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.
B) 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.
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