Sunday, October 8, 2017

Four Great Max Effort Movements for Squats

I'm going to be honest here, squats have been my nemesis for the entire time I've been lifting. This isn't because I can't hit depth, or because I'm just afraid of the bar. I have just always struggled to improve my squat numbers. Fairly recently, I decided to start running my take on the Conjugate (Concurrent) training system. I don't seek to call it Westside, it's just what I'm doing that's working incredibly well for me. In the hours I spent really digging in researching for this I had an incredibly hard time trying to get actual options for Max Effort and Dynamic Effort lifts.

Due to that struggle I thought it would be a good idea to do a series on Max, Repetition, and Dynamic Effort exercises that work well for each of the main lifts. If you want/need more information on the methods and how I run it you can find it here. As far as movements are concerned, as little of a change as moving your feet out wider is enough to vary the stimulus and avoid staleness, as such a wide stance squat is considered a different movement than a close stance squat, but I will not be going over variations like that because then we'd need 24 movements.

1. Anderson Squats
This variation is the Squatting equivalent of a Pin Press. You start from a dead stop with the bar resting on the safeties of your squat/power rack or your squat stand, and you stand up with it. If you've never done these, don't run them for only three weeks, run them for six so that you'll be able to get the most out of them. This variation takes a lot of getting used to, but it improves your strength at the bottom of the squat immensely and teaches you how to maintain position at the bottom of a squat.

  • Builds strength at the bottom of a squat (You know, the hard part)
  • Improves your ability to maintain position
  • Also helps build your off the floor strength with the Deadlift
  • Is typically going to be 80-85% of your regular squat max
  • Can be used in between overload cycles to rest the joints and passive structures

2. Plate Hanging Squats
This variation of Squats like everything you hate about "functional training" except done right. This variation has plates hanging from the bar attached to bands, causing them to wobble and bounce. This sounds terrible in idea, but from experience they are great in practice. Your feet are still planted firmly on the ground so with patience and focus you can use these to build your trunk very well. The amount of forced focus is great for dialing in your technique and forcing you to take care of energy leaks that you have, because every leak or technical flaw is made. I like using this variation in the cycle leading up to the one using your regular squat stance/variation, because it makes the regular version feel easy.

  • Builds trunk strength
  • Forces concentration on technique
  • Improves your ability to overcome a bad start

3. Box Squats
Box Squats are synonymous with powerlifting, particularly geared powerlifting. This doesn't mean that they aren't good for improving your free squat without gear. The Box Squat has several advantages that can't be ignored:

  • You can adjust height, which means that you can train sticking points, depth, or for overload.
  • You can use it to indicate depth.
  • You can use it to train Rate of Force Development by pausing on the box.
  • You can use it to train yourself to stay tight in the hole (bottom) of the movement by pausing.
  • Frequency can be higher with Box Squats because they are easier on recovery than free squats are.
This makes them very versatile. This also means that you can use them for multiple variations within a cycle if you want to. 

4. Squats
I'm the king of saying the obvious, but I have seen squats get misplaced in training programs before. The reason I'm mentioning it is because there are plenty of different variations on regular squats that I want to make sure the toolbox is wide open.

  • Low Bar for max weight and more hip involvement.
  • High Bar for more knee and core involvement.
  • Wide Stance for more abductor and hip involvement.
  • Close Stance for more adductor and quadriceps involvement.
Bonus! Zercher Squats
For the crazy among you, there's a variation of squats that sits squarely between Squats and Deadlifts and this is the Zercher Squat. The reason it's between a Squat and a Deadlift is because with the weight in the crux of your elbows the weight is between where it would be for either. The Zercher Squat has a few very helpful benefits besides building pain tolerance:
  • Builds your upperback and erectors, meaning that it builds your shelf and the muscles responsible for keeping your back straight during a heavy squat.
  • Can be done without special equipment like a Safety Squat or Cambered Bar.
  • Due to where the weight is, the spinal compression is lower than with other squat variations.
  • Builds your ability to fight your way back from being in a bad position.
  • Builds midshin strength for the deadlift.
Putting it all Together
  • Use Anderson Squats for building strength at the bottom of a squat, and starting strength in the deadlift.
  • Use plate hanging Squats for building strength in the midsection.
  • You can use Box Squats for a variety of purposes depending on your needs.
  • Regular Squats are a must. 
  • Use Zercher Squats if you're crazy, or are in need of upper-back strength.

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