squat stance. This involves using more of your hip muscles to control and move the weight.
- Drive the weight upward with your heels. This also employs more force from your hip muscles and assists with keeping balance.
- Tighten your abdomen muscles. Keeping a tight core allows you to lift and support more weight and helps to prevent lower back injury.
- Squeeze your shoulders together. This provides a strong base for the bar to rest on and keeps it centered over your body. It also helps keep your body in proper alignment.
- Look straight ahead. This also helps keep your body in proper alignment and helps avoid injury. When your head is angled down, it causes your back to bend. When your head is angled up, you can strain your neck.
A Couple of Don’ts
There are a couple of things which should NOT be done in order to squat better. Avoiding these common mistakes will help you stay healthy during squat sessions.
First of all, never allow your knees to turn inward. Doing so can cause them to buckle under the weight and cause severe knee injury. Always focus on squatting with your knees pointed outward.
Secondly, never wear cushioned, slanted running shoes when performing squats. These are bad to wear for two important reasons.
- They are cushioned and cause a great deal of instability in your stance which can cause you to wobble during the squat.
- They are slanted due to the heal cushioning and can cause you to lean forward out of proper lift alignment.
- The best bet is to utilize Chuck Taylor’s, wrestling shoes, or even military combat boots or construction boots (a favorite among training squatters).