At 260lbs, MHP sponsored athlete and American record holder Shawn Bellon can move over 700lbs off the squat rack for multiple reps. Even more impressive is that he does this raw, that means no Powerlifting gear, knee wraps or double thick knee sleeves. To say this Powerlifter knows something about squatting would be an understatement. In this article Shawn offers a few tips to help us increase our own squat numbers.
Despite what Allen Iverson said, it’s extremely important to practice your technique. I follow the same steps from the lightest warm-up to the heaviest work set when I train. Perfect practice makes for perfect lifting. In training, it’s critical that you don’t just go through the motions. Mentally prepare yourself for every session, set and rep. I appreciate how Louie Simmons encourages lifters to treat their dynamic sets (sub max weights for max speed) as if they were true max sets in a meet. Do this religiously and half the battle is won.
Control the Movement
There’s some misunderstanding about the speed of movement during the squat. While I disagree with those that say a faster descent is better, I also don’t think you need to make it a 5-count negative. A nice 3-4 count once you start your squat should work very well. This allows you to stay 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 will have to reverse the momentum. A high-speed “suicide squat” will eventually K.O. any lifer.
The stance is one of the most debated parts of squatting. I’ve been told that if I were to spread my feet out really wide I would be unstoppable. Well, that sounds great, but the application just doesn’t work for me. I’m very comfortable being a shoulder width stance squatter. Based on my experience coaching lifters, I recommend that you start with a shoulder width stance, toes point out 45 degrees. This recommended starting stance is your base to tweak and adjust during practice to see what is optimal and comfortable.
Finding your best squat stance
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. By doing this, you will quickly find that if your stance is too close you lean forward excessively. Picture that same movement with 400lbs 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.
Volume is great for building strength. Here is a great 5 week squat cycle:
Week 1: 3 sets of 10 reps (7-8 RPE)
Week 2: 3 sets of 7 reps (7-8 RPE)
Week 3: 3 sets of 5 reps (8 RPE)
Week 4: 3 sets of 3 reps (8-9 RPE)
Week 5: Deload
RPE stands for rate of perceived exertion. Using the RPE concept helps you assess how you are feeling on a particular day.
A simple RPE chart would state:
10: Maximal, no reps left in the tank
9: Last rep is tough but still one rep left in the tank
8: Weight is too heavy to maintain fast bar speed but isn’t a struggle; 2–4 reps left
7: Weight moves quickly when maximal force is applied to the weight; “speed weight”
6: Light speed work; moves quickly with moderate force
5: Most warm-up weights
4: Recovery; usually 20 plus rep sets; not hard but intended to flush the muscle
Don’t get so caught up on your lifting numbers that you ignore how you feel. Let’s face it, some days lifting just stinks! Shoot for your RPE range even if it means you have to drop some weight to do so. If you have to drop weight for 3 consistent weeks, it may be time to rest.
Focus on one squatting movement a week for your main lift while adding a simple 3-5 sets of 5 reps of another squat movement as assistance work. As an example, I might focus my main squat lifts on the safety bar while adding some pause squats for my easier sets of 5. Obviously power squats and Olympic squats should be utilized regularly as well.