When people make grandiose claims it’s typically because they’re full of it… or they want to sell you something. In full disclosure, I have nothing to sell but you’re going to think I’m full of it.
Either way, I just want to help people get big and strong. So here’s my grandiose claim: The Hatfield squat can revolutionize your training.
It’s an incredibly simple, effective way to drive up strength numbers and pack on muscle.
Dr. Fred Hatfield, an accomplished powerlifter, popularized this style of squatting in the 1980s when he did them in his off-season as a way to elicit a greater effect in the quads and remove stress from his low back and spinal erectors. He credited this variation to ultimately taking his competition squat to over 1000 pounds.
How to Do It
To set it up, you’ll need a Safety Squat bar (SSB) on your shoulders and a hand support set in front of you at hip height.
You’ll use the hand support to maintain a vertical torso (with knees extending over the toes) during the descent, and assist you through any sticking points during the ascent.
When progress from conventional squatting has plateaued, using the SSB and hand supports may eliminate the causes of that plateau… the biggest of which are your sticking points and/or low back (or other supporting musculature) giving out before your legs.
With conventional squatting, you’re only able to train with loads you can handle during the weakest point of the strength curve. This leads to an inadequate amount of weight being handled during the strongest point of the strength curve.
Additionally, most people will reach technical failure in the squat before their legs are adequately fatigued to elicit an optimal training effect. This can especially be seen in high-bar squats when the low back or spinal erectors reach failure before the legs are properly stimulated for strength and mass gains.
By using hand supports to minimally assist you through the sticking points, you’re afforded the unique ability to overload the entire rep, leading to heavier loads handled for greater volume. This ability to eliminate sticking points and adequately fatigue the legs ensures sufficient overload is applied to the targeted tissue.
Words of Caution
We’ll get to the programming in a second, but first you need to know the two things that can make hand supports dangerous: ego and inadequate tissue preparation.
Hand supports act like a guide to help maintain posture through weak points in the lift. They minimally assist you through your sticking points. They should not be used to lift stupidly heavy weight out of the bottom of a squat with your upper body. This will lead to technical breakdowns and possibly injury.
Don’t screw yourself out of training longevity. Check your ego at the door and train properly.
Next, the greater your training age, the higher the percentage of 1RM your hand supported squats will be relative to your conventional squat. This can be credited to greater proficiency in the skill of squatting as well as a highly trained nervous system.
By no stretch of the imagination is this a bad thing, but you must be aware that initially your nervous system may be primed to move more weight than your tissue can support. As you get started with this technique, it’s better to underestimate yourself by a lot, rather than overestimating by a little. Err on the side of caution.
You can always add weight as you get accustomed to this style of squatting… unless you blow your quad off pushing too hard too fast.
How to Program It
While these numbers aren’t set in stone, look at them as a general starting point for estimating 1RM in the Hatfield squat.
Remember, this is not the amount of weight you can muscle out of the bottom position; it’s the amount of weight you can execute with technical proficiency.
- Beginning lifters (less than two years of consistent training) will typically be able to train with 120-130% of their 1RM conventional squat.
- Intermediate lifters will typically be able to train with 130-140% of their 1RM conventional squat.
- More advanced lifters will typically be able to train with 140-150% of their 1RM conventional squat.
During the first three exposures to Hatfield squats, take a conservative approach and do 25 reps or fewer per training session (5×5, 3×8 etc). During these reps, don’t train at a weight above your current 1RM on the conventional squat. This goes back to the idea of prepping the tissue to handle a greater training stimulus.
After these first three exposures, you should have no issue programming Hatfield squats into your regular training protocol, including weights over your 1RM conventional squat. One way I’ve implemented these into my athletes’ programs is by alternating three-week blocks of accumulation and intensification protocols.
This simple tweak of exercises from a back squat to a Hatfield squat allows for greater loads to be used for higher volumes. These increases, especially when accounting for the eccentric component of the lift, demand greater motor unit recruitment leading to a higher potential for strength and mass gains.
Go heavy, accelerate the bar as hard as you can into the top, and keep the stress in your quads. The adaptations to this style of training will come fast.