5 Tips for a Bigger Squat

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.

How to Set-Up for the Bench Press to Maximize your Strength.

It’s international chest day (a.k.a. Monday). You walk into the gym and realize all the benches are taken. There is only one option. You must find the guy who you can out-bench and steal his bench from him! The problem is, you haven’t hit a PR in 6 months on bench and you’re starting to question whether or not you should even be allowed to touch a barbell.

All jokes aside, everyone wants a bigger bench but many people struggle with bench pressing with proper form to begin with. This all starts with the set-up. In this article, I will give you 5 tips on how to maximize your efficiency on the bench press by mastering your set-up.

TIP #1: Set your shoulders

Let’s start from the beginning. Perhaps one of the most important factors in bench press efficiency is how you set up for the movement. The goal of setting up is to be as stable as possible while being able to apply the most amount of force. Think of your body as a spring. In order to this, we must first set our shoulders. We want to retract and depress our shoulder girdle. Think about pinching a pencil in between your shoulder blades and then pulling them down. It may seem and feel counterintuitive to have your shoulders so far back when we want to press the bar forward. However, by doing so we are protecting our shoulders and giving ourselves a stable base to push off of. The more stable we are, the stronger we are.

You may need to do some “MacGyver-ing” in order to get your shoulders into the proper position. Personally, I lift my upper back off the bench by grabbing the bar and then “wiggle” myself into position. Other guys lift their backs off the bench by thrusting their bodies up and then work themselves into position. This part is going to be up to you. Find whatever is comfortable and stick to that routine each time you set up.

TIP #2: Arch

Many people debate on whether or not it is good for you to arch your back when bench pressing. You will have extremists on each side telling you “That’s terrible for your spine!” or “You need to tuck your lats into your back pocket.”. However, when it comes to maximizing absolute strength, arching during the bench is necessary. It allows you to create more overall stiffness and it shortens the range of motion – allowing you to lift more weight. I believe that the degree to which you arch is dependent upon your personal anatomy and mobility. I would recommend starting with a smaller arch and then working up to a more exaggerated arch as long as you have no pain in your back and you maintain the necessary points of contact during the bench press(head, upper back, butt, toes/feet).

TIP #3: Leg Drive

This is a big one. Once I began utilizing proper leg-drive in my bench press, my numbers skyrocketed. It makes total sense when you think about it. Our biggest muscle group is the legs. Therefore, if we can involve them in the movement then we can maximize our strength.

Leg drive starts with finding a comfortable position for your feet. Most beginners will start with their feet in such a position that the angle of their shin is vertical. From here, you can move your feet back in order to create more of a full-body arch. You will have to play around with how far back you move your feet as you want to still be able to push into the ground with force and not cramp at the hips. You can also adjust how far you spread your legs and the angle at which you point your toes. Personally, I like to point my toes slightly out and “hug” the bench with my legs.

Once you have determined a comfortable position for your feet, you can focus on actually driving. Think about driving down and away from you. If you were to do this with no weight, you should be pushing yourself off the back of the bench. As you begin using leg-drive, you will become more comfortable with how to push with your feet. Some use the ball of their feet and others use the inside of their heels. Some people find lifting in a certain shoe(such as one with a raised heel) helps them as well. Lastly, as you begin to use leg-drive you will notice that your glutes will want to come up off the bench. Be sure to keep them in contact with the bench. This is why I point my toes out and hug the bench with my legs.

TIP #4: Grip Width & Rack Height

Now it’s time to actually grab the bar. But where!? Wide? Close? Somewhere in-between? You can actually calculate the most advantageous grip width for your bench by measuring the distance from the outside of each of your acromial processes. You then take this number and multiply it by 1.5. This gives you the best biomechanical advantage to produce force. However, using a variety of grips can be advantageous for developing strength.

As for setting the rack height prior to the exercise, you don’t want it so high that you are unable to un-rack the barbell without having the shoulders protract(move upward) significantly. Also, you should not have the rack so low that you have to exert a lot of energy to get it off the rack. It should be at a height where you can simply un-rack and rack the barbell with ease. When you go to set up for the bench, your eyes should be directly below the barbell so that you do not have to waist energy pulling the bar away from the rack prior to the press. Also, this will prevent you from hitting the rack when you are pressing the barbell up.

In summary, optimizing your bench press set-up gives you the most potential to efficiently perform the movement. If you can master your set-up, you will be throwing up more plates then a dish washer at a local buffet!