Monday, April 26, 2010

Developing your raw squat - Pt. 3

This is the final installment in this series (I swear!).  This part is going to touch on common muscular weaknesses I had and see in other squatters, how I fixed them, and some routines that helped boost my squat.  Keep in mind that unless your squat mechanics are in shape you will not get the full benefit of these.
Once you get these things fixed, you can pretty much just squat using various degrees of volume and intensity (load %) to drive the squat.  Yes it's a strange concept I know but you can actually get a bigger squat by just squatting.  However early on it is helpful to isolate some areas in terms of flexibility and strengthening in order to correct MECHANICAL issues so that you can squat properly.

Weaknesses in the raw squat -

I think the most common problem I see, and the one that plagued me the longest was that stupid knee cave you get when the weight gets heavy coming out of the hole. 
First off, let me say this is BAD with a capital B (I capped the A and D as well).  This can eventually wreck your knees if not corrected and second, it looks shitty.  I think they should red light squats a meets with excessive knee cave.  If hitching a deadlift is out I don't see why excessive knee cave couldn't be out.  It looks atrocious and is bad for the lifter doing it.  My simple rant.  Anyway...........

Remedying my knee cave took two things.  Stretching my hip flexors to allow better function of the glute medius in my squatting, and then strengthening the glute medius itself.  You could have the strongest glute medius in the world but if you are short (tight) in the hip flexors they won't be able to function properly in a deep squat. 

1.  Use the hip flexor stretch I talked about in part 1 at the beginning as part of the general warm up, in between sets of squats, then at the end of squatting.
2.  Do 1 legged squats with one foot on a bench behind you.  If you want to make these harder grab dumbbells or elevate the front foot to allow for a deeper squat.  The 1 legged squat does two things at once.  Strengthens the glute medius AND stretches the hip flexor of the non working leg (the one on the bench). 
3.  Use the adductor machine (where you bring your legs in against resistance) to ensure balance of the antagonist muscle groups. 
4.  Perform a glute and hamstring dominant exercise to keep your posterior up to speed with the dominant quads.  Use a rotation of deadlifts, stiff legs, and hypers. 
5.  Use pause squats so that you can build more strength coming out of the hole using proper hip drive.
6.  Use a squat routine based on low starting percentages and high volume building to a new max over 12 weeks.  

The following routine will help you with that awful knee cave problem.  It will not go away overnight.  This is why you should plan on about 12 weeks of solid squatting to improve your strength and flexibility.    

Squats - Hip flexor strength before you start, between sets, and after you are done with the workout.

Week 1 - 8 sets to 68% @ 8 reps
week 2 - 8 sets to 70% @ 8 reps
week 3 - 8 sets to 75% @ 8 reps
week 4 - 7 sets to 80% @ 5 reps
week 5 - 6 sets to 82% @ 5 reps
week 6 - 4 sets to 85% @ 5 reps
week 7 - 5 sets to 82% @ 5 reps
week 8 - 5 sets to 85% @ 5 reps
week 9 - 6 sets to 92% @ 3 reps
week 10 - 6 sets to 95% @ 3 reps
week 11 - 6 sets to 100% @ 2 reps
week 12 - test new max

The squatting routine is to be used once a week.  As far as the sets listed go, they INCLUDE warm ups.  So week one reads 8 sets of 68% that means the 8th set should be at 68% of your estimated 1RM.  

How you structure your warm ups up to that 8th set is up to you, however I suggest fairly equal jumps.  That means if you are going to squat 315x8 for the last set, something like 135, 185, 205, 225, 245, 274, 295, then 315.  If you are a really weak guy and your max is like 185 just do a lot of sets at small increments.  The volume is part of the key here.  Use the early parts of the program when the volume is high to continue to drill your form.  

Now let me add, you don't have to do the prescribed number of reps for all sets.  Just for the last set.  However I highly recommend keep the reps close to that, especially early in the program.  Something between 5-8 reps for all of the warm up sets is ideal.  

And DO NOT OVERESTIMATE YOUR MAX.  For the love of God do not overestimate your max.  
Pause Squats - reduce the weight from your last set by 15-20% and do 3x5.  Hold in the bottom for 3 seconds.  Keep this in for the whole 12 weeks.

1-Legged Squats - 2x20 for each leg no weight.  Add reps here every week.  Drop them after week 8.

Adductor Machine - 2x10 to failure both sets.  Drop them after week 8.
Hypers/Stiff Legs/Deadlifts (rotate these exercises) - 2x15-20 for hypers/2x8 for stiff legs/2x5 for deadlifts.  Keep these in for the whole 12 weeks.  

This routine is not easy so be mindful of your intensity and load early on in it.  If you go balls out the first few weeks you will likely get burnt.  The whole point of this is to improve your squat weakness and then focus the last 3 weeks on pushing bigger weights.  If you are smart about this the weights you have plugged in will feel easy.  And then on week 12 you'll be happy as you set a new PR.  If were stupid and plugged in a max that is too hight you could get stapled or even revert back to that nasty knee cave.  Be smart in your programming.  

Help I'm in a good morning and I can't get up! -

I touched on this in terms of bar placement, but some guys get folded over even in a proper squat once the weight gets heavy.  The midsection feels weak, the abdominals give way, and then the next thing you know you're in a good morning.  

Obviously taking some serious time out to work on the abs, obliques, and erectors is needed here.  But you need to include some glute work in there as well.  If you are doing full squats the glutes become more prominently into play.  And the faster you can get out of the hole, the less you'll be likely to get bent over like Ed Norton in American History X.

Run the same squat routine as above, but afterwards do the following to help with this problem.  

Ab Roller - 
weeks 1-4 - 30 total reps
weeks 5-8 - 50 total reps
weeks 9-12 - 75 total reps 

If your gym doesn't have one of these laying around just use a barbell with some plates on each side.  This makes things more difficult as well. 

1-Legged Hyperextensions -
weeks 1-4 - 5 sets of 3 per leg
weeks 5-8 - 5 sets of 5 per leg
weeks 9-12 - 4 sets of 8 per leg

If these are too easy with bodyweight only, only an appropriate plate that makes it harder.
Db Side Bends - 2 sets of 12 using as heavy a dumbbell as you can use.

  The over-warm up -This method is meant more for advanced guys who know their real limits and have their mechanics in order.  The only exercise in it is the squat. 

A few reasons it works is because it's designed to work with you on how you feel on every particular day.  Having an off day?  You can still have a good squat workout.  Having an awesome day?  Try to set a rep PR.
Basically this is how you will use this approach.
After your general warm up, throw a plate on the bar and start your warm ups.  As you warm up, you want to get an idea of what top warm-up single you would like to hit for the day.  However the single isn't the focal point really, it's the down set after that.  The single should be nothing more than your last warm up.  After that you should decide on a weight and a number of reps you would like to hit for that day.  For example...
Squat - 135 x 10, 225 x 5, 315 x 5, 405 x 3, 500 x 1, 535 x 1, down set - 500 x 9 (was shooting for 10). 

Notice the last single was not a lot more than the down set that was used for reps.  The last warm up single should not be a great deal over the weight you plan on hitting for reps.  In this example is somewhere around the 7% range.  I would suggest something in the 7-10% for your last warm up single over your repping weight.  This approach is somewhat instinctive and some guys can get carried away with the last single.  Remember it is not about the single here it is about the rep set.  The last single helps prime you to move the repping weight more easily.  So don't get carried away with the single.  If you grind the single because it's too close to a true max, you will be too taxed to really get after the reps on the down set.   

Conclusion -
These are some things I have used to help fix and increase my squat.  Now that my mechanics are in order I generally just squat or pause squat to improve my squat, especially come meet prep time.  When I am not training for a competition I will relax a bit and play with some machines and not squat too heavy usually unless I've had an extended layoff and need to build some foundation level strength back.  So if your squat has been suffering, or you're not a natural squatter make sure you spend plenty of time working on your technique and mechanics and figure out the mental and physical cues that work best for you.


  1. This is been a really excellent series. Would you program paused squats generally the same as regular ones? For bench, I do once a week paused and once a week touch and go, would it make sense to do the same thing with squat?

  2. Actually that is an idea I am playing around with for my meet prep. So yes.

  3. Paul-

    Do you think some people are just natural leaners when they squat? Case in point, Goggins was bent WAY over with his squats, but I watched him at the Arnold years ago come up with 1100 that way. It looked like it was going to crush him!

    It seems no matter how much I train to correct it, I just have a natural lean.


  4. For sure. I used to try and stay upright in my squats but it never felt "right" or natural for my build. Guys with short legs and a long torso will often be able to squat down and stay straight up but this never worked for me. So I quit fighting it. So long as your back stays "flat" do what feels comfortable and puts you in your strongest position.

  5. Thanks for doing this series, Paul.

  6. Paul, what our your thoughts on box squats and GM's for the raw squatter? Do you ever incorporate the SS/Camber bar into your training? Also, what are your thoughts on bands/chains?

    As an aside, I was surprised that you didn't mention specific programs that helped your squat (i.e. Sheiko, Smolov, Westside, Crossfit...kidding). Do you train by feel?

  7. Not a fan of box squatting. Box squats unload the hamstrings and quads on the box and this is the opposite of what you get as a raw squatter in the bottom. GM's I have played with and am beginning to find out that they work better when you go light with them and really worry more about getting your butt back and stretching the hams. Guys I see going too heavy usually do like a 1/2 good morning.

    I have used Smolov before but like most guys I plugged in my max too high and was burnt out a few weeks in. If you run it make sure to plug in a gym max that you can walk up and do without any psyche. A "casual" single if you will. That's the key.

    I don't really train by feel I have a plan for everything I do. I generally do a lot of what Eric Lilliebridge talked about for meets. Starting at the meet and working back so many weeks from there. This is a tried and true proven strategy.

  8. Paul, could you have a look at my squat? My knees are caving in, but I'm not sure if it's excessive. And I noticed the weight was tipping to my right, dunno if it's a huge deal...

  9. Sorry here's the video:

  10. Knee cave wasn't excessive at all.

    Looks like the right side was unbalanced because your grip wasn't even (not the same amount of spacing) and your right elbow was at a different angle than the left elbow/arm.

    Fix your hand spacing and elbow angle so that they both match. Otherwise it looked fine.

  11. Paul,
    Love the program! My wife and I increased our squat max numbers. Can we redo the program once we're done with the 12 weeks by simply plugging in the new max numbers to a new set of 12 weeks?


    1. Yes just don't go crazy with what you plug in as a max. Be conservative.

  12. I've really enjoyed both of your Raw Squat & Bench series- helped me move up. Any chance you'd write a raw deadlift series? You mentioned deadlifts as assistance to a raw squat program

  13. paul why did you repeat the percentages of 82 and 85 for weeks 5-8?

  14. to build strength around the 75-85% like you mentioned in one of your recent posts? to build the lift and not strain at singles or the higher range of the intensity bracket ?

  15. Excellent series! I will be recommending to my friends and strength training peers.

    Thanks a ton, Paul.