Written for LIFTBIGEATBIG.com by Shawn Bellon, Strength Coach, NASM CEX, BS ED
Alright, I’ll admit it up front – the title of this article already has some controversy to it. But honestly, I don’t want to go that route of who does what or wears what or eats what or drives what or votes for whom. Cool? In truth, these are some of my thoughts from my own training and working with clients that will prove helpful to anyone who wants to improve their raw squatting technique and PR.
In September, I competed in the USPA Olympia Invitational in Las Vegas. This was an event where I was able to transcend some “YouTube legend” status I’ve been building and actually compete on a large stage…literally. The meet was amazing and run very well. I was proud to represent MHP as one of their powerlifters and one of the few true raw lifters. I took second place in the 275s, but did squat 750 lbs. raw (with no wraps or double thick knee sleeves) weighing 260 for an American record.
In the week that followed the meet, I received a number of emails asking just how I am able to squat like I do. So while I answered these emails individually, I thought this would be a great opportunity to spread my 3 Keys to Raw Squatting Success with a wider audience. For those who want to break leg strength barriers and load more plates on the squat bar, let me share my thoughts.
1. PRACTICE! Despite what Allen Iverson said, it is imperative to practice your technique! I use the same steps from the lightest warm-up to the heaviest work set when I train. Perfect practice does make perfect lifting. It’s critical that you don’t just go through the paces of training each day. Mentally prepare yourself for every single session, set and rep. I appreciate how Louie Simmons encourages lifters to treat their dynamic sets as if they were true max sets in a meet. Do this religiously and half the battle is won as a champion squatter.
2. CONTROL THE MOVEMENT. It is clear there is some misunderstanding about the speed of movement that is witnessed by equipped lifters because of how slow they go. Some people think this it means a raw lifter should be the opposite, with a faster descent. I disagree, but I don’t think you need to make it a five-count negative. I think a nice 3-4 count once the judge gives you the “squat” command works very well. This allows you to stay totally in control of the lift, to better find your depth and have the explosive power to come out of the hole. The faster you go, the harder you have to reverse the momentum. A high-speed “suicide squat” will eventually K.O. your powerlifting career! Somewhere you need to find the speed that works for you to be the most efficient, so be sure to practice.
3. FIND THE BEST STANCE. The stance is potentially the most debated part of squatting, period. I have been told that if I spread my feet out really wide I would be unstoppable. Well, that sounds great, but the application just doesn’t work for me. I am very comfortable being a shoulder width stance squatter. I have large quads so it stands to reason that I use effective leverages to be optimal in my lift. Some of the misunderstanding on stance has also been predicated due to equipped lifters that stand extremely wide. Equipment is going to protect the hips to a greater degree than without any, just as it does so for the knees. It makes little sense to copy someone if you are not using the same methods and equipment.
Based on my personal experience and coaching numerous lifters, I recommend that raw squatters use a shoulder width stance to start with along with the toes pointed out around 45 degrees. The recommended starting stance is your base to tweak and adjust during practice to see what is optimal and comfortable.
One great tip for finding the correct stance for your structure is to sit on the end of a flat bench with your feet flat and spread at hip width. Attempt to stand up without leaning forward at all. By doing this, you will quickly find that if your stance is too close you lean forward excessively. Picture that same movement with 400 lbs. on your back and imagine how badly you’ll pitch forward. As you gradually spread your feet and do this over and over, you’ll find the stance where you can easily stand without leaning forward at all – that’s the ideal stance spread for you. Likewise, if you spread your feet extremely wide, you’ll find that you start to lean forward again.
I hope these three basic starter points can impact your training positively while getting your wheels turning regarding adjustments for your lifting success. Be well!
Shawn Bellon is a member of Team MHP, world class powerlifter, strength coach and the owner of Body2build Strength Training Systems located in Phoenix, AZ. To learn more visit http://www.body2buildtraining.com