Drastically Improve Your Squat With These Time Tested Tactics
February 6th 2020
Learning how to squat is easy.
Simply read our other articles, watch a few videos, and work on practicing the movement.
The real challenge lies in being able to squat more weight over time.
If you are just getting started in your weightlifting journey, you may have (or will soon) reach a point where you just can’t lift anything heavier.
This involves being stuck on a certain weight for weeks or even months.
We call this a plateau.
Plateaus are a normal part of every natural weightlifter.
After all, building muscle takes time.
If you could add 5 lbs to your squat every week, you will be squatting over 500 pounds in two years if you were to start from zero. Doesn’t sound very realistic, does it?
With that being said plateaus may be caused by several factors and treating these factors will help you overcome your plateau.
A plateau may be caused by:
- Poor sleep
- Poor diet
- Bad form
- Weaknesses/imbalances/sticking points
- Poor programming
Poor sleep and poor diet impede the natural muscle building process which is why getting an adequate amount of sleep and having proper nutrition is so important.
However, if you get a decent amount of sleep, have a healthy diet, are squatting with proper form, and are following a validated, evidence-based program (See starting strength 5x5), then your issue may be a muscular weakness/imbalance that is causing your plateau.
And one of the ways to treat muscular weaknesses/imbalances is through squat assistance exercises.
What are some of the best squat assistance exercises?
Squat assistance exercises are exercises designed to help you improve your squat and to help you increase the amount of weight you can lift.
Squat assistance exercises work by targeting your weakness when performing the squat.
For example, if you are having trouble staying upright when performing the squat you may find the issues resolve after performing front squats.
If you are having trouble keeping balance in the bottom position of the squat, you may find that after performing pause squats, your balance in the regular squat improves.
To put it simply, squat assistance exercises work by targeting what might be holding you back when performing the squat.
Now, what type of squat assistance exercises can you perform?
Here are just a few of the most popular assistance exercises:
- Front squat
- Pause squat & Pin Squat
- Tempo squat
- Box squat
- Good mornings
Now that you know what squat assistance exercises are, and what they do, let’s get into the detail on what each assistance exercise entails, and what sticking points they address.
The Front Squat
The front squat is similar to the regular barbell back squat but instead of having the weight on your back, the weight rests on your deltoids in front of your neck.
This bar positioning alters the center of mass, forcing you to stay in a more upright posture.
The front squat is commonly prescribed for those who have trouble staying upright during the squat.
If you feel like you are tipping in any direction during the squat, or if you feel that the bar is not traveling in a straight up and down path (read more about the importance of bar path), then the issue may be due to quadriceps weakness.
And that is what the front squat targets. The front squat requires you to stay upright and perform the squat with a straight bar path.
This is because the moment you begin tipping forward, the bar will fall out of your hands.
Who should perform the front squat: Staying upright during the squat
The Pause and Pin Squat
The pause squat and pin squat are two other popular squat assistance exercises that work on improving your balance and strength in the bottom position of the squat.
The pause squat and the pin squat have two different purposes, but because they are so similar I grouped them together.
The pause squat involves performing a regular squat but instead of getting up immediately from the bottom position, you pause for at least two seconds.
This is to ensure that your balance is decent, that you have the position “locked down”, and so that you are not squatting up and down with sloppiness.
Who should perform the pause squat: Those who have trouble with balance in the bottom position of the squat.
The pin squat is very similar but involves setting the pins of the power rack to a height so that when you are at the bottom of the squat, the bar rests on the pins.
To perform a pin squat you control the descent, rest the bar on the pins for a second or two, and then you explosively squat back up.
Resting the bar at the pins eliminates your body’s stretch reflex (which is active during the pause squat) requiring you to utilize more muscle to lift the weight up.
Who should perform the pin squat: Those who are having difficulty “exploding” up from the bottom position of the squat. These people usually get stuck in a mid-squat position.
The tempo squat is a squat variation that requires you to perform a squat with a controlled descent and ascent.
A common tempo is 3-0-3 or a three-second descent, zero-second pause, and a three-second ascent.
This is a great assistance exercise for those who wish to improve their overall squatting form.
It is also useful for those who want to build more muscle because it puts your muscles under more time under tension.
To put it simply, by lifting the weight slower, your muscles work harder because it is placed under a load for a greater amount of time compared to if you were to perform the squat very quickly.
In addition, the tempo squat also works on your bar path and balance because you have to control the descent/ascent.
Who should perform the tempo squat: Those who wish to build more muscle, improve their overall squat form, or for those who feel like they are dropping into the squat rather than having a controlled descent.
The next common squat variation is the box squat.
The box squat requires you to place a box (or bench or seat, anything that you can rest on) behind you and squatting down onto the box on each rep.
The box squat eliminates the bottom-most position of the squat, which is where most people have trouble and allows you to put more weight on the bar because of the decreased range of motion.
This can be useful for building more muscle for ascending during the squat, and for the psychological benefit of getting used to heavier weights.
In addition, there is an added safety component because of the decreased range of motion.
Who should perform the box squat: Those who want to get used to heavier weights, wish to build more muscle, who want an added safety component with the squat.
The good morning is a squat assistance exercise that involves placing the bar on your back just like a regular squat, but instead of squatting down you are hinging at the hips, shooting your butt back, and flexing your spine.
Good mornings are a great exercise that works your lower back and can help those who have trouble staying upright during the squat.
Who should perform good mornings: Those who have trouble staying upright and fall forward during the squat (these people should also perform front squats).
How important are squat assistance exercises for beginners?
Now that we’ve gone through all of the different squat assistance exercises, the big question is whether they are worth performing if you are a beginner.
In my opinion, for beginner lifters, it is much more important for you to make sure that you are performing the squat with proper form.
This means squat more.
Squatting more allows your body to get used to the movement pattern, and will make you stronger in the long run.
However, once you reach a plateau and encounter one of these sticking points, squat assistance exercises may be useful.
Ultimately, if you are a beginner who just started squatting last month, and still don’t have the proper squat form down, squat more.
But, if you are a beginner who has been in the gym for a couple of months and reached a plateau once or twice due to the same weakness/limitation, try performing some of these exercises for yourself and see how it feels!
Will squat accessories help improve my deadlift?
These squat accessory exercises will improve your deadlift because they will make you stronger.
The deadlift and the squat both require similar muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back) so having a stronger squat will result in a stronger deadlift.
However, if you are interested in solely improving your deadlift, you may want to check out our other article on the best assistance exercises for the deadlift.
Assistance exercises for the deadlift will help improve your deadlift more than assistance exercises for the squat will.
Implementing Strongman Training as a Squat Accessory?
It helps but not with a direct carryover.
Here is what I mean.
You will be loading your body and be challenged with heavy weights - atlas stones, farmer’s carries, loading events.
You will want to quit.
It sucks to be under a tremendous load.
But the results? A sturdier core.
You will learn how to brace harder and better if you do Strongman training, that is a fact.
But of course, this will not be an instant change.
It will take a couple of weeks, months even.
Another reason why staying consistent will yield far better results and help you stay realistic with your goals and expectations.
What are you waiting for?
Whether you are running A beginner program or have years worth of training experience, it is important to keep learning and evolving your training paradigms.
Of course, there is a ton of information out there.
Which is why the best filter is yourself and how your programming is reflected in your results - both in strength and physique.
Challenge what we say. Give it 8 weeks.
Then, come back and see if you did not get stronger.
The choice is yours.