Squatting is considered by many top health experts to be one of the most beneficial lifts that athletes can perform. Squatting promotes nervous system stimulation, muscle growth, mental capacity, performance enhancement, as well as a host of other benefits.
Before I get ahead of myself, we are addressing the back squat. When back squatting, the bar will be on your back. Back squatting will put your shoulders and elbows in a very uncomfortable position. It can be excruciating if you consistently use heavy weight.
The next time you are in the gym, it may be a good idea to take the bar off your back and consider your other squatting options. Several different squatting variations will ultimately improve your back squat in the long run. We’ve got four easy recommendations for you that will take the constant strain on your shoulders and back, as well as train any weaknesses that your back squat may have.
Improve Your Squat With Variety
The belt squat is a simple exercise to complete. All you need is a chain/dip belt, plates, and several cinder blocks or wooden blocks to elevate yourself.
Just place the belt on your hip/pelvic junction, loop the strap through the plate, and then do your best to get the plates to sit as high as possible. Now you will want to tighten the chain as far as it will go.
As for the blocks, we want to make sure they are high enough so that you can get down into a full squat position (hip crease below knee joint) without the plates touching the floor.
Once you are all set up and ready to go, get onto the blocks (which should be spaced far enough apart that you can get into your typical squat stance), assume a typical squatting position, keep your head up, have a slight tilt in your torso, and squat.
Make sure you are getting low, which will allow you to explode from the bottom as fast as you can. It is important to go through the entire range of motion. Start by keeping your legs straight, and then execute the full squat all the way back. Take your time on each squat. Do them one by one.
These are best done in 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps because you will never get enough weight on the dip belt to have the intensity to go for lower reps (unless you use a loading pin and much higher block).
The front squat is hated by many athletes all over the world. It is one of the best ways, however, to take pressure off of your shoulder while allowing you to maintain relatively high intensity.
There are several versions of the front squat. They include the traditional front squat (hands on the bar like you just caught a clean), and the crossed over arms front squat ( crossing your hand over the center of the bar close to your neck). I especially love to use loops to create a little bit of space from the bar but also carry out the traditional position.
Once you have chosen how you’re going to hold the bar in the rack, you can get into performing the actual movement.
Always keep your elbow high and your head back. First, take the bar from the rack with a neutral spine and flexed glutes. Once you are standing with the weight, take one significant step back with either foot and then follow with your other foot. It is important to remember that you won’t be able to look at your feet from this point on. You need to trust yourself and find the sweet spot.
Depending on the descent of the bar, you always want to remember to push your elbow high and push your knees out throughout the entire movement.
This movement is no different. You want the hip crease to go beyond the knee. Stress the full range of motion top to bottom and back again. This will allow you to remain flexible, as well as train any weaknesses!
You can execute the front squat with high intensity or high volume. It doesn’t matter. Just make the front squat fit your program or your needs, and you will quickly see improvements to your back squat.
Banded marching is a multi-plane movement that requires athletes to march with high knees forwards, backward, and laterally to target all the muscles and functions of the hips.
You will need a weightlifting belt of some sort, as well as a medium strength resistance band. Just place the band through the weightlifting belt in the front and on the right by the belly button. Make sure that the resistance band is pulled through the belt evenly.
Now, take one end of the band and place it on one foot. Then, repeat that for the other foot. It is important that you have the belt tightened and ready to go before standing up.
Once you have it all set up, it is time to get moving. Standing stationary, lift your feet alternatively about a foot off the ground then proceeding to walk forward, backward, or even side to side. Remember to keep raising those knees!
This exercise is most useful for periods of time. You can start with 2 minutes, gradually working your way up to even 10 minutes!
Sled Dragging/Power Walking
A sled is an excellent tool. It can be used to build up your conditioning, as well as a great tool to train strength. It will require the use of a strap, as well as a sled (how to build your sled coming soon)
To efficiently utilize your sled, strap it to your lifting belt, add some weight to the sled, and walk backward with it for time or distance.
You can then put the strap on the back of your lifting belt and go for a walk with it! Again, pay close attention to your time or distance.
There are plenty of ways to get even more use out of your sled. First, you can put the strap on the side of the belt, and step out laterally for time or distance.
You can also place the strap on the back of your belt, add some weight, and bend your waist, so your back is parallel to the ground. Now, try to step forward (try to keep your knees extended). Pull the sled ahead with your heel like you’re a charging bull. Repeat this for time or for distance.
That is my top four movements that will help you increase your squat without actually putting the bar on your back. Remember, it is okay to take the bar off your back every once and a while to let your shoulders recover. These movements may even strengthen a weakness and improve your range of motion.
I realize there are so many other movements that could be added here. Like the glute ham raise, safety bar squats, cambered bar squats, and so on and so forth. I chose these particular movements so that you do not need to purchase a costly piece of equipment to execute them.
Have fun while you’re lifting and if you feel the need to give the shoulders some time off, then get excited to so some new movements. Bet you’ll be sore the next day!