The squat—the mother of all mass and strength-building strategies. Not to discredit the deadlift, bench press, and military press; but the squat holds it's own. There's nothing that will send testosterone skyrocketing more than coming out from the hole with hundreds of pounds loaded on your back. One solid set of squats alone can transform a sluggish start to your workout into an all out war with the iron. The problem comes along, like with all other lifts, when you've plateaued. Instead of stubbornly attempting to fight through it week-over-week, switch up your routine with these two fixes.
1. Switch to box squats
Box squats are a great way to learn proper squat form. It also breaks the movement into distinct eccentric and concentric phases. This teaches a powerful and explosive move from the bottom of the squat. Here's how to make it work: Replace barbell squats with box squats for 4 weeks. When you switch back to barbell squats the improved form and explosiveness will carry over to a new PR.
2. Strengthen your hamstrings and glutes
Despite the fact that heavy squats are often associated with an impressive pair of quads, it is the backside (hams and glutes) that are responsible for a big squat. Here's how to do it: After your squats (or box squats), perform 3 sets of alternating reverse lunges, barbell hip thrusts, and Romanian deadlifts for 10-12 reps. Watch your squat strength soar as you build your backside.
Here's how to do barbell hip thrusts:
- Rest your upper back on a bench and sit on the floor with legs extended.
- Roll a loaded barbell up your thighs until the bar sits on your lap (you may want to place a towel or mat on your hips or attach a pad to the bar for comfort).
- Brace your abs and drive your heels into the floor to extend your hips, raising them until your thighs and upper body are parallel to the floor.
Here's how to do a reverse lunge:
- Stand with the dumbbells still in your hands and step back with your right foot.
- Lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the floor and your rear knee nearly touches the floor.
- Keep your torso upright.
- Step forward to return to the starting position.
- Complete all reps on one leg, then switch legs. That’s one set.
Here's how to do a Romanian deadlift:
- Hold a barbell with a shoulder-width grip and stand with feet hip width.
- Bend your hips back as far as you can.
- Allow your knees to bend as needed while you lower the bar along your shins until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
- Keep your lower back in its natural arched position throughout.
If you're new to squats, here's how to do them properly:
- In a squat rack or cage, grasp the bar as far apart as is comfortable and step under it.
- Place it on your lower traps, squeeze your shoulder blades together, push your elbows up and nudge the bar out of the rack.
- Take a step or two back and stand with your feet shoulder width and your toes turned slightly outward.
- Take a deep breath and bend your hips back, then bend your knees to lower your body as far as you can without losing the arch in your lower back.
- Push your knees outward as you descend.
- Drive vertically with your hips to come back up, continuing to push your knees outward.
For visual learners, here's a video demonstration: