When you’re training for a marathon or athletic event you don’t just run, swim, bike or complete drills pertaining to that athletic event. You spend time working out all areas of your body to make them faster, stronger and more efficient so that they work better together to create better overall performance. The same theory applies when you want to improve your weightlifting abilities. You cannot expect to increase the amount of weight you can lift with one part of your body without also strengthening the rest of your body. Especially when your goal is to squat heavy weights, which in itself takes multiple muscle groups to accomplish. Here are a few tips to help you increase your squat weight.
1. Do More Than Squat
Just because increasing your weight on the squat bar is your goal doesn’t mean that your fitness routine needs to begin and end with squats. In fact, you should be incorporating a wide variety of exercises to your routine to keep your muscles agile. This will also lessen the chances of overworking certain muscle groups. The squat is a great workout because it works and strengthens a variety of muscles in your body, but these muscles need to be strengthened through targeted workouts as well so that they can reach their full potential.
Cross training within strength training modules is important, but you should also make sure that you are including cardio training in your workouts as well. Your cardiovascular system works hard to keep your body performing at peak levels, but to keep your heart and lungs healthy you have to devote at least a portion of your workout to strengthening them through specific cardio training routines.
2. Prioritize Squats
No matter what area of fitness you are trying to improve upon you need to ensure that you are working all of the muscles throughout your body using a variety of different techniques and styles so that you grow in a uniformed fashion. Keeping this in mind, your goal should always be prioritized and at the forefront of your mind. Which means that if you want to squat heavier weights, then you need to prioritize perfecting your squats and adding weight little by little to your bar.
This doesn’t mean that you should go in tomorrow and add weight to your bar and continue to add more weight everyday until you’ve reached your goal. The only thing that is going to accomplish is getting yourself hurt. What you should do is wait until your current weight stops challenging you, and then add on a bit more weight. Continuing at a steady pace may mean that your gains come slower, but it also means that you will be less likely to become injured and more likely to maintain your gains.
Focus On Form
Nothing is more important in the gym than making sure you’ve got your form down. Improper form hinders your progress in more ways than one. First of all it limits your chances of actually acquiring any gains through the exercise, because you’re likely putting strain on the wrong group of muscles. The second thing you have to realize is that improper form puts your body in real physical danger. The risk of injury increases dramatically when you perform a workout incorrectly. Worst case scenario that could pull you out of the squat game for life and even the best case scenario still has you stilling out for a few weeks while your body works on recovery. That not only keeps you from gaining now, but it could also work against your previous gains.
Achieve Proper Alignment
Achieving the proper squat alignment is one of the most difficult parts about keeping your form during this particular exercise. That is because if you start out your squat set without proper alignment you can bet that the remainder of the time you spend at the squat rack will be uselessly spent in improper form. Your alignment begins before the bar ever leaves the rack, so that your body is in the best position to hold the weight it’s about to grab onto.
Alignment positions are often set by personal preference but should be set none the less to ensure that your squats become second nature. You want to make sure that no matter how much weight you are lifting, your stance remains in tact so that your body’s use of muscle memory can kick in and take over if it should ever need to. The most basic things to remember when setting your own personal alignment standards is that your hands, torso and feet should be aligned evenly under the squat bar.
At first you may even want to attain a few physical reference points on the bar and on the mat to ensure that your stance and alignment is on point every time. Once your body becomes accustomed to your set alignment you should no longer need these physical reminders to stay on track.
Perfect A Two Step Walkout
Your squat rack walkout should never be more than two (or three) steps until you hit your optimal squat stance. The less steps you take getting into your perfect set up, the more energy you will have available to exert during your actual weighted squats, which is of course exactly what you want. Once you lift the weight bar off of the rack and have it settling in your hands it’s time to step out into your squat stance.
Take one step out (on each leg) to your perfect squat stance. Once you have your feet in the proper location you may need to make one more minor adjustment to achieve your optimal alignment, but you should be close if not right on target within the first two steps. The better you can perfect this two step walkout the more energy, stamina and balance you will have throughout your weighted squat.
Your goal is to squat heavy weights, not meander around the weight room with a heavy weight bar. So minimize the amount of steps you take and focus your muscles on the completing the squat. Use this technique no matter how much weight you’ve got sitting on your bar because if you can make the short walkout a habit with low weight, then you’ll have it down pat when it comes time to set up and squat heavy weights.
Keep Your Body Tight
If you hang around the weight room long enough chances are that you’ll hear a trainer remind their clients to breath through the workout, but not at the squat rack. Breathing mobilizes your body and weakens your core strength, which is the exact opposite of what you want to happen when you are getting ready to squat heavy weights, or even light weights. During this workout your body should remain tight and rigid so that it can support the weight while maintaining form.
Practice With Lighter Weights
In order to perfect your form with heavy weights you will need to practice your squat as much as possible. It may not be realistic to practice every squat set with heavy weights since each individual squat takes more energy when the weights are heavier, which is why we suggest practicing your form with lighter weights. This is the time to make sure that your body is positioned just right, your core is staying tight throughout the squat and your walkout is on point. If you can perfect the squat with light weights, and get your body to become accustomed to the pattern, the transition over to heavy weights will be easier.