Loredana Toma back squat
Loredana Elena Toma, 160kg back squat

1. Patience

Everyone wants results, but get disappointed when the results don't show after a three-week program. There has been conducted countless strength related research, and funny enough, all of them use a fairly long program. Between eight and twelve weeks. The reason for this is simple. Strength adaptation takes time. For beginners, less work needs to be done for adaptation to take place, with an intermediate or advanced lifter adaptation takes longer and comes in smaller doses. Complete beginners can see improvements on a weekly bases. This normally goes on for a few weeks until it starts staggering and results take longer and longer. It's commonly referred to as noob gains. For intermediate and advanced lifters it's a different story. For adaptation to take place more stimulus has to be provided. Either in the form of volume, frequency, or intensity and can take up to eight to sixteen weeks to see results.

So expecting results after just a few session is unrealistic. Give your body some time to adapt, recover, and overcome the stimulus of a program or phase upon which squat strength is focused. Which brings me to the next point.

2. Periodisation

Strength is not just one commodity, but a combination of a few factors. There are, in essence, three elements to strength. The first one is called physical strength and refers to the cross-sectional area of a muscle, aka its size. The second one is neurological strength which refers to the strength of the neurological signals that pass through to the muscles informing them to contract. And the third one is called mechanical strength. Mechanical strength refers to a muscle's pulling force and the way those forces act upon bones and joints as lever arms. You can have a direct effect on the first two, physical strength and neurological strength, through strength training. The third one, however, is set in stone. Unfortunately, you won't be able to change the insertions of your muscles. Knowing this, you can periodise your training to take advantage of it. Normally longer duration programs, sixteen weeks and more, have elements of periodisation. Periodisation is a process of dividing a long period into smaller phases or cycles. An annual plan would be called a macrocycle, within a macrocycle you'd have mesocycles, normally the months but could be six weeks, twelve weeks and so on. Within a mesocycle you'd have microcycle which often is the weekly program. A normal way to create programs is with one macrocycle, say twelve weeks, and within the macrocycle you'd have three mesocycles, a general preparation phase (GPP), a strength phase, and a competition phase, normally all three divided into 1/3 of the macrocycle each. Here is where the two commodities, physical and neurological strength come into the picture. During the general preparation phase, the general aim is to attain hypertrophic gains. This would normally include fairly high volume and higher rep ranges, six and above reps in each set. When the general preparation phase is over and you've gained some size you'll move into a strength phase where you'd do more of neurological strength type training. This is typically training with moderate to low volume and higher intensities. Meaning, fewer sets per week, yet, heavier squats ranging from eighty to one hundred per cent of the current 1RM. The last phase, the competition phase would include even lower volume and even higher intensities and signifies the utmost neurological strength type training.

3. Progressive overload

For adaptation to take place, be it hypertrophic adaptation or neurological adaptation, the tissues have to be challenged. They have to face stimuli that are difficult to overcome. This is usually done with either volume or intensities. Over some time either the volume of squats or the weight on the bar has to increase. If you always do what you've always done you'll always get what you've always got. This is really easy to do. Say you squat once a week and want to add the element of progressive overload to your method. You'd start off by squatting 3x3 with 85%, next week you'd add one set - 4x3 with 85% - next week you'd again add one set. By week four, instead of going to 6x3 with 85%, you'd go back down to 3x3 but this time with 88% and then follow the previous progression by adding one set for two more weeks. All you're doing is adding volume to a specific intensity, and after three weeks you cut back on the volume but increase the intensity. Over and over, until the gain train stops. That was obviously only one type of progressive overload., but you get the idea, you're smart.

4. Shoes

Shoes is a simple, yet effective tool to improve your squat. It is not an absolute necessity for improving your squat, but if there is any equipment that will benefit your squat it will definitely be a proper pair of weightlifting/squat shoe. Weightlifting shoes provide a range of benefits to the squat, one being that it is a solid shoe and all the force you apply into its sole will be transferred into the squat, compared to a used, soft, and unstable running shoe. A weightlifting shoe provides greater stability with its hard and wide base. Added to these benefits is the raised heel. As a weightlifter, the squats are used as a tool to improve quadriceps strength and the best method for doing exactly that is being more upright while squatting. A raised heel will act as added dorsiflexion to your ankle making it easier to stay more upright and use your quadriceps more effectively during the squat. A simple way to improve your squat.

5. Keep the knees in front of your toes for longer

The purpose of the back squat for weightlifting is not for it to increase, only to brag about it to other people. If that was the case they'd be low bar squatting. The purpose is to increase strength in a position similar to those in the snatch and clean & jerk. Hence the reason for the high bar squat. The most important aspect of the squat is the ability to stay upright. The ability to stay upright comes down to a couple of things. Firstly it's mobility, especially in the ankle, hips, and thoracic. But having sufficient mobility is not the whole picture. For an upright posture the knees have to travel in front of the toes, but maintaining that posture can be difficult, especially when the weight is heavy. It's difficult to not lean the torso forwards to take some of the load of the legs are transfer it to the lower back. Therefore it's necessary to allow the knees to stay in front of the toes for longer, also when staying up from the bottom position. Don't allow your knees to shoot back as you stand up from the hole, but keep them in front of the toes at least halfway up. Again, this is to maintain tension on the quadriceps and maintain a position similar to those of the Olympic lifts.

6. Tighten not only your core but the whole trunk

Any movement of the spine, flexion, extension, side flexion, or rotation will waste precious force that could have been applied to standing up a heavy squat. Everyone is aware that the core has to be tight during the lift, as this ensures the lumbar region for any wasted movement. However, the lumbar is only 5 vertebrae, what about the other 19 vertebrae above it. The thoracic and cervical portions of the spine are much more movable and unstable than the lumbar region. Ensuring proper engagement of the surrounding musculature to stabilise the thoracic can have massive improvements on the squat. Retracting and depressing the scapula, tucking your elbows, and pulling the bar into the traps will create a good base for the barbell to be stacked on without it being moved around during the lift.

7. Utilise the feet

You've probably heard it a million times, that the feet are your foundation, the base of the house of cards. If they can't support the weight, how can the rest of the body? But have you been told what you should do to improve on that? Didn't think so. Just like with your core and the rest of the trunk, you have to tighten them up. There are three things you have to do to create a rigid base.

First, you have to dig your toes into the ground. This engages muscles that add support to the arch on the foot resulting in an increase of stability. The second one is screwing the feet into the ground externally. This is often hard to understand, so I'll give you an illustration. Imagine you're standing on a sheet of paper, and as you dig your toes into the paper to get a firm grip you should try to rip the sheet of paper in the middle, starting from the top of the paper, by rotating your feet away from each other. If done correctly you should notice how the whole leg will rotate with the feet. This happens because, by adding the rotational force with the feet you add tension to the gluteus maximus muscle, the strongest lateral rotator of the hip, which in return will help guide the knees out so they're in line with the direction of the feet. Additionally, the added tension on the glutes increases the force output available when standing up from the squat, since the gluteus maximum muscle is not only a strong hip lateral rotator but an even stronger hip extensor, an important movement in the squat, especially with the lockout. Thirdly is the foot pressure. During the squat the foot pressure should be even the whole way through. There should be equal pressure on the ball of the foot, the lateral edge (behind the little toe), and the heel. The point of balance should be in the centre of the foot, or just in front of the ankle joint.



FAE Barbell

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