Want to be strong on the big basic lifts? You don’t need a lot of equipment, just a basic home gym setup. What matters most is targeting and improving your weak points.
Getting an impressive back squat doesn’t require fifteen speciality bars or three different types of machines. Hell, lots of people build big squats from just squatting. Admittedly, those people have favorable leverages, but you get the point.
If you don’t have the perfect leverages, that’s okay. Here are the accessory lifts you’ll need to blast through sticking points and achieve impressive squat numbers with just a barbell.
Sticking Point – Bottom Position
I’m going to assume you’re squatting to a respectable depth with your hip crease below your knee. If you’re here to find out how to stop failing at the bottom of your curtsy, then you have my permission to leave now.
The two common reasons for having a sticking point in the bottom position? Core stability and weak glutes.
What to Do for a Weak Core
The Barbell Zercher Carry or Squat
Sure, it’s uncomfortable, you can’t breathe, and it forces you to use so little weight that you look weak in front of people. But this is exactly why it’s great.
The bar sits right on your diaphragm, stopping you from getting a full breath. This means your core has to work to stabilize the load with less intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) than you’d be able to create normally.
This is especially good for those who tend to be over-reliant on lifting belts. If you don’t have room to do loaded Zercher carries then regular Zercher squats will be fine.
The Breathing Squat
Credit goes to Greg Nuckols for this. With a light load, drop to the bottom of a squat and take 15-20 full, slow breaths.
The trick here is that you don’t have the aid of IAP to help hold your torso position, so a greater demand falls on muscular tension and stabilizers. As an added bonus, the breathing squat increases confidence and mind-muscle connection at the bottom position.
What to Do for Weak Glutes
The Wide-Stance Squat
Bring your feet out to the widest stance that still allows you to hit depth.
This will create a more hip-dominant “sitting back” style of squat, which will load the posterior chain more.
The Box Squat
Use a box/bench/deck chair that has you squatting to your normal depth. Squat down to and momentarily pause on the box.
During that pause you want to PARTIALLY relax. Imagine you still need to support half of the weight. Initiate the ascent by “ripping the floor apart” and driving through your hips while keeping your knees as wide as possible.
Sticking Point – Around Parallel
If you manage to rise out of the bottom, but then get stuck around parallel, there are two likely culprits. If your squat turns into the infamous “squat good-morning” then you’re lacking quad strength. If your hips and shoulders rise together seamlessly before you crash back down to the bottom, then the issue is butt strength.
What to Do for Weak Quads
The Front Squat
Everyone should be front squatting to some degree in their training. If you can’t get on board with auto-asphyxiation, you’re not the type of human I want to be associated with. Plus, it’s probably the best quad builder there is, which is also important.
The Heels-Elevated Squat
If you squat in flat shoes, swapping to Olympic lifting shoes is an easy way to get some extra quad stimulation. Other options include squatting high bar (if you squat low bar) or bringing your stance narrower. Or you could front squat.
What to Do for Weak Glutes
See the suggestions above for weak glutes. With the box squat, use a box that has you squatting to just below your sticking point instead. With the wide-stance squat, add in a pause on the eccentric (lowering phase) at your sticking point.
Sticking Point – Above Parallel
Failing in the last third of the lift tends to happen in one of two ways. Either your upper back collapses or your quads can’t complete knee extension.
What to Do for a Weak Upper Back
Fix Your Cueing or Setup
Does the bar move on your back? Do your elbows move up and down? These are signs your upper back isn’t set properly. This can also be a breathing issue. If the bar rises up when you breathe in before your rep, then you’re breathing into your chest/shoulders rather than your diaphragm, creating an unstable base for the bar.
The Zercher Squat
It’s the best squat variation for upper-back strength. Since the bar sits over the diaphragm, it scores almost as high as the front squat on the auto-asphyxiation index.
What to Do for Weak Quads
The Pin Squat
Set up your safety pins so you’re just below your sticking point. Make sure your positioning is the same as it would be in a full range squat and lift to completion.
Return the bar to the pin under control and pause there for two seconds between reps (while maintaining tension) to help eliminate any stretch reflex.
The Front-Foot Elevated Split Squat
This is especially beneficial for longer legged lifters.
Do a barbell split squat, but raise your front foot up about 1 to 1.5 inches, which will allow a greater ROM and place more emphasis on the quads. The other option here would be to wear Olympic lifting shoes.
It’s Not Complicated!
Getting strong in the squat doesn’t need to be filled with frou-frou equipment only found in big box gyms. Just pick the lifts that correspond to your sticking points, plug them into your program, and watch your squat numbers rise.