1. Pause for Growth
“Pause” squats provide significant boosts in strength and endurance. To perform them, you lower yourself down as usual, stop at the bottom — and we mean a dead stop — for one to two seconds, then explode up to the standing position. Leonid Taranenko, who lifted for the Soviet Union and holds the competitive record for the clean and jerk, claims to have done a 837-pound squat with a two-second pause. Thankfully, you don’t have to lift nearly that amount to reap benefits.
2. Move More Weight
Power squats, which involve placing the bar a little lower on your back than you would in a standard squat, allow you to handle more poundage, which is key for maximizing growth. Rest the bar near where your posterior deltoids form a shelf, take a slightly wider-than-normal stance and shift your hips back as much as possible when descending.
3. Ramp Up the Reps
People mistakenly think that bigweight, low-rep sets are the only way to a mammoth squat — but high-rep squats can help you tap new muscle fibers and bust through plateaus, too. The secret is, don’t back off on the weight in order to easily reach 20 reps. Instead, select a weight you can handle comfortably for 12 reps, then dig deep in your all-out effort to get to 20. Use rest/pause if necessary, pausing midset for up to 10 to 15 seconds as you recharge your body’s short-term energy system. Rest up to 10 minutes between sets, and don’t feel any shame if you have to dial your workout back to one or two sets total. Done right, these are a killer.
4. Think Speed
By trying to move an object as fast as possible, you recruit more muscle fibers. Fred Hatfield, aka Dr. Squat, called this compensatory acceleration. We call it smart training — research has shown that the mere intent to move an object quickly accesses the same neurons as actually moving it quickly. So use your brain in addition to your brawn.
5. Prepare to Fail
It’s not often that lifters allow themselves to reach momentary muscular failure on squats, opting instead for more comfortable weight loads and stopping short of the point at which they can’t do another rep. This is inherently limiting. Push yourself. Constantly aim to add weight to your squat from workout to workout, and make use of those safety pins in the rack to catch the load when the time ultimately comes.
Rob MacIntyre is a Florida-based strength-and-conditioning expert specializing in power, performance and injury prevention. He can be reached at hardnockssouth.com.