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Squatting Variations for Constant Progression by Jason Rickaby
Squatting variations for constant progression.
By Jason Rickaby
Author, Champion Natural body builder, Managing Director-PhD Nutrition
When we talk about training legs, only 1 movement really cuts the mustard.
No doubt many of you have experimented with a variety of leg training movements over the years and many of you will I’m sure have experienced great results with oft-used movements such as leg press, leg extensions and hack squats. All these machines have a role to play at some stage or another, more so in specific physique-types than others. However, when it all boils down to it, for the non-genetic phenomenon who wants bigger, better, more powerful quads, you have to drag yourself to the squat rack and put in the hours.
For the early part of my weight training career, I simply back squatted until I couldn’t back squat anymore. I did heavy work, high rep work, 1 set of 20 work etc…whatever I did, I focussed upon building my squatting weight up to a point where I could shift 200kg for 4 reps and 160kg for 20 reps. This work really helped me build my quads and hamstrings up to a level where they have probably become my strongest, most-developed body part.
Front Squats- The Only real back squatting alternative
With a recent injury, brought on by a variety of reasons, I was forced to look at the front squat and really try to harness all that exercise has to offer and make it the mainstay of my quad training cycles. Whilst I could not handle the same amount of weight in the front squat as I did in the back squat, the mechanics of the movement and the structure of my body, allowed for a deeper and more upright squat. This took the pressure of the upper back (the injured area) and allowed me to use the quads as the main power for the upwards motion. Often during the heavier back squat workouts I felt that the gluteus area was taking over for much of the rep. This in itself is no problem, the glutes are a muscle and of course need stimulation. The result of using predominantly front squats now for around 2 years has been an improvement in my abductor and adductor area, due in my opinion to the depth I can now descent to during the front squat movement. Before throwing all my efforts into the front squat, I briefly flirted with the leg press as my main quad exercise and simply never got along with the mechanics of the movement. If I went heavy my back rounded off the support and if I went too light, I could rep out until tomorrow. I’ve returned to leg press for a few weeks every now and again and never get to grips with the exercise, I simply do not like the movement and do not feel as though I’ve trained my quads unless I’ve incorporated some deep knee bends into the workout. Heavy squatting can be fun and ego-building, but at some stage or another, you are going to have to leave the ego at the door and break parallel, this requires dedication and humility. Whilst stick-legged clowns continue to half squat away with 4 plates, be sure to use below parallel squatting for at least some of the training year. You can show them your legs at the end of the year as a testament to your intelligent training.
Anyway, without further ado, for those of you looking to build thick, sweeping quads and leave the wimps to the leg extension, here are some great squat variations for you to try throughout the year.
- Front Squat- Already touched upon above. This exercise takes months to master and that’s why many weight trainers ignore the movement, it’s damn hard and can be damn painful on the delts and collar bone. I’ve now mastered a technique that allows the bar to rest on the meaty part of the delts, whilst staying clear of the collar bone. It’s nigh-on impossible to describe to you, it just takes practise and persistence. I get set under the bar, lift the delts slightly higher than the collar bone and pull my neck back and straight. Then sit back into the squat. If you want to go deep, then most will have to use a wider than shoulder stance to allow them to sit back into the hole. Because of the bar position of the front squat I rarely go above 8 reps and usually work in cycles of 4-6 reps, saving rep work for the following quadriceps movements
- Dumbell squat- My second favourite variation on the back squat is the dumbbell squat. It’s simple to perform. Grab a pair of dumbbells, hold them by your side and squat down to parallel (or below). I like to use a pair of 2kg plates under my heels just to allow a more upright position when squatting down. One good advantage of this movement is that the pressure is entirely taken off the upper and lower back, allowing the quadriceps and glutes to function easily. I like using these for 10 sets of 10 reps with 60 seconds rest between sets, fantastic pump.
- Barbell Hack squats- The original barbell hack squat is far removed from the hack squat machine many of you will be accustomed to in your local gym. The barbell hack squat involves standing in front of a barbell, squatting down and lifting the barbell from the floor with both hands behind your back. The bar is then kept under the glutes and hamstrings as you squat down and remain in an upright position.
- 1-legged squat- You can do this movement either with a dumbell, barbell on your back, or on the smith machine. My preference is with dumbbells. Simply split your feet, with 1 foot forward and the other foot back, in a similar position to a lunge. Instead of lunging back and forth simply squat up and down in the split position. You can also do these with the rear foot elevated on a bench. The exercise then becomes known as Bulgarian split squats.
- Dead stop work- As a variation on the back squat theme, I got great benefits during my early twenties from using the dead stop squat, popularised by Brooks D Kubik in his book “Dinosaur Training” and brought to the attention of the natural body building world by Multi-titled body builder, Ian Duckett. Simply choose how deep you wish to squat and set the power rack pins at that level. Then un-rack the bar and squat down until the bar comes to rest on the pins. After a second rest, without taking tension off the quads, squat back up. Kubik argued that this practise eliminated any “elastic energy” from the movement and therefore gave the quads more work as each rep had to be done from a dead stop. Whether Kubik was right or not, who knows? But certainly using this movement from varying levels really helped my back squat increase in poundage and in turn helped me add muscle to my quads.
- Overhead squat- This is one variation I’ve never tried and by all accounts and after speaking to my friend and author Gavin Laird, it’s supposed to be the mother of all squats. Simply hold a barbell in the overhead position with locked arms and squat down maintaining a flat back and the barbell above your head. Essentially it’s the second half of a clean and jerk and I’m going to give them a try at some point this year.
- Ski-Squats- Are essentially a body weight exercise, though you can use resistance held in your arms. Stand with your back against a wall and your feet out in front of you. Whilst maintaining back contact with the wall squat down until your quads are parallel to the ground, hold for a designated count and then lower about 25 degrees until the quads are about 65 degrees to the floor. After another designated count, lower until the quads are as deep as you can go without losing back contact and rounding the lower spine, again hold for a designated count. I like finishing lower body sessions off in this way. I hold a 20kg plate across my chest and perform 3 counts of 45 seconds. Sounds easy, it isn’t!