Your squat strength is a measure of your ability to do a weighted squat. Whether you’re looking to improve on a specific type of squat or do a powerlifting competition, these tips will be beneficial for you in improving your squat strength.
In this case we will look more to the conventional back squat as that is usually where people start after mastering their bodyweight squats.
1. Perfect Your Form Before Going Heavier
Learn to perform your squat correctly before you lift heavier. I am guilty of this one as I had problems with my form for years and I didn’t even know. I would say I only managed to perfect my form in 2020 and I have been squating since 2014. When you squat you must:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart (depending on your body’s limits, it could be a bit wider) and parallel to each other.
- Place the bar comfortably on the upper back area (it could be a high bar or low bar, depending on your body and posture – this link provides a clearer explanation of this).
- Look up and lift your chest.
- Bend your knees to a 90-degree angle, ensuring your weight is evenly distributed around your foot.
- The lower you go ensure you’re pushing your hips back rather than leaning forward with your knees.
- Keep your head and chest upright.
- Hold the position for 3 seconds.
- Rise back up, pressing through your foot and straighten your hips back to the starting position.
It is always about what’s comfortable for you in ensuring that you can carry the weight the whole movement without negatively affecting your joints and ligaments in the process.
Always remember the muscles you’re trying to work being the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, hip muscles and core muscles. If you start working muscles that aren’t meant to worked, like your chest, you’re probably doing it wrong.
2. Incorporate Other Leg Strengthening Exercises
A squat is a compound exercise, therefore it works more than one muscle group in your body. This means improve your squat, you can look to strengthen the individual muscle groups that are worked in the squat.
As was stated before, the muscles worked in the squat are:
- Glutes: You can work glute muscles with exercises like fire hydrants exercises, bulgarian split squats and glute kickbacks.
- Quads: You can work quads with walking lunges, step ups and bulgarian split squats.
- Hamstrings: You can work hamstrings with romanian deadlifts, glute bridges and single-leg deadlifts.
- Calves: You can work your calves with calf raises, running and jump rope.
These are some examples of leg exercises that you can incorporate to improve your squat strength. Some of them also help strengthen your hip muscles which are important for your squat strength and form.
3. Strengthen Your Core
Your core is made up of muscles that are surrounding majority of your spinal column. It includes your spinal muscles, abs, obliques, diaphragm, pelvic floor, glutes and hip muscles. They are very important in balancing and stabilising your body when you are moving and lifting heavy objects like in a weighted squat.
This is why when you’re looking to improve your squat strength, it becomes vital to strengthen your core. You will be able to lift heavier in your squat because you will be more balanced and stabilized with less effort required from your core.
Exercises that you can do to strengthen your core, some are easy, but some are more advanced and you should take you pick depending on your ability:
- Bird dog
- Normal/bicycle crunches
- Glute bridge
- Side plank
- Supine toe tap
- Mountain climbers
- Turkish get up
4. Focus on a Progressive Overload to Improve Your Squat Strength
A progressive overload is when you lift weights and over time you progressively increase the intensity that you’re lifting at. The intensity can be increased by weight, reps/volume, reduced rest time or training for longer.
When you started squatting, you were probably using your body weight only and increasing the reps. As you got older or stronger, you started using dumbbells or barbells, which is what you use in back squats. You get to a point of using a bar and adding plates to it, to get stronger.
When you want to improve your squat strength, it is important that you consistently increase the weight. This can be every week, every two weeks or even every month, depending on the level that you’re at. Your body works on muscle memory which ensures your muscles and strength adapt fast to resistance and increase in weight.
I recommend increasing your weight no more than 10% each week and don’t go up unless you can do 70% of your present 1 rep max for at least 10-12 reps. This way you reduce the chance of injury and ensure gradual increase in your squat strength.
5. Eat High Carb Foods on Your Heavy Squat Days
There are days that you should look to lift heavy and days where you will look to maintain your newly developed strength. On the days that you will be lifting heavier, your body requires more energy as the session will be more intense.
I recommend ensuring that you’ve consumed enough carbs (first energy source) to be able to lift heavier. I am an advocate of this as I noticed when I tried to lift heavier on the days that I didn’t eat that many carb, I was weaker in my lifts. It is dependent on when you do your training because I usually train after work, so I got most of my carbs in during the day.
This does not mean go and eat a bunch of junk food in hopes of having an overload of carbs to burn off, no. Focus on nutrient-dense foods, that are high in vitamins, minerals, complex carbs, lean protein and healthy fats.
- Vitamins and minerals: Fruits and vegetables.
- Complex carbs: Brown rice and whole grain bread etc.
- Lean protein: Skinless chicken breast, lean beef cuts and lean mince.
- Healthy fats: Avocado, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.
Your schedule will affect this point, but if you look to eat before your workout, don’t eat any less than 30 minutes before it. Otherwise, if your heavy lifting sessions are in the morning, ensure that you fuel your body up the whole day for the next one.
The Importance of Improving Your Squat Strength
It is important to improve your squat strength because you will develop a stronger back and lower body which becomes beneficial in lifting heavy things. It also helps when you are required to walk long distances and if you’re an athlete, your body will be able to withstand more force when you’re competing.
Your overall strength becomes better when your squat is stronger. The stronger you become, the more muscle you will start building as a result.
The heavier you lift, the more energy you are using, meaning the more calories you will burn if you want to lose fat.
Your squat strength becomes vital when you’re looking to improve your every day life, become stronger and build muscle or lose fat.