Squatting heavy can be one of the most taxing activities on the body. There are few other movements that can load and demand as much coordinative ability as a heavy squat. They are hard and they work! Preparing the body for such a stress is very important for performance and longevity. Getting muscles hot, taking the joints through a range of motion, and activating muscles and the central nervous system   can get you squatting well and fast. Here is a 15 minute warm-up complex to get you to peak performance under the bar.

General Warm-up, Part 1

(Heating up the muscles)

Before you ever start squatting, it is important to get the muscle and tendons hot and malleable. You can do this by elevating the heart rate will any general movement.

  1. Start on a bike for 3 minutes. Slowly ramp up the speed so that your heart rate is getting high by the time you finish. You want to pump some blood in your legs and heat up the tissues. You could also do 3 minutes of jumping jacks, or a 500 meter row.

General Warmup, Part 2

(Take the joints through a range of motion)

Taking the joints through a range of motion prepares the muscle for the movement demands of stretching and shortening. Here the focus is on the hips and hamstrings. Try to stretch beyond the range of motion required in a squat.

  1. Lie on the ground with a stretch band around your foot. Stretch and relax the hamstrings by pulling your leg up. Use the band to assist you with some extra range of motion at the top. Perform 15 each leg, 1 second up. 1 second at the top, 1 second down.
  2. Open up the hips by performing 20 mountain climbers with the feet reaching outside the hands. Do 5 at a time fast, then take a second to push the hips towards the floor.
  3. Perform 20 jumping squats developing a full range of the squat as well as getting the muscle to work with elasticity.

Specific Warmup, Part 1:

(Muscle activation)

There are specific muscles you want to stimulate to get the correct pattern of movement happening. Here we focus on the core and hips that will initiate the squat.

  1. Lie on the ground face up and perform 20 hip bridges. With your feet flat on the floor drive your hips up into a bridge and squeeze your glutes for one second at the top. This will activate your back side and the erectors of the lower back.
  2. Perform 20 slow air squats with a light band around the knees. Concentrate on driving the knees out against the band to activate the muscle around the hips and the hamstrings. Focus on strong technique.

Specific warm-up Part 2

(Central Nervous System Activation)

Getting the central nervous system ramped up and firing hard allows for peak performance. This maximizes the ability for the brain to communicate with the body. The greater the weight, and the faster the movement, the higher the demand on the CNS. Ramp up in a few sets and allow enough time once you get to your working sets (2-3 minutes) for the central nervous system to recover.

  1. Begin with an empty barbell and perform 3 squats. Go down slow and tight, drive up fast
  2. Take 5 sets to work up to a starting weight. Only perform 3-5 reps. Make big jumps in weight (50-90lbs) each set. Remember to brace your belly tight and drive up fast, moving the bar with speed.

The squat is the king of all exercises.  There is no movement more essential or foundational than the squat. It is the basic ability to raise and lower your center of mass and express strength and balance through a range of motion.  You will always need to squat. If you are sit down, you must perform a squat. If you go to the bathroom, you must squat. Loosing the ability to do this movement is loosing the ability to live independently i.e.“Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Practicing and developing capacity in the squat is rehabilitative by nature. If you cannot squat well, you are only working at a fraction of your athletic capacity. Long story short…this is a movement we will want to do, and do well our entire lives. 

Squatting is an amazing stimulus for the body. This multi-joint movement  loads up the skeletal structure with high amounts of weight, increasing our bone density, fortifying joint strength and flexibility and strengthening the muscles that surround the spine.  The compound intensity of the squat provides a strong hormonal response in the body. Want to see those abs and look good naked? Squat. Want to run faster or jump higher? Squat. The motor recruitment in the squat translates to all athletic endeavors.

There are lots of great strategies to improve your squat. Changing things up with continuous variation in squatting exercises drives progress.. There are many different variables we can work on for the squat. Here are 10 ways that I have found very effective:

1) Increase your Technique

Work on accessing the most powerful part of your body, the posterior chain (Glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors of the back) by sitting back as far as possible and keeping your weight on your heels. Doing squats to a box is great for this. Drive your knees out apart and away from each other to get better depth and engagement through the hips.

2) Increase Your Flexibility

Practice squatting below parallel with various stances and bar positions. For instance try a high bar squat (supported on the traps) with a more narrow stance. This is very applicable to Olympic lifting as well. Then try a wider stance with a low bar position (across the shoulders).  This is more of a hip and back intensive squat. You will find that differentiating positions recruits into different muscle groups and requires varying types of flexibility.

3) Fortify Your Back

The spinal column is your transmission for applying force in the squat. The erectors of the lumbar spine are one of the most important muscle groups for maintaining a safe and strong position the core, as well as promoting lifelong back health. Strengthen the muscles of the back with deadlifts, hip extensions and good mornings. Work on the upper back with bent over rows and pull-ups.

4) Train Your belly

The abdominals are critical for creating pressure around the spine for support. Train the abs with sit-ups (weighted and unweighted), Turkish getups, yoke walks and overhead squats.

5) Lift Heavy

Try to perform reps at 90% of 1 rep max or higher for  3-5 sets and 1-2 reps once per week.

6) Lift Fast

Try speed days where you lower the weight to 50-70% of your 1 rep max and move for as much speed as possible. You can try this for 8-10 sets of 2-3 reps once a week.

7) Use Dynamic Resistance

Vary the resistance at the top and bottom of the squat by hooking up bands or chains or both (most badass) to the barbell. Work at 50-60% or 1 rep max and use this as a speed day.

8) Increase your athleticism

Become athletic and explosive through the use of the Olympic lifts (snatch and clean & jerk) and plyometrics. This will help you develop your coordination, agility, balance, power and flexibility along with your strength training.

9) Do some bodybuilding accessory work for the legs

Try some accessory exercises for 3 sets of 10 for muscle of the legs such as lunges and hamstring curls.

Barbell Lunges and Banded Hamstring curls are great accessory exercises. 

10) Increase Your Recovery

  • Incorporate the use of stretching, foam rolling, message and chiropractic work. Get 8-10 hours of sleep. Eat clean whole foods. Use ice baths and hot/cold contrast therapy and reduce inflammation and promote circulation and healing of the body.
  • There are few movements that can get you total body results quicker than squatting. If your squat is going up, chances are there are lots of other capacities that will rise with it. Try some of these strategies and apply them to your training program because after all “The squat is king!”
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