Getting RAW About Squatting



1.       PRACTICE!
Despite what Allen Iverson said, it is imperative to practice your technique! I use the same steps from the lightest warm-up to the heaviest work set when I train. Perfect practice doesmake perfect lifting. It’s critical that you don’t just go through the paces of training each day. Mentally prepare yourself for every single session, set and rep. I appreciate how Louie Simmons encourages lifters to treat their dynamic sets as if they were true max sets in a meet. Do this religiously and half the battle is won as a champion squatter.

2.       CONTROL THE MOVEMENT.
It is clear there is some misunderstanding  about the speed of movement that is witnessed by equipped lifters because of how slow they go. Some people think this it means a raw lifter should be the opposite, with a faster descent. I disagree, but I don’t think you need to make it a five-count negative. I think a nice 3-4 count once the judge gives you the “squat” command works very well. This allows you to stay totally in control of the lift, to better find your depth and have the explosive power to come out of the hole. The faster you go, the harder you have to reverse the momentum. A high-speed “suicide squat” will eventually K.O. your powerlifting career! Somewhere you need to find the speed that works for you to be the most efficient, so be sure to practice.

3.       FIND THE BEST STANCE.
The stance is potentially the most debated part of squatting, period. I have been told that if I spread my feet out really wide I would be unstoppable. Well, that sounds great, but the application just doesn’t work for me. I am very comfortable being a shoulder width stance squatter. I have large quads so it stands to reason that I use effective leverages to be optimal in my lift. Some of the misunderstanding on stance has also been predicated due to equipped lifters that stand extremely wide. Equipment is going to protect the hips to a greater degree than without any, just as it does so for the knees. It makes little sense to copy someone if you are not using the same methods and equipment.  Based on my personal experience and coaching numerous lifters, I recommend that raw squatters use a shoulder width stance to start with along with the toes pointed out around 45 degrees. The recommended starting stance is your base to tweak and adjust during practice to see what is optimal and comfortable.

One great tip for finding the correct stance for your structure is to sit on the end of a flat bench with your feet flat and spread at hip width. Attempt to stand up without leaning forward at all. By doing this, you will quickly find that if your stance is too close you lean forward excessively. Picture that same movement with 400 lbs. on your back and imagine how badly you’ll pitch forward. As you gradually spread your feet and do this over and over, you’ll find the stance where you can easily stand without leaning forward at all – that’s the ideal stance spread for you. Likewise, if you spread your feet extremely wide, you’ll find that you start to lean forward again.

Legs built from lots of squats!
Here are my favorite squatting exercises:
1.       Safety Bar Squats
2.       Pause Squats
3.       Anderson Front Squats
4.       Reverse Band Squats

Despite what others state I think volume is needed for raw lifters to build strength.  I personally like variations like:
Week 1: 3 sets of 10 reps (7-8 RPE)
Weeks 2: 3 sets of 7 reps (7-8 RPE)
Week 3: 3 sets of 5 reps (8 RPE)
Week 4: 3 sets of 3 reps (8-9 RPE)
Week 5: Deload

Now I did leave you hanging a bit about the guess work for the intensity level of the weights to move.  I like using the RPE concept to self-assess where you are THAT DAY in your training.  RPE stands for the rate of perceived exertion.  So basically it means how hard the lift was to complete.

A simple RPE chart would state:
10: Maximal, no reps left in the tank
9: Last rep is tough but still one rep left in the tank
8: Weight is too heavy to maintain fast bar speed but isn’t a struggle; 2–4 reps left
7: Weight moves quickly when maximal force is applied to the weight; “speed weight”
6: Light speed work; moves quickly with moderate force
5: Most warm-up weights
4: Recovery; usually 20 plus rep sets; not hard but intended to flush the muscle

Don’t get so caught up on the numbers of what you lifter while ignoring how you feel.  Let’s face it, some days lifting just stinks!  Just shoot for your RPE range even if it means you dropped some weight to do it.  IF you have consistent workouts of 3 or more of failing with feeling like yourself DELOAD immediately and consider a break.

Once a week focus on one squatting movement while doing simple 3-5 sets of 5 reps as assistance work for another squatting movement.  I might focus my squatting on the safety bar for my main lift while adding in some pause squats for my easier sets of 5.  Obviously power squats and Olympic squats should be utilized regularly as well.

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