8 Secrets Every Athlete Should Use to Improve their Squat

Time to increase your potential with the king of strength exercises.

You might be thinking, “What more is there to know about the Squat?”

We could all benefit from being able to move heavier loads in the Front Squat, Back Squat, and/or Overhead Squat. The truth is that no matter how tenacious and well-conditioned you are, it will not allow you to move a load that you’re not strong enough for.

As Cj Martin once said, “You can’t fake strength.”

Being able to move heavier loads opens up opportunity for you to express your conditioning and tenacity.

Have you ever noticed how the first thing that comes to mind for improving your strength in the squat is simply squatting heavy? This is not always the answer and I’m excited to show you why.

I remember reaching a point where my squat numbers were going up, but I was grinding through these reps in a way that didn’t feel the best. The numbers stroked my ego. But I knew something was off. I didn’t feel as stable and in control as I would’ve liked.

One side felt like it was working harder than the other. I was starting to develop hip and knee discomfort. But hey, that’s apart of the game right?

Wrong.

If I was sidelined from a minor injury at any point, not being able to squat at all, would’ve meant that all my hard work had been counter intuitive. That was the beginning of when I realized I have to explore ways outside of the box of movements we’re used to for squatting.

Squat Secret #1: Squat Everyday

This is such a controversial topic. I actually had a chat with Travis Mash where I wanted to do some myth busting around the misconceptions of “Squat Everyday” programs.

The key for this concept to work is to choose movement over performance.

The idea is to do some variation of squatting everyday. Even if that means using an empty barbell or 30% of your Back Squat at times just to explore and appreciate the range of motion being used. By doing this, you can improve your hip and ankle mobility as well.

You run into trouble when you let ego get in the way. So if you decide to squat to a MAXIMUM every single day, then you’re bound to run into issues. Knowing how to auto-regulate is a skill that is honed over time. Knowing when to push and when to back off.

Make it a point to get in the bottom of your squat every single day and get in touch with how things feel on that given day.

Squat Secret #2: Squat Barefoot

Lifters are great. Regular shoes are necessary for daily life.

But get out of your shoes whenever possible. If you’re always using lifters, your performance might excel, but that comes at the cost of the overall health of your ankles. Chances are you live in your shoes a minimum of 8 hours a day.

After talking to Dr. Aaron Horschig from Squat University, I realized how important it is to strip footwear completely. The benefit here is that you’ll also understand what it’s like to grab the floor with your feet, which is an essential skill to movement in general.

Give yourself a challenge by accumulating 10 minutes in the bottom of a bodyweight squat throughout your day. Knock it out one minute at a time throughout your day or do it all at once.

Just get it done. Try that for 30 days and let me know how your flexibility, mobility, and overall awareness improves. You’ll notice that instead of taking 30 minutes to warm up, you’ll be able to shave this down to 10-15 minutes with consistency.

Squat Secret #3: Squat Raw AND Assisted

Are you addicted to using to using belts, knee sleeves, and lifters? I don’t blame you, I’ve been there. It’s a very easy trap to fall into.

The problem is that these are tools with great intentions that are often used as band-aids. If you find yourself covering up knee pain, back pain, and things of that nature with a piece of equipment — you have to take a step back and re-evaluate the deeper issue.

The great thing about taking a break from using the tools above is that you will develop RAW strength. There’s something to be said when you feel confident, strong, and stable squatting without any gear.

You FEEL prepared for anything.

Now think about adding a belt back in when it’s time to go for a PR. You’re going to feel like you have super powers. Keep notes on both of your numbers. What weights can you squat raw? What weights can you squat assisted?

Squat Secret #4: Squat fluently across all rep ranges

If you’re someone who only squats heavy singles, doubles, and triples — you’re going to be faced with some tough challenges when it comes time squat more volume during conditioning workouts.

You want to think about confidently being able to take on any rep range that’s thrown at you. Sets of 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 10, 15, and even 20. The dosage of how often you’re performing these rep ranges highly depends on your goals, timing of your cycle, and a host of other variables.

The takeaway is to keep your eyes on the prize, but don’t lose tabs on these other ranges. If you can get a coach to structure this for you in a thoughtful and purposeful way, that would be the most ideal.

If not, simply start by adding in one or two days a week where you challenge yourself with a rep range that is out of your comfort zone. Deep down, you know what this is.

Squat Secret #4: Squat with Tempo

This is one of the most important secrets that I can give you today.

Tempo training allows you to reinforce the concept of “time under tension”. This is crucial for you to build the structures necessary to keep layering strength, speed, power, and explosiveness on top.

Let me give you an example of how to read a tempo prescription. Let’s say you are told to perform:

Back Squats – 3, 3, 3, 3, 3 at 32X1 Tempo:

3 – This is the eccentric or negative portion of the lift. So as you descend into the bottom of your squat, count “1 one thousand, 2 one thousand, 3 one thousand”
2 – This is the isometric portion in the bottom of the squat. So count “1 one thousand, 2 one thousand”
X – This symbol signifies the concentric portion, which is coming out of the bottom of the squat. X means be as explosive as possible.
1 – This is the isometric portion at the top of the life. So when you’re fully standing, count “1 one thousand” before initiating the next repetition.

Typically, you’re not going to be able to go as heavy as your true 1RM if you follow the tempo prescription correctly. But this is one of the fastest ways to develop true strength & control in your lifts.

improve your movement baby squat
Squat technique

Especially since a ton of what we do during conditioning workouts and even other lifts consists of solely explosive (concentric) contractions with little regard for isometric and eccentric contractions.

Squat Secret #5: Squat with Variance

When you think of squatting, what exercises come to mind?

  • Back Squat
  • Front Squat
  • Overhead Squat

That’s a very limited toolbox. You want to take advantage of the PATTERN of squatting by including variations such as:

  • KB Front Squats
  • Box Squats
  • DB Front Squats
  • Goblet Squats
  • Lunges
  • Box Step Ups
  • And other unilateral variations

The unilateral variations deserves it’s own section later on, so bear with me.

mat fraser dead stop exercises squats strength training
Mat Fraser powering through his Squats

Squat Secret #6: Squat with Balance

What I mean by “Squat with balance” is to assess whether you need more squatting or not.

This comes back to understanding your “why”. If you squat every single day without any regard for how often you are hinging throughout the week — you’re bound to develop structural imbalances.

For example, if your Deadlift and Sumo Deadlift are not around 110% of your Back Squat, then that may be an area of focus for you before you decide to keep driving up your Back Squat.

This is a little different if you’re a powerlifter, but I’m assuming that you’re a functional fitness athlete reading this.

If your Front Squat is not 90% of your 1RM Back Back Squat, then you may want to emphasize more loading in the front rack before resorting to the Back Squat.

These ratios are not set in stone. You have some wiggle room with these, but it’s to give you a ballpark idea of where you might be at.

Ask yourself why you’re looking to improve your squat? Is it mobility? Is it strength? What for? Regardless of your answer, this is something you’re going to want to keep tabs on as you progress.

Squat Secret #7: Squat Holds with Load

With the use of tempo training highlighted in Squat Secret #4, you’ll be spending time in the bottom of your squat with load. But squat holds are something that you’ll want to do in order to improve your ankle and hip mobility.

I got this gem from the gentleman at ActiveLifeRx and have been using it as tool ever since.

Accumulate 2 minutes within 3 minutes in the bottom of a squat with 33% of your 1RM Front Squat

So if you can do 1 minute unbroken, but then take 30 seconds of rest. Now you’re already at 1:30. Take your rest wisely, and if you go over the 3 minute mark, not how long it took you. Once you can perform this within 3:00, you’re going to increase the weight by about 5-10lb every week until you have reached 50% of your 1RM Front Squat.

Perform this 2-3x per week and commit to the process. It will pay off.

Squat Secret #8: Squat on one leg

I can’t emphasize this one enough, which is why I left it for last. Single leg squatting is vital for balancing your right vs left leg strength while also moving in a different plane of motion.

I used to feel like one side was working harder than the other. And the bar was even slightly crooked. This turned out to be true. A simple test you can use to see where you are at is:

Back Loaded Bulgarian Split Squat – Perform 10RM / leg at 50% of your Back Squat / leg

Or

Front Loaded Bulgarian Split Squat – Perform 10RM / leg at 85% of what the Back Loaded variation should be

Simply start including single leg squatting patterns such as:

  • DB Box Step Ups
  • RNT Reverse Lunges
  • Lateral Step Ups

Every human should be able to perform a pistol squat. That can be another test for you. And the tools I just mentioned can be used to develop strength and stability for the pistol squat.

Start spending more time on one leg, and you’ll probably even notice acute aches and pains start to smooth out over time.

Get After It!

Look, we all want to get strong. Whether it’s for personal fulfillment, improving performance, or showing off to your gym rival. The sooner you can step out the assumption that you need to squat heavy ALL the time, the better off you’ll be.

Step out of the box of movements you’re used to performing and implement some of these Squat Secrets into your training. You certainly don’t need to tackle all of these at once. It’s helpful to have a coach or a structured program to follow that involves many of these concepts for your development.

In the meantime, let’s get after it.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to check out a free gift for improving your pistol squat stability & control at theairbornemind.com

5 Training Techniques to Improve your Front Squat


improve your movement baby squat © Nick Tumminello

mat fraser dead stop exercises squats strength training © Muscle & Fitness

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About The Author

Misbah Haque helps recreational CrossFitters improve mobility and strength using bodybuilding and gymnastics practices. He hosts a podcast called The Airborne Mind Show, where he brings some of the smartest minds in fitness together each week. For anyone looking to improve movement quality, he’s giving away a few free gifts at theairbornemind.com.

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