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Not All Squats Are Created Equal: 3 Thoughts On Being A Better Raw Squatter


Not All Squats Are Created Equal: 3 Thoughts On Being A Better Raw Squatter

By Greg Robins

If you want to be a good raw back squatter then you need to embrace the nuances of that lift. It isn’t the same as geared squatting, box squatting, front squatting, or any other kind of squat you might choose to utilize.

1. Stop box squatting

I don’t like the box squat for those looking to excel at raw squatting. Why? Mainly it’s too far removed from a technique and demand standpoint from the raw squat. Box squatting, done correctly, is a different lift all together. Most will assume a wider stance, utilize the hips to a point that isn’t possible in a raw squat, and become reliant on the controlled descent.

The box squat calls for a different firing sequence, and therefore a much different demand on the nervous system. Max outputs rely heavily on a well taught CNS, and the more time you spend removed from the movement in question, the less practice you are undergoing.

The box squat is a great option for geared lifters, athletes and those learning to squat. For the competitive raw lifter, or lifter looking to maximize performance in the raw squat, you will be better served to just squat more.

2. Choose appropriate supplementary lifts 

Some supplementary lifts will make your squat stronger, and some will teach you to be a better squatter. Others like, the box squat, in my opinion, will teach you bad habits and have little transfer to your squat.

In the early stages, I am an advocate of supplementary lifts that teach you to squat, and in turn, teach you to find “your” squat. What are some examples?

A) Squatting from the pins is among my favorite supplementary lifts. It will make your squat stronger, and teach you how to squat. By initiating the lift in the bottom position you are getting all the benefits of removing the stretch shortening cycle (SSC), that which some will tote as the redeeming quality of box squatting. It is important, as it will improve upon starting strength, and improve your rate of force development. It is superior in my mid to the box squat because it allows for using the same stance and leverages that you will use in your free squat. For that reason, it is also a phenomenal tool in teaching new lifters what “right” feels like, and helping them locate the best stance for their squat. Likewise, I have found that this variation is a great supplementary lift to start my first block of my usual 16 week cycle. If I have migrated away from my most advantageous set up, or need to be reminded how to involve my hips appropriately I am able to adjust using this lift.


glassesB) Squatting with chains and reverse bands are a good option to teach confidence in the descent. I don’t use them for “speed” work, as I will touch upon that later. By utilizing accommodating resistance we can feel weight on our back but also teach ourselves, and our bodies to DROP into the hole with speed and confidence. This is imperative to becoming a better raw squatter. We want to milk the SSC for all it’s worth.

As far as choosing supplementary lifts that will aid in your strength, my biggest thought is that you need to spend more time building volume with the actual lift. I haven’t found many supplementary lifts, shy of squatting from the pins, that actually show a positive correlation to my improvement of the actual squat. I have seen the front squat improve athletes back squat numbers, as well as using specialty bars such as the Safety Squat Bar, or Giant Cambered Bar. I tend to limit my use of these three variations as they will shift the load forward, and place more emphasis on the quads, which for me leaves more room for knee crankiness. If you have a supplementary lift that has proven to actually move your squat number up, as it moves up, then by all means utitlize it. Keep in mind the idea that some supplementary lifts are best pushed to improvement (those that correlate to higher squat numbers), and some are better for technique development. An intelligent programming of both will yield the best outcome.

3. Utilize jumping, and treat everything as “speed” work

Speed work is sexy. Raw strength is not. Raw strength will improve through volume and technical mastery. Or to say it will improve with hard work, both from a physical standpoint, and constant practice / evaluation of your form. As a raw lifter you should be trying to move all repetitions with the greatest amount of speed. Doing so will cover most of your bases in explosive development.

Aside from that, jumping will have tremendous transfer to your explosive power potential. From a specificity standpoint it likens itself more to the demands of free squatting than box squatting vs. chains and bands. In general, when we practice jumping as a form of “speed” work we are placing time restraints on our force potential. By doing so, and improving our jumping ability, we are able to call upon more force, more quickly. This will increase your pop out of the hole, and aid in giving you more momentum to flow through any sticking points during the squat. Furthermore, jumping (primarily box jump variations) are lower stress and therefore more repeatable and easier to recover from. Which makes them a more manageable form of additional training stimulus to add to a program as a whole. Not all jumps are equal, as landing (depth drops) and counter jump variations (depth jumps) are far more stressful than others. Therefore, make sure to manage volume and selection appropriately and in accordance with the volume of actual squatting.

Related Articles:

10 Steps to Great Squatting Technique by Chad Smith

5 Tips for Building a Big Raw Squat by Mike Israetel, PhD

The Bottom Position of Your Squat: A Defining Characteristic of Your Human Existence by Dr. Quinn Henoch

Greg Robins is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Performance in Hudson MA. For more content please visit his website at www.gregtrainer.com

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15 Responses to “Not All Squats Are Created Equal: 3 Thoughts On Being A Better Raw Squatter”

September 07, 2012 at 1:52 pm, John Knight said:

Hey Chad, just a quick question!

Do you have any thoughts on contrast training (performing a set of squats, then a short set of jumps immediately after)? Is that a viable means of increasing power/explosive ability, or would it just detract from squatting and jumping performance?


September 07, 2012 at 8:51 pm, Juggernaut said:

Hey John,
We utilize contrast training very often with our athletes, it is a very effective and powerful training tool.



September 07, 2012 at 10:33 pm, John Knight said:

Awesome, thanks, Chad. Seems like a pretty cool concept, will have to try it out on the next training cycle.


September 08, 2012 at 9:48 am, Patrick Estvold said:


How do you determine the best stance for a raw squat? My best lifts have all been done with a narrow stance (shoulder width at best), however, I find it difficult to maintain tension in the hole with this stance and I think it’s holding me back from bigger numbers. Thanks,



September 10, 2012 at 9:52 am, Juggernaut said:

You have already identified that your current stance isn’t ideal for you, I would change around the depth and see what feel stronger. You need to give each new stance though a few weeks, because it won’t be an instant fix most likely.


September 08, 2012 at 4:44 pm, Juan said:

Awesome article.
I want to ask something,
I dont have a power rack with adjustable pins. They have a fixed height.

I want to do the Squatting from the pins. Can I do that on a smith machine. Or will that be useless… thanks!


September 10, 2012 at 9:51 am, Juggernaut said:

I wouldn’t say that it would be useless, it obviously wouldn’t be as good, but could definitely still have a positive effect.


November 18, 2012 at 6:55 pm, Ron Nichols said:

What percentages or reps and sets should you use for pin squats?


November 19, 2012 at 9:52 am, Juggernaut said:

Start at 60%. Always do sets of 1. I have done as many as 12 sets of 1 on 45 seconds rest


November 21, 2012 at 2:40 pm, Ron Nichols said:

Should you use front squats as a max effort exercise or accessory and how would u work it in?


December 02, 2012 at 12:36 am, AJ said:


Would you not say that a shoulder width or wider raw box squat done correctly IS a JUMP. The movement patterns are relatively the same minus the rebend in the hips and knees to make depth. The first extension is the same movement.

Thank you and the article was a great read.



December 14, 2012 at 9:58 pm, Greg R. said:


It is not a jump. The velocity involved in moving only yourself, or 5-20lbs is much higher than any loaded barbell movement. Furthermore, when you jump your not messing with squat mechanics, you’re jumping. You get all the “dynamic” benefit, without getting to close to the line of messing with squat mechanics. Both involve hip / knee extension. I just see more carry over when you choose to do sub maximal, higher velocity, squat work in the same manner you plan on squatting. The box changes too much, physically and mentally. Not to mention if you do a true “Box” squat then, no, the movement is different. It should be a movement not repeatable with no box there. You are better served doing pin and paused squats, or in many cases just squatting more. I’m not a record holding raw squatter. Success leaves clues though, and it makes sense when held against proven performance enhancement strategies too.


August 14, 2013 at 2:53 am, John said:

Hi Gregg I enjoyed reading your article. What caught my eye about it is that you mentioned pin squats and I have had great success using it. Pin squats are pretty much the only thing that carries over well to my regular squat. I have set the pins to parell height and squatted down to it with a pause and squatted straight back up. I also agree with you that box squats weren’t really much of a value to regular raw squatting. My question is how can I still use pin squats to reach new levels of strength in the squat?


August 15, 2013 at 12:58 pm, Greg R. said:

@ John

The most simple answer would be to gradually add more weight to the bar over time. Aside from that, try cycling it and out with paused squats WITHOUT the pins. There is good info around this site on how to do paused squats.


March 10, 2016 at 9:23 am, Chris said:

First off that picture of that box jump onto two tire is sick bro. But yeah I added pin squats to my leg routine for the past month and I have noticed some pretty good results. Not only is my low and high bar squat stronger, PR wise as well as just feeling stronger. I am also seeing a better deadlift as well as, for whatever reason, my knee pain has been diminishing. I think this is due to the case, like you said that you are learning how to squat with start strength and better force development. I feel as if I am not guiding my squats down as much as I used to before I started doing pin squats. Great article man. I will be back to read more for sure.



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