Squat Variations For Increased Performance

The old saying by powerlifters is: if you want to squat more then you have to squat more.  No this doesn’t mean get on the Smolov program right away, but adding different squat variations are guaranteed to help.  I’m a very big advocate of training weak points, and using a lot of accessory work to do so.  The squat is a lift I have struggled with for a very long time, and simply just squatting every week wasn’t helping me very much.  When I began powerlifting, my first few meets were only push/pull, so I was able to avoid squatting, but I knew this would only hurt me in the long run.  When I signed up for my first full power meet I knew I had to get my ass in gear, and put some serious weight on my back.  My plan was simple: I would hit heavy doubles and triples each week, progressively adding weight.  For all of my training days I have a compound exercise that is my priority, followed by accessory work to strengthen the movement further.  For the squat I used a lot of variations to get stronger, and even improve my form.

Pause Squats

Pause squats are my absolute favorite to perform, following my heavier sets.  If you have read any of my articles, before I also like rotating specialty bars here. I have tight shoulders that can cause me problems from squatting low bar constantly.  I prefer the safety bar for this movement as it is easier on my shoulders, but also it is far more difficult to stay upright with.  The safety bar wants to pull you down, so you have to fight it on the way up to not fall forward.  If you do not have access to a safety bar this is perfectly ok to do a normal barbell paused squat.  Personally I am a much better squatter in a wider stance; it’s where I’m strongest and most comfortable.  To perform my accessory work, I choose what I am weaker at, so pause squats for me are with a high bar position, and a narrow stance.  Most squats fail when the lifter falls forward out of the hole, and this is where pause squats can correct a weakness.  There are a couple reasons for the lifter to fall forward, but one of them is lack of tightness in the upper and lower back.  The pause squat will force you to stay tight, and bring out any flaws in your technique.  When you reach the bottom of the squat do not relax, and do not let your breath out.  Take a huge breath in at the top of the movement, and hold it all the way until you come back up.  Also make sure you count for a full 3 count.  It’s best to have someone else count, if you do it yourself you will turn it into a very quick pause.  Holding heavy weight on your back in a below parallel squat is not very comfortable.  Another benefit of these is getting proper depth.  I squat as low as I possibly can as I hold the bottom, this will only strengthen your regular back squat even further, making depth even easier to reach.  On a side note you can also do these in a front squat position.  I feel paused front squats apply the most to the sport of strongman, and especially atlas stones as I outlined in my last article.

Above Parallel Pause Squats

Don’t worry, I am in no way saying to not go below parallel when squatting here, but you are going to pause right above it.  To do these, first perform a full squat, but you will now pause right above parallel.  Just as a warning, these are extremely difficult, so start light.  If you have a weak point where you stall just above parallel then this will be your go to accessory movement.  Again tightness is crucial here so you must keep your upper back tense, and your air held in until you reach the top.

Anderson Squats

Anderson squats are brutally hard.  Named after the legendary weightlifter and strongman, Paul Anderson.  Anderson squats are one of my favorites to bring up a weak point in the squat.  Anderson squats will differ from pause squat variations as there will be no stretch reflex from the eccentric portion of the lift, so you will be starting the squat from a dead stop.  Set the pins, or safety straps to a parallel squat.  If your weak point is coming out of the whole then this is where you should start, if your weak point is just above parallel then this is where you will set the bar.  Personally I come out of the whole quickly and have a sticking point right above, so this is where I set the bar.  Get under the bar in either a high or low bar position, and make sure you get your feet set to where you normally squat.  Starting the squat from the bottom can throw people off on the set up, so make sure you set up in the same position to carry over to your normal squat.  Get extremely tight in your upper back, take a big breath in, and explode pushing your feet through the floor.  These can be a real grinder at heavy weights, so be prepared.  These can also be performed in a front squat position and even with bands/chains for more of a challenge.

1 ¼ Squats

1 ¼ squats will create the most time under tension (TUT), so they are a great muscle builder especially for the glutes.  I prefer to do these with a controlled eccentric up to 5 seconds on the way down.  Go down very controlled until you hit below parallel. Then rise up but only a quarter of the way so you should just be slightly above parallel, go back down then explode to come back up all the way to the starting position.

Double Kettlebell Squats

The goblet squat with a kettlebell is a great teaching tool for someone who is not ready to put a bar on their back to perform a squat.  However double kettlebell squats are far more difficult.  Kettlebell squats hit your abdominals hard, so they will teach you to keep them extremely tight, or you will crumble at heavier weights.  You have to go as heavy as you can here, but a limiting factor will be how much you will be able to clean to your shoulders.  Make sure you know how to properly clean kettlebells, or have someone hand them to you.  Once in the rack position make sure your wrists are straight, so the handle should be lower down in your palm to rack properly.  Keep your knuckles close to your chin as if you are a boxer.  Like a normal squat take a big breath in, and descend keeping the abs tight and the chest up.  You should be able to squat extremely low here, so here is a great way to also work on your depth.  For any guys that are up for a challenge trying matching what LBEB athlete Amy Payne can do squatting 70lb kettlebells, I promise you will be humbled.

Squat Training Example: 

1 Back Squat                                       reach a heavy triple

2 Above Parallel Pause Squats    3 x 5 (sets x reps)

3 Bulgarian Squat                             3 x 8 each

4a Double KB Squat                         2 x 53lb kbs max reps (4a, 4b is a superset)

4b Band Leg Extension                   2 x 30

The example I have outlined is not for a beginner, but if you are an intermediate to advanced squatter then give these variations a try and you will break through your squat plateau with ease.

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