Have you ever tried to get stronger in the back squat? If so, you know that it’s difficult and that’s the reason why most people are frustrated because they simply just don’t see the results they want to see.
How To Get A Stronger Back Squat
One day one of my athletes came to me and asked me ‘How do I get stronger in the back squat?’ and he already had the ready-made answer ‘Shall I add some extra Split Squats or Leg Press? Or just add a few isolated exercises for the legs, such as leg curls or leg extensions?’
I replied to him, that there is a fundamental principle in sport and training which is called ‘SAID’ and this abbreviation stands for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. It’s a very simple principle, but often forgotten or not applied and it basically says, you will get better at what you train (remember the story of Milo).
In practice, if you want to get stronger in the back squat, you need to back squat. Considering we are squatting in almost every session, whether it’s back squats, front squats or a single legged variation of the squats, he wasn’t very satisfied with the answer.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple and easy to just squat and everything is fine, there needs to be a purpose and a plan of attack; and the first step is to detect which is the weakest point in the whole movement that prevents you from lifting more weight?
How to detect weak areas in the back squat and how to attack them
The easiest way for a skilled-coaches eye is to look at the movement and the weak spot becomes evident towards the end of a set, when exhaustion kicks in or during maximal lifts or near maximal lifts, because then you will see where the biggest struggle is, the so-called sticking point.
If we are talking about a full back squat, which is at a knee angle of 60 degrees in the bottom position and the crease of the hip being lower than the knee, we can divide the back squat movement into three parts. The bottom position, when you are in the full squat, the mid position and the end position, when you are fully extended.
If your sticking point is in the lowest position, you will realize that through, that you either are not able to get up at all or you start the accent by shooting the hips. A possible training intervention for this scenario is to add paused back squats, where the bottom position is held for 2 to 3 seconds. Another possible training intervention is 1,5 (one and a half) repetitions, where you decent into the full squat, come half way up, decent back into the full squat and then get back up fully. This is counted as one repetition, but you are effectively two times in the bottom position. For the majority of athletes the sticking point is in the lowest position, simply because the body is in a mechanically weak position.
If your sticking point is in the mid position, you will realize that it takes you a lot of effort to get through the mid part. A possible training intervention for this scenario is to train or add back squats with accommodated resistance to the strength training program. This can be done with chains or resistance bands. The idea of accommodated resistance is that it accommodates to the natural strength curve (of exercises with an ascending strength curve like the squat or bench press), where strength increases throughout the movement (weakest in bottom position, strongest in top position). To see accommodating resistance in action, have a look here. By trend, a few athletes have their sticking point in the mid position.
If your sticking point is in the top position, you will just not be able to lock out the movement. A possible training intervention for this scenario is to train or add heavy half back squats or quarter back squats. Half back squats are referred to a knee angle of 90 – 100 degrees in the bottom position and quarter back squats to a knee angle of 120 or more degrees in the bottom position. Rarely athletes have their sticking point in the top position, even though there are always exceptions to the rule.
How Many Reps in a Back Squat
First and foremost, it’s worth mentioning that the back squat is a pretty robust exercise when it comes to repetition schemes as opposed to the front Squat or Overhead Squat.
As an applied example the Overhead Squat just doesn’t allow for higher repetitions, because the upper body is the weakest link and it becomes difficult for the arms and wrists to keep the bar over your head. The same applies to the Front Squat, where the bar tends to slide down the shoulders the more repetitions you do.
The Back Squat on the other hand allows you to do high repetitions, as demonstrated in this video