Do It Better: Back Squats

When I was a kid, I watched one of my dad’s favorite movies, Caddyshack, often enough that one golfer’s ability to control the path of his putt with his mind (and the mantra “Na-na-na-na-na-na-na”) still stands out vividly to me. “There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen,” says Ty Webb (played by Chevy Chase). “And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.”

Below, Unapologetically Strong head coach JVB teaches you two drills that will teach you to be one with the barbell (a critical mindset for overcoming fear of big squats). Turning over the wheel to her now….

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I coach lifters both in person and in my Unapologetically Strong online coaching group and sometimes my more experienced lifters hit a mental roadblock when it comes to their back squat. The fear factor.

This scenario is most common with my powerlifters who are approaching the end of their meet-peaking training cycle: they can now squat more than they ever previously thought possible and even though they’ve been making great overall progress, they will mentally freeze at the thought of squatting even more weight on the platform.

I understand this feeling, I get it (because I’ve been there). The squat is a physically and mentally demanding lift but listen that’s fine, we’re fine. We can do hard things.

I’ve written extensively on the basics of the back squat, including where to put your hands on the bar , and how to brace properly so you can lift weight easier and more safely, but if you’re a more seasoned lifter who has the big rocks of the squat nailed but is mentally balking at squatting more weight, this tip is for you:

I invite you to learn how to become one with the bar. (Or as Yoda might advise, “Become one with the bar, you learn.”)

If that sounds like a fluffy piece of advice to you I assure you, it’s anything but. If you are interested in progressively moving more weight over time, you and the bar need to move together as one unit.

And because you’re taking the opportunity to work with heavier weight than you have before, your confidence in your squat will increase because you will learn how to handle that weight with surety and control.  

 

Heavy Squat Stands

Standing with a heavy load on your back requires you to be in charge of your bar and will knit your upper back, traps, and core together like nothing you’ve ever tried before. It also a more approachable way to work with heavier weight because you’re not actually squatting it.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Load a barbell with 80% of your current 1RM.
  2. Grip the bar tight, duck under, pinning your upper arms tight to your ribs.
  3. Step your feet directly under the bar and brace your abs hard.
  4. Inhale and stand straight up with the bar.
  5. Exhale and continue to breathe for 3-4 more breaths.
  6. Rack the bar and rest at least one minute between each set.

Repeat with 90%, 100%, and keep going up to 110%, 115%, and 120% of your 1RM. (Pssst: Be judicious and respect your limits! These percentages are simply guidelines. Feel free to make smaller jumps and not work up as high your first go-round or two. The point is to find out what you can do, not what you can’t.)

 

Heavy Squat Walk-Outs

Heavy Squat Walk-Outs offer the same benefits as Heavy Squat Stands, but since you are walking the bar out from the j-hooks, the challenge is greater. Gain confidence with Heavy Squat Stands before moving on to the Walk-Out version and don’t work up as heavy: 110% to 115% of your 1RM is the target here.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Load a barbell with 80% of your current 1RM.
  2. Grip the bar tight, duck under, pinning your upper arms tight to your ribs.
  3. Step your feet directly under the bar and brace your abs hard.
  4. Inhale and stand straight up with the bar.
  5. Take two steps back from the j-hooks, positioning your feet in your preferred squat stance.
  6. Exhale and continue to breathe for 3-4 more breaths.
  7. Walk forward to rack the bar and rest at least one minute between each set.

Repeat with 90%, 100%, and keep going up to 110%, 115% of your 1RM.  (Pssst! The warning above fits so well here too I’m going to say it again: Be judicious and respect your limits! These percentages are simply guidelines. Feel free to make smaller jumps and not work up as high your first go-round or two.)

 

Important Tips!

  • For these moves to go well for you, complete a dynamic warm-up before you get started that includes exercises that have opened up your shoulders and thoracic spine, and fired up your core. The demand placed on your shoulders while they’re externally rotated will be great and your core needs to be ready to work. Taking a few minutes to open up your joints and get your blood moving will be time well spent.
  • Do both of these movements inside the squat rack with the safety bars set at nipple height. This is a non-negotiable, friends.
  • Don’t rush your set up: take the time to grip the bar like you’re trying to melt it in your hands and position it on the flexed muscles of your upper back. Don’t just rest the bar on your back, put it in it’s place. In each movement, imagine your body as a strong column of stacked joints from your ankles all the way up to your shoulders. 

Either of these movements will come first thing in your squat workout, after your warm-up and before your prescribed work sets. After you’re done, back off the weight and complete the assigned sets and reps in your training program—and feel how gloriously light the weight feels and how much more in control you are of your bar.

If  hope this helps! If you give it a try (c’mon, give it a try!), I want to know what you think, so make sure you head back here to the comment section and tell me all about it.


 

If you’re interested in busting through strength plateaus and leveling up your lifting prowess with the support of a coach, and you want that support to be me, applications are now being accepted for Unapologetically Strong Coaching!

  • Uncover your strength with a coaching program includes one on-boarding week and 12 training weeks.
  • Improve your conditioning with Lift Weights Faster for Powerlifting, including 66 circuit workouts written to perfectly complement your strength-based workouts.
  • Learn the intuitive training protocol we follow at The Movement Minneapolis, and see how using biofeedback can take your squat, press, and deadlift in a new and positive trajectory.
  • Become connected with a community of people who are looking for the same thing you are: to get stronger, to bust through training plateaus, and to feel more confident and empowered in their lifts.

We’ve seen hundreds of members, both in the gym and online, thrive while working together in a community. If this piques your interest, read more about (and apply for) the program HERE.

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Author:Jennifer Blake

Jennifer Blake’s leggings might be pink but her weights aren’t. A personal trainer at The Movement Minneapolis she is a powerlifting and strongman enthusiast with a passion for human movement, here to spread the good word that strong is fun. Facebook: Strong Is Fun, Twitter, Instagram
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