One of the things I remember being the most frustrating in my first few years of training was hitting plateaus in the squat. The squat was really my thing, I found it quite easy to squat with good form and it seemed like putting a few kegs on my 1RM every month was like clockwork.... until it wasn't.
We all remember when the newbie gains stop, when just going to the gym and doing 5 x 5 or 3 x10 ad nauseam doesn't do shit anymore.
One of the things that is great about being a beginner is once you get your form sorted the squat is as simple as - put it on your back, sit down and stand up for this many sets x reps with this much weight.
In this little series I'm going to give you a few strategies that I have used and still use to break through road blocks you will encounter during your training to get a big squat. In this part we're going to go over intent during your squat and also how to properly use speed work to improve your power so the squat increases and your strength carries over to over stuff like jumping, sprinting, hitting, weightlifting etc.
One of the thing I see people NOT doing is having the intent to move the weight with speed and aggression.
Move the weight with the intent to produce maximal speed and force.
Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT)
"Lifting a submaximal weight with maximal force will provide many of the strength training adaptations of lifting maximal weights. On the same token, lifting a maximal weight with the intent to move it as quickly as possible provides explosive strength benefits. The take home point is that your body adapts, in a large part, to your CNS's intent to move the weight as quickly as possible." - Josh Bryant
What do you actually intend to do during your squat ?
I know for the longest time I just tried to stand up, that was it, stand up.
Until I read about CAT, when you start trying to put as much speed and force into the bar with each rep no matter the weight you make even the light weights (<50%) a viable training stimulus, rather than only the heavy or hard sets being the worthwhile ones.
This is probably what immediately gave me and the people I coached transferable strength from the squat into jumping and sprinting and also made our squats a lot better. When you step under the bar your intent has to be to move out of the hole with maximum speed and force!
Get Faster to Get Stronger
Two very simple ways to start improving your speed are to start having "speed squats" and jumps in your training.
1. Speed Squats
2. Jump Before Every Squat Session
Jumping, especially resisted jumping can improve your ability to move heavier loads at speed, it also serves as a great warm up to make sure you're ready to go before you squat. My two favourite variations for improving the squat are seated box jumps and weighted seated box jumps.
These rep schemes done EMOM will work well:
The emphasis is trying to achieve violent triple extension as you come off the box, the box height you jump to doesn't matter so much.
Mix up your jump training, one week use light weights and see how higher box you can use for 12 x 2, 5 x 5etc.
Next week have a day where you jump to a low box and see how much weight you can hold in each hand.
These two strategies can be enough to jump start your squat progress again and keep it going for quite a while, give them a go for a month and see how it affects your squat and the rest of your training and performance too!
One of the keys to making a heavy clean is getting under the bar quickly.
Provided you pull the bar high and close enough, being confident and having the ability to drop under the bar will stop the bar crashing or worse yet, just high pulling the weight and feeling like you just can't possibly drop under only to then look back at the video and see you had more than enough height on the bar.
Two exercises that can help you develop a feel for how to pull under a heavier bar are tall cleans and hip cleans.
1. Tall Cleans
These are a speed drill that teach you the skill of getting under a low bar and putting the brakes on at the right height. Your intent should be to stand on the ball of the foot with the legs locked out and move the bar about an inch or two up by shrugging, then drop under by pulling your knees up hard and throwing the elbows up into the front rack as fast as you can!
The hip clean helps you gain confidence to pull a heavy bar close and fast and drop under it with confidence. This is a good movement to help bridge the gap/connect the dots between the tall clean and the clean from floor.
A good way to maximise the benefit of these two movements is to use them in the same session as so:
Tall Clean x 5 x 5 reps
The weight can be very very, VERY light for this. The aim is to move under the bar and catch it just above full depth, throwing the brakes on and then sinking into the hole and standing up.
For technique: 50-60% of your best clean for triples focusing on the same thing as above, catching and pausing just above full depth then dropping down all the way and standing up.
For strength: to focus on developing strength and developing more confidence under heavier loads you can either try to chip away at some singles and doubles at 85-90%, or max out.
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Muscle snatch + power snatch + full snatch, all with NO foot movement
You can come up off your heels but your feet cannot jump off the floor or shuffle.
The sequence going from muscle snatch to power snatch to full snatch is taking you from a movement where aggressive extension, that is almost over emphasised is necessary to the full movement where full extension can sometimes be harder to achieve, the muscle snatch drills extension and the power snatch helps bleed the aggressive pull into the full snatch at the end.
How to use this complex: as a technical primer before you do snatches and/or as a working exercise that you go heavy or to max on. If you find yourself cutting your pull short quite consistently I would advise both.
Clean & Jerk Complex
No foot power clean + clean + Jerk
This is my favourite way to actually warm up in competition and in the gym for heavy clean and jerks. The idea behind the power clean and no foot movement is the same as it is for the snatch. Create the need to exaggerate the aggressive second pull that MUST be finished or you won't even be able to rack the bar.
How to use this complex : again it can be used for warm ups and for a working exercise in itself, if you're struggling to finish your pull even at moderate loads I would do both.
Use these complexes to help you or your athletes understand what finishing your pull actuaally means and feels like then when some says to you "finish your pull" you know how to correctly respond.
Lastly the cues to help you instruct yourself or your lifters to extend and finish the pull consistently during sessions or competitions.
I'll throw a few out there to choose from since depending on whether you deal better with internal or external instructions.
Pull PAST contact - you have to keeping pulling for an inch or two after the bar leaves your hips or thighs (wherever the contact point is), like a big tackle or a knockout punch you have to push through contact not just to contact.
Quads and Traps - squeeze your quads and traps as hard as possible this will make sure you stand up tall and keep the bar close.
LONG Pull - sometimes just imagining or trying to pull for as long as possible will make you pull correctly.
Jump Through the Roof - jumping isn't a good cue for everyone but if it gets you to extend up properly then try it. Imagine jumping hard enough you and the bar would go through the roof.
NOW FINISH YOUR PULL!