Everyone wants a bigger squat but many struggle with improving the movement. In this article, I will give you 5 tips that will put you on the path to getting a bigger squat.
Tip #1: Form
Yeah yeah, I know you’ve heard it a thousand times but form really is everything on the squat. It’s not exciting to work on but if you don’t take the time to learn how to properly perform the movement, you will end up either plateauing or getting injured. Squat form is often debated and there is much nuance to it so I will try to make this as simple as possible.
Starting with the set-up, you are going to want to grip the bar as close as your shoulder mobility will allow. This will create upper back tightness and put you in a good position to begin the lift. A good rule of thumb(no pun intended) is to aim for having your hands about a thumb’s length away form the outside of your shoulders. Of course, this will vary from lifter to lifter. When you get under the bar, you are going to want to squeeze the upper back as tight as possible.
Next, you are going to want to unrack the bar by squeezing your glutes. Step out using only 2-3 steps in order to conserve energy. Feet position will vary depending on the lifter but a good rule of thumb is to have your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and point the toes out slightly. Before you perform the squat, take a deep breath in and brace your core. Begin the squat by pushing your butt back and descending as if you were sitting in a chair. You want your knees to track in line with your toes throughout the movement. Once you reach parallel, squat back up making sure that your chest stays high and your head remains in the same position. Maintain overall body stiffness throughout the entire lift.
Tip #2: Frequency
Simply put, to get better at the squat you have to squat more. However, increasing squat frequency can be complex because there are many different ways of doing so. The most common approach is to have multiple squat days(2-4 on average) with varying intensities. This way, you are not fatiguing your body too much. You can set this up by having a heavier(max-effort) day and then another day with either lighter weight or a variation so that you aren’t accumulating too much fatigue. If you are squatting multiple days, it might go heavy-light-variation or variation-moderate-heavy. You will have to determine this by what your body needs and is able to recover from.
Tip #3: Rep Ranges
It is important to know what rep ranges to work within in order to build a big squat. Reps of 6 and higher will build hypertrophy. While some respond better to higher reps(15, 20, 25 even), others may only see growth with sets up to 12 reps. Reps of 4-6 is where the majority of your strength will be built. Singles, doubles, and triples will peak the strength you have already developed while cementing your form. It is important to include all these ranges at the proper time for optimal results. I would recommend running a mesocycle(3-6 week training block) or 2 of hypertrophy work (6-15 reps), followed by another mesocycle of strength work(4-6 reps), and finaly a peaking mesocycle of 1-3 reps on your compound lifts. During all of this, you will also have to consider how to program your accessories, but that is another topic of discussion.
Tip #4: Variations
Variations can be used to fix weak points or add more volume with lower fatigue. The type of variations that you use will depend on your current weak points as well as the stage of programming that you are in. My personal favorite squat variations are the tempo squat, front squat, safety squat bar, and dead squat. The tempo squat not only helps cement a lifter’s form but it also increases time under tension. This is a great variation for the beginning of a mesocycle. Front squats are a great way to emphasize the quads and transfer over to the deadlift nicely. Safety squat bar is good for people with shoulder or lower back issues. The dead squat breaks up the kinetic chain of the movement and prevents the lifter from using too much of the stretch reflex at the bottom of the squat. It also builds a lot of power from the bottom of the movement. There are many other different accessories that are helpful in their own way but these have worked quite nicely for me.
Tip #5: Accessories
Although the majority of your strength foundation will be built from primarily squatting, accessories can help build strength and fix weak points as well. When it comes to accessories that aren’t squat variations, I like Romanian deadlifts, leg press, lunges, Bulgarian split squats, and leg curls. I recommend prioritizing hamstrings after you finish squatting as many people are quad dominant. Romanian deadlifts are great for heavily loading the hamstrings through a hip hinge. This is my favorite exercise for building hamstring strength and size. I also enjoy leg curls but they are not as easy to load heavier throughout a training program. The leg press is great for loading the legs with heavy weight without causing as much fatigue as a regular squat. The quads and hamstrings are isolated well during this movement. Lunges and Bulgarian split squats are great for building unilateral leg strength, size, and balance.
If you follow all of these tips I guarantee your squat will improve tremendously. I could go into further detail on each of these principles but they will look slightly different for everyone. If you learn how to apply these for your specific circumstance, you will see great progress.