Man squatting in a powerlifting rack with 170kg on his back and knee wraps

How To Increase Your Squat

How to Increase your Squat

Simple really – by accumulating volume over time with weight heavy enough to stimulate gains in both size and strength, your squat will increase.

You must follow a program and it must be periodised. By that I mean it has to reduce in volume over time, but the intensity and specificity must increase.

So to start with, you should be working with higher repetition sets and a lower weight. That is how you build a solid base to work from. 

As the program progresses, your exercise variation should reduce and you should start focusing more on your competition style squat. As a powerlifter you’re likely going to be low bar squatting. As an Olympic lifter or athlete it’s likely to be high bar.

Now Read: High Bar vs Low Bar Squat

This means you’re reserving energy for what really matters.

Lastly the intensity should increase. Intensity refers to the relative weight i.e. the % of your 1RM. Increasing intensity means you need to decrease the overall volume or you’ll burn out.

So learn how to manage overtraining.

So there you have it, simple really! But then you need to consider supplementation, nutrition and beneficial squat accessory exercises.

Not so simple then. 

The Top 10 ways to Increase your Squat

Even as an intermediate powerlifter there are methods you can use to increase your squat. Some may seem obvious, but there are a number of variations of the lift that improve your weak points.

You also need to assess the trade off between high intensity and high volume. You need to lift heavy to increase your absolute strength, but you also need adequate volume to increase your long-term potentiation.

The top 10 ways to increase your squat

The top 10 ways to increase your squat

So make sure your form is airtight and you utilise the right accessories, equipment and variations to continually improve:

1. Perfect your Form: It’s all about long-term progress. Just because you can muscle 5kg more weight by consistently squatting incorrectly, doesn’t mean you should. Perform some slow descent (eccentric) squats with weight around 50-65% of your 1RM to optimise your bar path

2. Use Weightlifting Shoes: Powerlifting shoes have a wide, flat sole that is ideal for squatting as it promotes stability. The slightly raised heel typically allows those with inadequate flexibility to get into a proper bottom position.

It’s important you do choose the right shoe for you however. If you have stronger quads, use some with a properly elevated heel. If you have stronger hips, use a flat soled shoe.

3. Use a Powerlifting Belt: Belts increase intra-abdominal pressure, promote stability and typically allow a lifter to lift 5-10% more weight. I find them particularly useful when squatting.

The key is to expand all around your abdomen, not just out in front. This creates greater spinal stability and can mitigate the risk of injury.

4. Get Adequate Volume: To grow in size and to be able to support more weight, you need to accumulate volume under your MRV over a period of time. This means that to be ideally placed to test your 1RM and perform heavy doubles, you need to perform enough sets in the 5-10 rep range.

This guide to hypertrophy should help demystify exactly how muscle building works. And how it translates to strength.

5. Squat Heavy: The only way to increase true strength is to test your limits. You can keep squatting for volume or with chains, but to ultimately increase absolute strength you need to go heavy from time to time.

Much like the Texas Method, you can PR each week with a PR set of 3, 4 or 5 and perform 2-3 back off sets afterwards. It’s not all about volume.

6. Pause: Pausing at the bottom of a squat mitigates the stretch reflex, more commonly known as bouncing out of the hole. Any variation that makes the lift harder will translate into the lift itself.

Whilst pausing means you have to use less weight (devastating for egos all over the shop), it means that when it comes to test week, the bigger weights won’t feel as intimidating.

7. High Bar vs Low Bar: Surprisingly there’s more than one way to squat. High bar favours those with stronger quads and typically has a lower injury risk. Low bar utilises more lower back but typically allows you to move more weight.

Ideally you should build strength with high bar and express it with low bar. Build up your core leg strength and express it with low bar. It means you have to exceptionally proficient with both, so get acquainted.

8. Increase Frequency: You don’t improve by pushing your body to a 10 every time you walk in the gym. Unless you’re on steroids. Consistently working at a 7.5/10 is how you drive positive adaptations. Protein synthesis dictates that you should train a body part at least twice a week.

If you only squat once a week and spend the rest of that day punishing your legs with almost un-transferable assistance work, you need to squat more. Decrease the daily volume and increase the number of squat sessions you do to 2 per week as a minimum.

9. Eat: Squats are particularly driven by food. If you’re consistently in a calorie deficit, you’re not going to perform as well as when you’re in maintenance. Likewise from maintenance to calorie surplus.

If you eat above your maintenance and squat consistently, that’s the most effective way to gain strength. Granted that will come with some additional fat too, but that’s the trade off you need to make if you want to improve quickly. Typically 0.8g of protein / gram of bodyweight is effective at maintaining muscle mass in a cut.

10. Knee Wraps: Typically made from the same elastic-style material as wrist wraps. In the eccentric phase of the squat, the tightness of the wraps allow elastic energy to be stored and then released in the concentric phase.

In short, wearing knee wraps will undoubtedly improve your squat capabilities. Make sure you look good too. Style over substance all day!

Correct Squat Form: Top 9 Tips

As a more inexperienced lifter, there are a number of things you can do to instantly improve your squat technique. Outside of wearing a belt and the correct shoes I mean.

You want to do everything possible to ensure your technique is solid even above 90% of your 1RM. For that to happen you need to ingrain positive movement patterns into your technique from the off.

The below initiatives should help you instantly increase your squat and promote the right technique.

1. Get Tight: Tightness is essential. Big breaths in, pressure evenly balanced over both feet, pushing through the middle of your foot and tightened lats create a scenario that allows you to utilise every available muscle.

2. The Valsalva Manoeuvre: Breathing is of the utmost importance when squatting. By utilising the Valsalva manoeuvre, you are able to increase intra-abdominal pressure. Combining this with a weightlifting belt will instantly improve your squat performance.

3. Tuck your Elbows in: Tucking your elbows in allows you to incorporate more back strength when you drive upwards. Maintaining absolute tightness throughout your entire body will create the best environment for results.

4. Find your Optimal Stance Width: Do you feel more comfortable with your toes pointed in or out? If your quads are stronger than your hips and you have good flexibility, then a narrower stance will likely be good for you.

If the opposite is true then play around with wider stance widths.

5. Step Back: One step forward, 2 steps back is exactly the type of thing we’re looking to avoid. Practice stepping out once with each foot and finding a groove for each one. Don’t waste energy or build up the lift too much by taking lots of steps and becoming mentally exhausted.

Now Read: Top Signs of Overtraining

6. Bar Speed: The way down is equally as important as the way up. Don’t drop so fast you’re completely reliant on bouncing the weight out of the whole. And vice versa. Find an optimal bar speed that allows you to use the stretch reflex whilst being in complete control.

7. Don’t Ease Off; It’s human nature to stop pushing so hard when you don’t need to. If you can use chains, they will force you to continue to push even at the top of the lift because the weight increases.

Deliberately accelerating the bar through the entirety of the lift (concentric phase in particular), means your motor units are required to generate more force.

8. Increase Frequency: Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

9. Eat: As above. The more you eat the easier this all gets physically.

How to Increase your Squat without Squatting

Again there’s a huge amount of variables that come with this, but all things equal we can assume that you need to increase volume and intensity over time in order to get stronger.

To do this you still need to lift heavy weights, but they don’t necessarily have to be in squat form. If I couldn’t squat, my primary focus would be on developing single leg strength. Then improving my explosivity.

  • Lunges: Fantastic for developing single leg strength and a move you can afford to go heavy with if you use a barbell. So you can use it for high intensity lifts or with dumbbells for a volume based workout
  • Leg Press: A solid alternative to squats without any pressure on the lower back and allows you to load substantial weight. It’s also ideal for developing single leg strength and can be used for slow descent work – I like to perform sets of 12-15 with 3 second descents on each rep.
  • Box Jumps: Great for improving power production and ATP energy improvements. Single leg box jumps are a phenomenal way to improve leg strength in a format you traditionally wouldn’t utilise. Great for speed improvements too. 
  • Glute Bridges: Building strong glutes is absolutely essential for heavy squats. The largest muscle in your body needs sculpting and the stronger you can make it the easier the bottom position becomes.
  • Hack Squats: OK technically a squat, but as it’s on a machine and there’s very little stress on any section of your body aside from your legs. A great leg developer for hypertrophy or injury prevention / remediation.

How to Increase your Front Squat

The best way to increase your front squat is to squat. In fact, if you’re comfortable getting into the front rack position, then you don’t need to front squat at all in order to improve it. The below table highlights what muscles the front squat works and to what degree:

Muscles Worked Degree Benefits
Gluteals High Lower back and hamstring injury prevention
Quadriceps High Explosive power production (jumps) & knee injury prevention
Abdominals Medium Core strength improvements & lower back stability
Thoracic Spine (Upper Back) Medium Deadlift lockout strength & neck injury prevention
Thigh Adductors Medium-Low Knee injury prevention & knee cave mitigation when squatting
Hamstrings Medium-Low Explosive power production (sprints) & functional motion improvement
Lumbar Spine (Lower Back) Low Hip flexor and abdominal stability

Good for: Excellent for developing quad and upper back strength.

The front squat is a great overall leg developer, but it’s very taxing and requires substantial ROM. In lieu of the above, the best exercises to improve your front squat are:

1. Back Squat: The best for overall leg development and less taxing than front squatting

2. Sumo Deadlift: This deadlift variation is very quad dominant, so if you pull sumo the chances are your front squat will also increase.

3. Goblet Squats: Great for a beginner and ideal to help you get into the deeper ROM the front squat requires

4. Weighted Planks: Typically your core muscles let you down when you front squat close to your 1RM. It causes your elbows to drop and chest to sink. Weighted planks will help mitigate the chances of this happening

5. Hang Cleans: Usually used by Olympic weightlifters and athletes, if you feel confident with your flexibility and front rack position, hang cleans are phenomenal for building explosive power and quad strength.

But in short you really don’t need to front squat as a powerlifter.

If you pull sumo style then I certainly would front squat as it’s a fantastic accessory lift. But by back squatting consistently your front squat will go up. And as it’s such a taxing lift, it’s absolutely not an essential tool in your arsenal.

But big quads are awesome.

What are the Best Exercises to Increase your Squat?

The best exercises to increase your squat are close variations of it. Doing hamstring curls and quad extensions have their uses in hypertrophy and leg development, but they don’t directly translate to squat strength.

Now Read: What Muscles do Squats work?

Picking core accessory exercises that allow you to recover is a challenge for most lifters, but you need to focus on your weak points in order to do so.
If you have weak quads, front squats will be a great accessory.

If you struggle to express your strength, then single leg development should be included in your programming.

My favourite squat accessory exercises are:

  1. Front Squat: A great quad developer and fantastic for building ROM and upper back / core strength
  2. Box Squats: Ideal for hip development and less stressful than traditional squats
  3. Pause Squats: Power development and positional reinforcement
  4. Slow Descent Squats: An amazing positional reinforcement tool that requires you to work with 55-65% of your 1RM
  5. Single Leg Press: To help you express the strength you have built up more effectively

There are many more and I haven’t even got on to box jumps or other explosive plyometrics like pistol squats, but the above is a great start. Any additional fluff work like extensions can’t feasibly be called a squat accessory exercise, so there’ll be none of that talk on this website please.

Now Read: The Best Squat Accessory Exercises for Powerlifter for a more in-depth look at squat assistance exercises.

How to Improve your Squat Depth

There are 3 main reasons why people don’t hit depth:

  1. Ego Lifting: Definitely the most common
  2. Flexibility Issues: Second most common
  3. Doing something Sport Specific: Quarter squats for quad training, useful for bodybuilders and explosive athletic training

So if ego lifting is your main issue, then just stop being a fucking idiot. It’s not that difficult. Nobody cares if you can quarter squat 200kg. It doesn’t look impressive and it also means you can’t squat properly.

Flexibility issues are commonplace. It can be tricky to push your hips back and knees out during the eccentric (lowering) phase of the squat until your the crease of your hips is below your knees.

Ankle mobility is a leading cause of improper squat depth and can be easily fixed. Place a couple of 2.5kg plates under each heel when you squat, drop the weight and do that until you can get into the proper bottom position. Or just buy a proper pair of shoes.

Goblet squats are also a great beginner exercise. There’s no risk on the lower back, it’s all leg development and allows a beginner to get into the proper position with no risk of injury.

Once you feel confident with goblet squats and using weight plates under your heels I would start box squatting:

  1. Place a box underneath yourself before you squat
  2. Start with the box at the height you feel comfortable with E.g. 24″
  3. Perform your squat workout
  4. Each week drop an inch or two off the height of the box
  5. Perform the squat workout
  6. If there isn’t a box available you can pile up weight plates

This is a safe way to help you reach depth when squatting and gives you the added stability of the box below you.

Does Increasing your Squat make you Faster?

This 2016 study proved that using jump squats increased your vertical jump height, squat force production and rate of force development over the 100metre sprint. But that’s not the same as straight up squatting.

From personal experience I haven’t found squats to add to your top speed potential. But I do know that squatting with up to 70% 1RM before your sprint can activate the right muscle groups and help you hit top speed.

I got a little faster when I started incorporating box jumps and explosive, single leg plyometrics. But not much faster. And it doesn’t really matter for me.

According to this study, leg drive is more important for acceleration over shorter duration sprints. Having a stronger squat doesn’t translate to increased top speed over an extended period of time. But it can help with acceleration.

How much can you Increase your Squat by in a Year?

This has a lot of variables so I’ll try to summarise them concisely.

As a beginner you’re very unlikely to know what your true max squat is. Even if you can only manage 70kg for 3 one week, you’re likely to be able to increase that limit the week after. Beginner’s improve on a linear form of periodisation and it’s not uncommon for beginners to put on 10+kg in a month.

This will slow down tremendously the more you train. If in the first 3 months of your training you gain 25kg, the next 3 months are likely to result in a 20kg gain. The next 3 months would probably see a 15kg gain and so on. This is if you’re training very consistently.

Once you can squat more than 1.5-1.75 x bodyweight I’ve found progress slows dramatically. That’s when you need to run specific programs that take periodisation into account and force you to work on variations, weak points and hypertrophy.

The Conjugate Method: Typically great for those on steroids, but it’s fun to try for a few months

Brian Alsruhe’s take on the Conjugate Method: Nice linear strength progression program based off 4 days a week with substantial conditioning

The Texas Method: I really like the Texas Method and it’s mentally stimulating

The 5 / 3 / 1 Method: A solid ‘inbetween’ seasons program and great for beginners looking to build muscle.

The Bulgarian Method: Brutal, not for the faint hearted. Or anyone who isn’t a very solid intermediate lifter.

Kizen Strength Off-Season Training: High volume off season training which I am a fan of

But really as a male and a beginner you should be able to comfortably put on 50kg in a year of relatively consistent training and GPP. Each year it probably drops by 30-40%, so the year after you could do 30kg+.

But again this has so many variables:

  • How much are you eating
  • What other stressors are going on in your life?
  • How often can you get to the gym and how much time can you spend there?
  • Is it positively impacting your sport of choice?

These are all key questions to consider, but I’d say after a year or twos training if you can gain 5kg+ at the end of each 6 week program you’re doing well.

Do Knee Wraps Increase your Squat?

Knee wraps allow more weight to be lifted in the squat. The tightness of the wraps allow for a high amount of elastic energy to be stored during the eccentric phase of the lift. This excess energy can subsequently be released during the concentric phase of the lift, resulting in more reps or weight.

Furthermore, knee wraps are believed to reduce stress and pulling forces on the quadricep tendon. Anything that can reduce the stress on this tendon helps to avoid tendon detachment or quad tears. This shouldn’t be an issue with novice lifters, but when you start to get more accomplished you should consider purchasing some wraps.

This 2012 study highlights a couple of really interesting features regarding knee wraps:

  1. Wearing knee wraps reduces horizontal displacement in the squat (by 39% in this instance)
  2. The lowering phase of the squat was performed faster (by 45%)
  3. Overall there was a 10% increase in power output
  4. The consistent use of knee wraps could alter the musculature of the lifter and potentially cause long-term knee issues

So are knee wraps effective? Absolutely, but I would only use them towards the end of my peaking cycle.

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