I’ve been doing Squats for 12 years and so far Squat 400lb raw at 170lb (I’m 5’8″, weighed 120lb when I started). No world records here, but for a guy with crazy long legs, skinny 6.7″ wrists and thus not born to be big or strong, I’ve come a long way now that I Squat almost 2,5x BW. Especially since I couldn’t do a single Push-up when I started – worse, I even lost armwrestling to a girl.
Squatting 400lb might make me an advanced lifter today, but my progress was never lineair. I hit plateaus, injured myself a lot (especially my lower back took a real beating), and just struggled. In my defense, I never had a coach show me how to Squat correctly – I had to figure this out all by myself.
Everybody agrees that Squats are the most challenging exercise. And I’m sure you already know that proper technique is crucial for Squatting big weights. As a guy born with lousy genetics and who struggled with Squats for a long time, here are 7 essential tips that I found useful for Squatting big weights…
1. Put The Bar Lower. The lower the bar, the better the leverage and thus the more weight you can lift. Start Squatting with the bar lower on your upper-back muscles instead of high on your traps. If you have a hunckback/lack flexibility: improve your thoracic extension using the foam roller and stretch your chest.
Do NOT Squat with a sissy pad or towel or manta ray if Squatting low bar feels uncomfortable. One, they all mess with the correct bar position – the barbell will end up higher on your back which means less leverage. Two, I Squat 400lb raw wearing just a t-shirt, plenty of StrongLifts Members (like Norman, Simon, Adam) Squat +500lb without sissy pad, and so can you. You just have to Squat with the bar correctly on your upper-back and let your skin toughen up.
2. Arch Your Upper-Back. Lock the bar in position so it doesn’t move while you Squat. Keeping your back tight will also keep pressure from your wrists. Take a big breath, lift your chest, and squeeze your shoulder-blades together. Now grab the bar using a narrow grip and stay tight. If you’re a desk jockey like me (or you’re big) do flexibility work so you can Squat with a narrow grip.
3. Sit Back. Always start the Squat by sitting back first before you bend your knees. Think of sitting on a toilet – your hips always move first and go back, way back, to the rear. Sitting back engages your stronger hip muscles more, which is safer on your knees and allows you to Squat much heavier weights.
Sitting back does NOT mean that your knees will not bend, they will. You just Squat down by moving your hips back first and while pushing your abs out. The stretch in your hamstrings will be bigger and they might get very sore the day after. Make sure you keep your lower back tight at the bottom so you don’t lose tension (I recommend Squat 2 Stands if you lack hip mobility for this).
4. Squat Wider. How wide your Squat stance should be depends on your built. But from my experience coaching hundreds of guys, most always start Squatting with a stance that is way too narrow. This is wrong for 3 reasons…
- You can’t Squat parallel because your belly is in the way.
- Your lower back will almost always round when breaking parallel.
- You’ll Squat less weight because you’re not involving your groin muscles.
This does NOT mean that you have to Squat with a sumo stance. Just start Squatting with a shoulder-width stance and experiment with a wider stance from there. I have long legs and Squat with a stance a bit wider than shoulder-width. If you have short legs, you should be Squatting more narrow than me.
5. Push Your Knees Out. NEVER allow your knees to buckle in on the way up. You have to keep your knees out at all times because it’s …
- Safer for you knees – no twisting. Keep in mind your feet should point in the same direction that your knees go when Squatting.
- Safer for you back - pushing your knees out activates your glutes which will decrease almost all lower back stress when you Squat.
- Involves your adductors – and as I just explained in point 4, the more muscles you’re using (here your groin) the more weight you will Squat.
You could do light Squats with a mini-band around your knees – the band will force you to push your knees out. But the better way is simply not to be lazy about this – force your knees out when Squatting, and force them out hard.
6. Be Consistent. And I don’t mean the obvious advice of not skipping Squats and not missing workouts. I’m talking about being consistent with your Squat technique. Many guys are lazy and unfocused during their warm-ups. They look around, play with their phone, talk and think only their work sets matter.
You CANNOT Squat correctly on your work sets, if you Squat incorrectly on your warm-up sets. You have to Squat every single set, including your warm-up sets, like you Squat your work sets. It’s like StrongLifts Member Greg Prince (40y, Florida) who Squats 625lb told me just a few days ago. Greg shared that the most important advice he ever heard about Squatting was: “Squat the heavy weight like it’s light weight and the light weight like it’s the heavy weight.” This is EXACTLY what I mean here. But how many guys do you think Squat like this?
Similarly, you have to be consistent with the way you setup for Squats. How you walk to the barbell, how you grab it, how you get under it, how you walk the weight out, … every single thing you do before you even start to Squat should be the same on every single set because you cannot do your Squats correctly CONSISTENTLY if everything you do before you even Squat is INCONSISTENT.
Start setting up for the Squat exactly the same way every time, build your own routine, and make sure you Squat every single set as if you were Squatting your heavier work sets. Don’t be one of those lazy guys, be consistent.
7. Practice. In his bestseller, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell said that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. Geoff Colvin makes the same point in Talent is Overrated: the real secret of guys like Tiger Woods or David Beckham is NOT talent or genetics but deliberate practice – these guys started early, practiced more than others, and that’s how they turned pro.
It should be obvious that the guy who practices his Squat technique the most, will have the best technique and thus lift the most weight. I admit that although I’ve been Squatting for 12y and Squat 400lb, I still work on my technique. I also know that StrongLifts Member Jake (who Squats 550lb at age 18) still spends a lot of time studying, analyzing and improving his Squat technique.
So don’t be one of those fools who gets frustrated because his Squat technique after 3 workouts is inferior to that of the Squatter with 3 year experience. You can be sure he had to overcome his challenges, the only difference is that he kept practicing. Again, this is all about practice – the best way to get good at Squats remains to Squat more. And this starts with a deep desire of wanting to improve, followed by the decision to stick with it, no matter what.