I thought I would re introduce myself to the blogging world that I have neglected over the past two months with a personal favorite of mine. THE SQUAT.
For me I just seem to favour this exercise above the other power lifts and most other lifts in general. I cannot quite tell if it is the metaphoric resemblance to life that it represents of always finding a way to stand back up and keep going despite the crushing weight on your shoulders of a 1 rep max attempt, or the way it makes you feel when you are 20+ reps into a high rep all or nothing, kill me if you can set of squats and your thighs are screaming and so would you be if your lungs didn’t feel like you had just sprinted a mile whilst being chased by a pack of ravenous wolves. But whether it is either of those feelings or just the fact that I am relatively good at squatting, it has always been my favourite lift.
Now I did not start typing with the intention to have a tribute article to Squats, but instead to pass on some information to you on how I structure my Squat assistance work into a typical Squat day or indeed some exercises you could use to improve your Squat, strength, technique and speed.
My typical Squat workout:
- 10 minutes of stretching and mobility work followed by a quick 4-5 minute rowing machine or cycle warm up.
- Barbell Squats – 5 sets of either 1, 3 or 5 reps depending on the focus of the session
- Assistance movement 1 – 4 sets
- Assistance movement 2 – 4 sets
- Optional assistance movement 3 – 2 sets
So what pray tell are these chosen assistance movements and why do I use them? Well below are the list of my most commonly utilized exercises and how and why I put them into my training.
- KettleBell Swing: This movement provides not only the hip and glute activation and power required to help drive out of the deep squat position but also allows for increased mobility and speed work in this area too. I normally work with a kettlebell I can swing consistently for 30-60 seconds with limited (30 seconds) rest between sets. It helps add some resistance based cardio to my training and allows for endurance and core work to be added all in one movement. I typically do 4-5 sets of 30-45-60-45-30 seconds steady swinging with only 30 seconds of rest between sets. Or on occasion I will use this as my optional 3rd assistance move and do 2 heavy sets of 15-20 swings. just to give the mechanic one final blast in the session. Either way it is a good option for helping your Squat.
- Single Leg ‘Leg Press’ – obviously a normal leg press will help as well but this slight tweak to the exercise will allow for more balanced strength and endurance across your left and right sides and provide more even drive and balance for your Squat. I normally do 4 sets of 8 reps each leg, either with a consistant weight if it is my first assistance exercise or I will use a gradual increase in the weight maybe adding 5-10kg each set whilst still aiming for 8-10 reps.
- Box jumps – building that explosive power in the legs doesn’t always require a heavy load. Sometimes your own body is enough. Box jumps (or squat jumps for another variation) allow you to build speed and power in your legs and improve your mechanics and mobility for a vertical push from the legs. When including these in my programming I often use them as the 2nd assistance exercise and do 3-4 sets of 8 jumps onto the box with no real limit on rest time either between the sets or reps. In my head it is really just 36-40 reps of jumps as and when I can complete them with good positioning and technique.
- Vertical step ups – Again this is focusing into the areas of the single leg press but a more vertical, balance based movement rather than the heavier seated leg press option. Keep one foot on the step or box at all times and step up and down onto the box in as vertical a position as possible. This way you can replicate similar movements through your hips, core an ankle positions with each rep as you would in a Squat. Add weight with dumbbells, core bags, weighted vests or a good old fashioned barbell. 4 sets of 8 is my usual go to here but I have done as low as 4 sets of 5 with a heavy barbell.
- The Abductor machine – You heard me. The machine often used by middle aged women and girls who want to keep or improve the shape and size of their ass. But before you scuff and move onto number 6 think of this. The glutes are the main driving force out of the deep section of a squat, building some extra muscle fibre here may be of some benefit to you and this is a simple and effective machine to do that with. 3-4 sets of 10 reps is a good option and just go heavy. Or you could try a more controlled approach of 8 reps each with a 2 second pause at the height of the muscle contraction for even more glute gains.
- Barbell Hip Bridges (Glute bridges) – Another exercise often over looked for power athletes is the Hip Bridge. Great for building glute strength an core control it can be a lethal exercise to add as that optional 3rd assistance option and bang out 2-3 heavy sets of 8 reps.
Assistance work for all major lifts is a key part of many strength programmes, it allows you to improve on the mechanics or musculature involved in the movements without burning out the muscles and losing form under the heavy load and also allows you to add more power and muscle without overloading joints and areas that could be affected by very high volumes of the main lifts.
Note also that you do not have to do the assistance work on the day of the main lift only. I often use some of these exercises as great alternatives during a de-load week, or if injury or lack of equipment while travelling prevents me from being able to Squat.
Give them a go and see which helps your numbers increase. Also keep your eyes peeled for the other assistance work posts for the other main lifts.