Stuck in a rut? If you exercise regularlybut can’t ﬁgure out how to smashplateaus, you’re in the right place.This plan, by IFBB ﬁtness pro Fiona Harris,will trim inches off your thighs, tone and sculptyour arms, perk up your glute-ham tie-in,and create deﬁnition like your Insta-idol@NicoleMWilkins. By manipulating variablessuch as intensity and frequency andincorporating different training techniques—like heavy/low-rep and light/high-frequencybody-part splits, plus cardio, HIIT, andplyometrics—you WILL keep your bodyprogressing right to the top.
Name: Karina Baymiller
Occupation(s): Team Bodybuilding.com; Cellucor athlete; ACSM Personal trainer
When I first picked up weights a few years ago, maximal lifting wasn’t even on my radar. I ran around in circles with my 10-pound dumbbells, completely unaware that I was missing out on an entire world of fitness.
In the world of 1RM strength, you set specific goals and work for weeks or months to inch closer to them. You push your body to its limits to achieve a triumph that only lasts a couple of seconds. But you also get rewarded with a rush unlike anything else. It’s a great world to be a part of, and it’s changed the entire way I view health and fitness.
I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on heavy lifting—yet. But I’ve still learned some important lessons along the way, and I’m confident you’ll find them just as helpful as I did. If you’re looking to find your numbers or move them up into uncharted territory, here are five rules you need to take to heart.
1 Train Systematically
Why Bother With Maximal Lifts?
- Heavy weight is instructive. You can cheat your way through a 10RM, but not a 1RM!
- Going for an occasional PR helps you to separate your training into phases.
- Stronger muscles are more efficient muscles. Having more strength in reserve will boost your endurance and athleticism in surprising ways.
- Big numbers take time to achieve, but they feel great when you achieve them.
- In life, and in the gym, there’s no substitute for brutal strength when you really need it.
- For fun!
If you’re currently training in the 10-20 rep range and have limited experience with anything less—think 3-8 difficult reps—then you aren’t ready for a 1RM test. Attempting a max test when you’re mentally and physically unprepared is a bad idea. You’re just setting yourself up for failure.
I highly suggest using a program that trains specifically for the kind of intensity you’ll find in a 1RM test. I used Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 system successfully for several months before getting a more personalized powerlifting training program from the Strength Guys. Trust me, proper programming makes all the difference both in terms of performance and safety. Squatting 3 reps at 85 percent 1RM is an entirely different ballgame than doing 15 reps on the leg press. Programs like 5/3/1, the Westside System, or Stronglifts 5×5 will prepare you for the intensity that lies ahead.
If you’re unsure of your max or haven’t yet had the chance to test it, I suggest using a 1RM calculator initially. Just enter your best lift, and it does the work for you. The heavier the weight and the lower the number of reps, the more accurate the calculator is. For example, 200 pounds for 5 reps is more accurate than 150 pounds for 9 reps. Nothing is as accurate as actually getting under the bar and testing your 1RM—preferably with some supervision from somebody who’s done it many times—but, these calculators can give you a sufficient idea of what your max should be. You’ll need that number in order for the percentage-based training of strength programs to be effective.
2 Learn How To Get in the Right Headspace
Testing your 1RM requires a serious amount of intensity and concentration. You won’t be frolicking in the land of unicorns, bunnies, and rainbows here. To be honest, testing your 1RM sucks. It usually hurts physically, and it always challenges your body’s idea of what is “possible.” Putting that kind of stress on your body is more than just a physical trial, though. It’s a mental one, too. Before you step up to a barbell to try for your max lift, you need to be a master of these three skills:
If you find your mind in 35 different places and none of them are at the gym with the bar, it’s not the day to test your max. There may be no such thing as the perfect day, but there are optimal conditions that give you a shot at hitting your best numbers. You want to be present and composed with mental clarity. Your focus should be on one thing and one thing only: moving that heavy weight.
Visualize yourself easily pulling your deadlift max. Then see yourself adding some more weight and pulling again with ease. Picture your bench max going up without a hitch. Visualizing not only gives your confidence a much needed boost before you tackle your lift, but it can also actually improve motor performance, making your 1RM attempt a major success.
Not everybody needs music in order to get into a PR headspace, but for many of us, it’s crucial. Listening to music during a training session has been proven to improve performance; it can also be a great boost of motivation when you’re aiming to venture into uncharted waters. Some people like screamo heavy metal to get their blood pumping, and others prefer electronic music, jazz, or film soundtracks to help calm their mind and set the scene for an epic triumph. Whatever works for you, do it!
3 Embrace The Routine
Everyone has their own way of getting ready for a max. Some people do a specific number of warm-up sets, and some people listen to a particular playlist or eat a particular meal. Find a routine that works for you and stick with it. For people who haven’t yet had the chance to take a 1RM, this is what I suggest the first time around:
An extensive warm-up process is essential to get an accurate 1RM and prevent injury. I start with some basic mobility work, taking my joints through a full range of motion, and then I move to my warm-up sets.
Get heavy slowly
Opinions vary about which rep scheme to use as you work up to a heavy weight. Your program or coach might have a specific way of doing this; if so, follow it. Here’s the routine that I like to follow when testing my max or going for a PR.
- Bar x 10
- 50% x 5
- 60% x 3
- 70% x 2
- 80% x 1
- 90% x 1
- 95% x 1
- 1RM attempt
High reps don’t have a place on max day. I want to know that I can push or pull heavy weight, which is why I perform several sets of a single rep as I get closer to my max. Each of these reps boosts my confidence and prepares me mentally and physically for the pinnacle lift.
No matter how you choose to arrange your warm-up sets, they should fully prepare your muscles, joints, and central nervous system for the lift ahead. I always leave at least 2-3 minutes of rest between my warm-sets, and then I give myself an extra minute or two as I get closer to my max attempt.
“High reps don’t have a place on max day. I want to know that I can push or pull heavy weight.”
4 Find a spotter
I like to train alone. If you see me in the gym, my headphones are usually in, my hat is down low, and I have a leave-me-alone-until-I’m-done look on my face. On max day, it’s a different story. It’s crucial that you have someone spotting your bench max, unless getting pinned under a barbell sounds like your idea of a good time.
Utilizing a spotter on squat max testing isn’t always necessary, particularly if you squat in a rack with safety bars. If I’m testing my squat, I generally use the safety bars for warm-up sets and then grab the most experienced lifter I can find to spot me for my max attempt. Pulling a random spotter off the gym floor isn’t something that I mind doing, but if this is something you’re uncomfortable doing, bring a friend you trust to put your nerves at ease. And maybe have them read up on the rules of spotting first.
There’s no way to spot a deadlift physically, since you either pull the bar off the ground or you don’t. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invite a mental or emotional spotter along for the ride. If you feel like having someone yell “light weight!” in a Ronnie Coleman voice would help you move a heavy weight, then by all means make sure they’re there!
5 Make Your PR A Lift Like Any Other
The time has come. You’ve been training for this moment for months. You’ve done your warm-up sets, you’re focused and ready, and now it’s go time. All of your prior training has led you to this moment. Scary, right?
“I’m nervous, I’m pumped, I’m motivated, and I want to do something I’ve never done before.”
I’m always a mixed bag of emotions right before my lift, but I think that’s what carries me through and gives me the best possible lift. I’m nervous, I’m pumped, I’m motivated, and I want to do something I’ve never done before. Somewhere in that mess of emotions, I usually just say “Enough! I’m ready to do this,” and then I go for it.
Aside from this inevitable dialog, though, the mechanics of a max attempt should be the same as all the other lifts you practiced up until this point. This isn’t the time to do a quarter-rep or forget to engage your lats when you deadlift. As you visualize your lift, you should be taking note of form and remembering all your normal cues. A max lift where you injure yourself in the process doesn’t count in my book.
After your initial attempt is complete, step back and assess. How do you feel? How did the lift go? Are you ready for more, or did it take everything out of you? I like to keep going until I either miss a lift or know there’s no logical way I can get that weight back up. But many people will stop after one, and that’s fine.
If you feel like you’re ready to conquer another max attempt, I suggest giving yourself 7-10 minutes of rest before you step up to the bar again. Add no more than 5-10 pounds to the bar; don’t get greedy. Even if you leave that second or third max attempt unrealized, you should feel damn good about what you accomplish!
6 Don’t Overthink It
I’m often guilty of beating myself up after the fact. Did I eat too much? Too little? Could I have done another rep? Should I have done more weight? We all do it. When you’re completely invested in something—like so many of us in the world of health and fitness are—you want to be perfect.
But when you’re waging war against big numbers and percentages, there’s nothing to be gained by harboring regrets. Nagging doubts and questions can take over your brain and prevent you from improving, but just as importantly, they can keep you from enjoying an important victory.
The best possible advice I can give you is to let go. At no time is that more crucial than during and after your 1RM attempt. If you walk up to the bar wondering if you’re going to miss, or questioning your preparation, or revisiting the failed lifts of the past, you’ve already lost. You just have to go for it.
You’re ready. It’s time to believe in yourself. Pick up that weight and show the bar who’s boss.
Recommended For You
Having trouble ripping that iron off of the ground? Clean up your deadlift and hit a new PR with these five tips from a strong fitness model!
Karina Baymiller may have had 6-pack abs, but she wasn’t happy. Learn how she let go of her obsession with image and built a healthier, happier, stronger body and mind!
This article will explain exactly how to conduct one-repetition-maximum testing and suggest ways in which test results can be applied across a range of training objectives.
When leg day rolls around, is it better to train more like a bodybuilder or an athlete? If you’re asking yourself this question (meaning you’re undecided), perhaps the answer is both. Bodybuilders train their quads for maximal hypertrophy, while football and basketball players are more interested in developing explosive power to enhance speed and jumping ability.
Big exercises build big arms. You can isolate your biceps and triceps as often as you’d like with low-weight exercises like kickbacks and concentration curls, but it’s compound moves, using heavy loads, that will make your arms grow. Take a look at the workout below. The first exercises you’ll see on each training day are relatively big arm movements like weighted bench dips, skull crushers, and barbell curls. The lighter stuff comes last, when your arms are too spent to do much more
Name: Danny Kavadlo
From: New York, NY
Occupation: Trainer, author, progressive calisthenics specialist
Just about everyone I know who’s ever trained seriously, in almost any discipline, has focused in on their abs at one point or another. I know I have. There’s no denying that abs are a core (pun intended) component of perceived physical perfection, so it’s pointless to resist. Almost every magazine cover, advertisement, and billboard shows images of chiseled abs. “Ideal” waistlines have gone in and out over the years, but as a culture, we continue to celebrate abs more than ever.
Beyond that, abdominal training is simply important to all types of athletes. You use your abs every time you lift, twist, or even stand up. A powerful set of abs, along with a strong, balanced physique are big parts of the formula for overall physical health. And to everyone who says “visible abs aren’t necessarily strong abs,” I answer: That may be true, but I can still recognize a strong set when I see one.
Still, as this site and many others are happy to point out for you, you can’t train your way out of a poor diet. While there is an extraordinary amount of conflicting “expert” testimony when it comes to proper nutrition, there are tried-and-true techniques that millions of abs—sixes of millions of them, in fact—can agree on. They might blow your mind or they might be old news, but listen up either way. If you’re not following them, then it probably shows.
1 Fire It Up
First things first: You need to be aware of what you eat. The best way to do this is to prepare as many of your own meals as possible. When you cook for yourself, you can stay on top of exactly what every single ingredient is, and how much you use in preparation. The more knowledge and power you have the better.
When consuming foods made by others, you don’t know much for certain, and particularly when you dine out. Many times, even when prepared by “healthy” restaurants, meals are often served in oversized proportions and laden with gratuitous amounts of empty calories and chemicals. I’ve seen salads and sides that boast more than 1,000 calories per serving. No one will get abs eating like that on a regular basis.
2 Go Green
A lot of folks think I eat nothing but pull-up bars and tattoo ink. They’d be surprised to see how many leafy greens I consume on a daily basis. Everyone knows that green vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins, nutrients, calcium, and dietary fiber, but many don’t realize what a large role eating foods like spinach, kale and broccoli can have in sculpting amazing abs.
“People who have problems with self-control and portion size can’t go wrong when it comes to greens, which can be consumed virtually whenever you want.”
Greens, along with most vegetables, are extremely low in caloric intake. People who have problems with self-control and portion size can’t go wrong when it comes to greens, which can be consumed virtually whenever you want. Load two thirds of your dinner plate with veggies, and you’ll fill up with quality nutrition and decrease the temptation to make sketchier choices.
3 Avoid Processed Sugar
If you consume extra sugar and don’t metabolize it quickly, it will be stored as fat. Many of us, men in particular, tend to store this fat on our bellies. Clearly, a diet high in sugar will hinder you on your quest to a six-pack.
Processed sugar is among your abs’ greatest foes. By this, I am not just referring to white table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, but to just about any product where everything has been removed but the sugar. This includes “raw” and “natural” sugars, not to mention many other misleadingly labeled sweeteners on the market, including such as “nectars,” “syrups,” and “cane juice.”
The natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables do not fall into this category; they have never been processed and are un-stripped of their natural fiber. They therefore metabolize slowly over time. An apple is not only sweet, it’s filling and free of processed sugar, making it a great snack for ultimate abs.
4 Drink More Water
One of the worst things about sugar is that it’s added to virtually everything. While it’s obvious that beverages like cocktails and soda will stand in the way of the quest for abs, many well-intentioned individuals still drink their sugar unknowingly in the form of flavored waters, sweetened iced teas, fruit juices, coffee drinks, and other treats. These products should be consumed minimally, if at all.
“Water improves metabolic rate and digestion, which helps you get leaner.”
Make it a habit to look at ingredients and nutritional information and take nothing for granted. Drinks are not always what they seem! A glass of orange juice has more than 100 calories and 20 grams of sugar. Water has none. The importance of taking in adequate H2O cannot be overstated.
Water also improves metabolic rate and digestion, which helps you get leaner. It hydrates and moisturizes, increasing your skin’s suppleness and enhancing your abs’ appearance. Furthermore, water removes toxins and reduces aches and pains, helping you train harder and recover faster.
5 Eat Less
There are many paths one can take in the quest toward ultimate abs. Lots of diets and eating styles have the potential to help you get lean, and I’m not here to tell you why one is better than another. But here’s a thought: Although there is no single weight-loss method universally proven to work perfectly for everyone in all situations, simply eating less comes close!
Having a ripped six pack requires having low body fat: 10 percent or less for men as a general standard, and 20 percent or less for women. A number like that simply is not attained without good old-fashioned restraint. Assuming you’re like most of us, if you want to show off that hard-earned definition, you will simply have to eat less. There is no way around it.
6 Live Life
Practicing restraint is one thing. Subjecting yourself to deprivation is another. The line between them is one you have to find for yourself, but a system that leaves you constantly wanting more will inevitably leave you dissatisfied. Long-term deprivation can lead to a backlash of bad habits, and usually counter-productive. I think it’s best to have a healthful, holistic approach to training and life. Look at the big picture. Food is meant to be enjoyed, and with the right mindset, you can do so and have your abs, too.
“Each one of us is a product of our own day-to-day habits. If you eat well 80-90 percent of the time, there is no reason you can’t indulge occasionally.”
Each one of us is a product of our own day-to-day habits. If you eat well 80-90 percent of the time, there is no reason you can’t indulge occasionally. This principle is true for desserts, “cheat” meals if you’re inclined to call them that, and even Thanksgiving dinners. They’re all fine because they’re occasional. Just make sure to be honest and hold yourself accountable; it’s not a “cheat” if you do it every day.
If you have good eating habits, there’s almost nothing you’ll have to avoid 100 percent of the time. This will leave you and your six-pack abs free to live happily ever after together. Keep the dream alive!
Recommended For You
Who cares how big your forearms are if they can’t get the job done? Build strength you can use with these five grip-building techniques!
All too often, life won’t wait for you to finish your 12-week program. Keep strong wherever you go with these resourceful full-body lifts!
A stacked gym with every fitness tool known to man looks cool, but how much of it are you really going to use? Keep these three fundamentals at home, and rest easy knowing you can get strong no matter what!
Just about every Muscle & Fitness reader knows that tobuild cannonball delts, you need to start with heavy presses followed by an isolation exercise for each of the three deltoid heads. Astute readers even cycle the order in which they train each deltoid head from one workout to the next, knowing that the move that comes first will be trained harder as energy levels and focus are higher earlier in the workout.This workout takes that training philosophy one step further for hardcore gains. After a pair ofcompound moves, you’’ll do two shoulder exercises back-to-back for the targeted deltoid head (Shoulder Workout No. 1focuses on the front head,Workout No. 2the middle andWorkout No.
It takes a lot of work to get a rock-hard body. But it’s not just about putting in time at the gym. As Brazilian bombshell Muri Rodrigues knows, beauty and fitness come from the inside out. Rodrigues, who attracted a large international following through the popular Brazilian TV show Legendario, is currently a spokesmodel for MuscleMeds Performance Nutrition and for Nutri Import, the largest distributor in Brazil of the supplement brand. Her work has brought her around the world, providing nutrition, exercise, and supplement advice to thousands of fans
Name: Lee Boyce
Occupation: Owner of Boyce Training Systems.
Hit the health club on any given Monday, and you might think there’s an audition in progress for a new episode of “Maury Povich” about the bench press and the men who love it. After all, what better way could there be to start the week than getting under a loaded barbell and pushing it for all you’re worth?
Well, I can think of a couple, but that’s for another article. Look, I understand the allure of the bench press. It’s the ultimate glamour movement in the gym for men, and it’s also a great movement for upper-body size and strength.
The problem is that most people gauge their success only by benching as much weight as possible, and they disregard the crucial setup process and downplay the importance of form to perform the lift correctly. This ends up creating a lot more ex-benchers than strong benchers.
Don’t let your favorite lift beat you down. Use these tried and true techniques to skyrocket your bench and blast off to new levels of mass and strength!
Lee Boyce On Proper Bench Press Technique
Watch The Video – 04:43
Upper back exercises are crucial for making the bench press pain-free, stable, and strong. As I mentioned in the video above, the bench press places stress on the shoulder blades and four rotator cuff muscles that originate on the scapula. Having the ability to keep the scapular muscles nice and tight is a key to stability for any pushing movement.
I program my back workouts before my chest workouts whenever I’m isolating specific body parts. This ensures that the back muscles get sore, tight, and are limited in range of motion and flexibility to help fix the shoulder blades on chest day. On a full-body workout, I pull before I push.
Make sure the following exercises are included in your back training day to really build scapular stability and strength:
If building big bench is important for you, you need to get scientific about it. Break down your lift and figure out where you’re weakest, and then focus on turning that weakness into a strength.
Barbell Bench Press
In most cases, a lifter going for a max-effort rep hits a wall or reaches a sticking point around the halfway point coming off the chest. If this is you, it means you lack lockout strength. Luckily, there are many great exercises to help you improve this sticking point.
Use a barbell or two dumbbells and lay flat on the floor with the weight in the bench press bottom position. The elbows will be on the floor and the weight around six inches off the chest.
Keep your upper back tight and shoulders retracted. Breathe in, drive the weight up to full-extension at the arm, and keep the legs held together and straight on the ground. Pause at the bottom of each rep. Perform 3 sets of 8 reps.
Set up a bench inside a squat rack to create a bench press station. Position the safety pins 4-6 inches above your chest. Lay the bar on the pins and position your body under it. Assume your preferred bench press grip and drive the bar to the top position.
After lockout, lower the bar quickly to the pins. This exercise allows you to focus on max effort. Due to the lack of eccentric control, you’ll have more juice in the tank to lift.
Give yourself a couple seconds between reps to get tight and reset your body. Perform this exercise for 3 sets of 3-6 reps.
Attaching chains to the bench press makes the load heavier as you progress through the concentric portion of a rep. It’s a great way to make your triceps do more work during lockout.
In rare circumstances, the sticking point happens at the bottom of the lift, which indicates that chest and shoulder strength is a weak link from a biomechanical perspective. Implementing starting strength exercises can help exponentially with this issue.
Bent over barbell row
Starting Strength Exercises
On the bench press, lower the weight slowly and pause for at least one second on the chest. Remember to stay tight during the rep without slackening your grip or exhaling. You won’t be able to lift as much weight as usual with this method, so lower the weight to 80 percent of the normal amount you can lift for reps.
This exercise cuts off the stretch reflex so you can’t use momentum at the bottom of the lift. Momentum tricks your chest into thinking that it’s performing well, when in reality, it’s nothing more than kinetic force that propels the weight out of the hole.
Pause reps are a staple in competitive powerlifting routines everywhere.
One and a half reps are my favorite way to improve chest activity in a bench press. Ensure that you’re set up correctly and lower the bar to your chest like normal.
Press the bar off the chest to the halfway point, where you have a 90-degree angle at the elbow. Lower the bar to the chest again and drive the bar to the top for one rep. Repeat for 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps.
The science behind this madness is simple: For every rep of 1.5s, you’re doing 2 reps with just the chest and 1 rep with the triceps at lockout. At the end of a set, your chest will have done twice as much work than your triceps.
Like most physical activities, if you want to improve at something, you must practice it. Building a stronger bench press happens in part from benching frequently. Make like the Bulgarians and up your weekly volume—without going overboard, of course!
Boyce Post-Workout Burnout! Bench Press 225×15
Watch The Video – 01:11
Post-workout burnout sets are money when it comes to adding benching volume. At the end of every isolation workout, do a couple quick warm-up bench press sets and then perform a burnout set with 60 percent of your max. Rep it out until failure for one big set.
Here’s a video of me doing a post-workout burnout set after a long Olympic lifting workout. My max is around 345 pounds, so 225 pounds is about 65 percent of my max.
Recommended For You
Strength coaches Tony Gentilcore, Dean Somerset, Lee Boyce, and Todd Bumgardner offer their best deadlifting cues. Rip the barbell from the ground!
Thinking about abandoning your fitness goals? Strength coaches Tony Gentilcore, Dean Somerset, Lee Boyce, and Todd Bumgardner can help you train hard and heavy for life.
Lunges are vastly underutilized strength training weapons capable of producing big gains. Harness their advantages to strengthen your quads, glutes, and hamstrings!
In many serious lifters’ playbook, the squat is the go-to lift for developing serious lower body strength and size. It no doubt gets the job done, but as with all exercises, there will come a point where you feel like you’ve hit a ceiling. You know you should be able to move more weight around, but your muscles just don’t seem to cooperate. At times like these, a temporary vacation from the same-old squat routine is in order.
Don’t worry, after you try one or several of these tried-and-true techniques, you can always come back to the squat variations you know and love best. In most cases, you’ll be stronger and more balanced when you do.
1 Try Single Leg Variations
It’s amazing how simply shifting the work from two legs to one leg can exponentially crank up the difficulty. You might think, “Ok, I’ll just squat half of the heavy load I’ve been moving in a back squat,” but in most cases, you’ll find that weight laughing at you the first time you try it.
The increased balance demands of single-leg squat variations make them highly difficult to the unaccustomed, but they are worth it! Stick with them until you find your footing. Unilateral exercises also confer additional benefits in correcting side-to-side muscular imbalances, which many people find to be a key to building even greater bilateral (two-leg) strength.
While there are many one-legged squat moves to choose from, my somewhat unorthodox recommendation for you, if you struggle to improve a barbell back squat, is to try the pistol squat. Tread lightly! Even bodyweight pistol squats can be extremely difficult for most lifters, at least in the beginning. The initial instability produces more muscle engagement, and the high level of muscle control this exercise demands may initially force you to hold onto something for balance. There’s no shame in that, I promise!
In the beginning, perform this exercise with bodyweight only until you can safely and confidently hit six consecutive reps. After you’ve done this for a while with good form, you can start adding weights, either by holding a dumbbell plate, a kettlebell, or a couple of light dumbbells held straight out in front of you. Once you can perform 6 good-form reps with a weight between 25 and 45 pounds in your arms, you should see a notable improvement in every other lower-body lift.
2 Spread Out
In a standard back squat, most experts would direct you to point your feet straight forward, or perhaps ever-so-slightly outward. A small adjustment in your foot position, they know, can cause a significant shift in the muscles that are worked.
Following that logic, try this on for size: Spread your feet slightly past shoulder-width and point your toes outward at a 45-degree angle. This adjusted position is called the sumo squat , and it will develop strength and mobility of the hips, adductors, and glutes to a greater extent than a narrow-stance squat.
Some people may find this position to be more comfortable for their individual body, and it becomes their go-to squat. That’s great for them, but make sure you do it right before you fall in love. Ensure that your knees don’t spill too far over your toes when you drop it low. And, perhaps even more importantly, don’t flare your knees inward as you bottom out. Get them out wide over your toes!
3 Pause At the Bottom
Are ya ready to feel your quads and buns burn? Try pausing at the bottom of any squatting movement. This applies to front squats, back squats, pistols, and all other variations you see in the gym. This pause eliminates the stretch reflex in the muscles, and thereby forces the muscle to generate more “true” force to be able to complete the squat.
What do I mean by “true?” At the bottom of a deep squat, the stretch in your hamstrings and adductors helps you bounce out of the hole to some degree, even if it doesn’t look like a “bounce” per se. Envision pulling back a rubber band to a stretched position; it is now primed to spring back to its normal elasticity with even greater power. Adding a brief isometric contraction of about 2-4 seconds makes this “bounce” impossible, and has the potential to improve strength and power production from the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and other lower-body prime movers.
Some lifters find this to be such an effective technique that they perform at least some sets starting from the bottom. This is known as an “Anderson Squat.”
4 Add Half-Reps From the Bottom
Trying new squatting variations is only one way to attack a squat that doesn’t seem to be progressing. Another is to take your current form of squatting and simply make it more difficult. A great way to accomplish this is to perform half-reps from the bottom.
These are just what they sound like. Sink down into a full squat, and then rise up just halfway. Pause, and then lower back into the hole before pushing up into the full standing position. Sound easy? In execution, it’s anything but. This technique places more stress on your muscles during your weakest point of the squat movement pattern, which allows you to build strength where you need it most. Just don’t call me when you can’t sit down comfortably for the next few days.
Few people are able approach their normal squatting volume with half-reps being added in, so take it slowly. Add 1-2 half reps per set to start, and build up until you can perform a full set with a half-rep in between each full rep.
5 Shift the Load
When someone mentions the squat in casual conversation—what, your friends don’t do that?—-most people imagine the back squat during which the bar is placed behind the neck. But that is only one type of loaded squat, and to be honest, it isn’t right for everyone. Some people simply never feel comfortable with the spinal compression that results from having a barbell sit on top of their back. Others find that for reasons of balance, knee strength, or something else, they are able to achieve far superior form with other variations. Open your mind and your squat will feel the benefit!
Take, for example, the front squat. In comparison to the back squat, the front squat hammers the quads more and calls for additional muscle activity from the hips and lower back. Due to the biomechanical nature of the movement, the front squat places less spinal compression and torque on the knees as well. Simply put, it offers much of the same stimulus as the back squat, but less risk to your most vulnerable areas.
“In comparison to the back squat, the front squat hammers the quads more and calls for additional muscle activity from the hips and lower back.”
Most athletes find that maximal weight they can front squat will be approximately 80 percent of a back squat’s maximal lift, so bragging rights aren’t quite the same. But in recent years, having a strong front-squat max has become cooler than ever, and is often taken as a sign of being an overall well-rounded athlete. And you’d better believe boosting your front squat will help your back squat grow, too!
6 Make It Explosive
Common sense says that the only way to develop a heavy squat is to squat heavy. Sure, that’s part of it, but there is another proven method: squat fast. Bar speed is often overlooked because it often makes the exercise feel “easy” or less productive, but cranking up the velocity of your squat can help your squat immensely by allowing you to practice technique while still training for peak power.
So what exactly makes it a “speed squat?” Perform the squat at a smaller percentage of your max. Depending on your repetition range and volume of work you want to get done, this can range between 35 and 70 percent of your one-rep max. For heavier loads, lower the rep scheme; the lighter the scheme is, the higher reps should be. You can perform a set portion of a leg day for speed, or if you’re really dedicated to squatting, you could split your week into light and heavy days.
Another way to add power to the squat is by performing bodyweight squat jumps. Drop down into a deep bodyweight squat and launch yourself off the ground as high as you can go. Land quietly, meet the balls of your feet to the floor, and bend your knees slightly to absorb the impact. Drop back into the squat position and continue your reps in this fashion. As you would in any exercise, maintain proper form throughout, being mindful of spine and knee positions. Don’t lean too far forward or let your knees pass too far over your toes.
Give one or all of these tips a try on your next lower-body training day, and share your experience in the comments below!
Recommended For You
Want to know how cover models build such perfect bodies? Here are 6 secret weapons they use to set themselves apart!
If you’re no longer psyched to set foot in the gym with your routine, it’s time to include these high-reward exercises to reenergize your workout.
Protein is an essential component of the muscle-building process. Yet, many women stray away from consuming enough protein for maximum results. Let go of fear, bust through myths, and learn about the power of protein!