Written by Chad Wesley Smith
One Thousand and Sixteen Days, 1016 days…That’s how long between my last 2 squat PRs. 1016 days filled with injuries, doubt, great training, other sports and more than anything else…work.
On June 6th, 2013 I herniated 2 discs in my lumbar spine while training the deadlift. I don’t think the deadlift was the culprit of this injury, rather it was a combination of 5 competition in the previous 5 months, improper breathing patterns and allowing small issues to compound on themselves. As cliché as it sounds, this was a blessing in disguise. It gave me the opportunity to rest and reevaluate what caused the injury and created a real need to correct those issues.
The most significant issue that caused my injury was living in a state of extension. Lumbar spine extension may be something you never think about but odds are if you squat and deadlift hard, you are in it. Constantly being in extension through the lumbar spine will cause a number of movement dysfunctions but the most significant problem it caused for me is never allowing the muscles of my low back to rest. Being in extension causes you to need to constantly fire those muscles to support your posture, rather than being in a neutral position and allowing your spine to do its job and support you. Getting yourself out of extension will help you move better, perform better and be healthier.
I would encourage you to check out this video from Ryan Brown of Darkside Strength and learn how breathing can help improve your movement quality…
Also, if you are struggling with low back issues, please check out this article series on Lumbar Spine Rehab by my personal doctor, Dr. Jason Reynolds…
Enough back talk, let’s get down to the business of why you opened this article, squatting huge weights.
There are 4 tenants that guide my programming, regardless of goal…
1-Sport Practice Is King
2-Select Exercises With High Transfer
3-Address Your Weakpoints
When setting out to create a program for my most recent meet where I squatted 937 pounds (a 32 pound PR) and totaled 2248 pounds (a 71 pound PR), these 4 principals once again, guided my programming.
This program is based upon Brandon Lilly’s Cube Kingpin program, which can be found in 365STRONG: Own the Day, lets examine how I adapted this for my needs based on the above guidelines…
1-Sport Practice is King
If you are a competitive powerlifter, the squat, bench and deadlift, in the manner you will do them in competition are sport practice. This seems like such a simple concept but time and time again, boxes, bands, chains, specialty bars and exercise variations seem to cloud this concept for many lifters.
The only irreplaceable piece of an athlete’s training is sport practice, football and basketball players understand that they must scrimmage (11 on 11 or 5 on 5) to improve their sport performance but too often I see powerlifters trying to thrive on exercise variations without giving the proper attention to their competitive technique. This isn’t to say that exercise variations don’t have their place, they certainly can and do, but the place is as a compliment to your sport practice (competition squat, whatever that means for you).
You will notice in this program that the competition squat is at the forefront of my squat training, it is done first and for the highest volume. The most important thing to my squat, and most likely yours, is perfecting your technique. Place your sport practice at the top of your priority list, master your technique, develop the most specific strength and improve your training.
2-Select Exercises with High Transfer
As I mentioned in the above point, exercise variations have their place and that place is as a compliment to your sport practice.
What are exercises with high transfer for me and what are exercises with high transfer for you may not be the same, critically and honestly evaluate your lifts and decide what you need.
The more similar to the competitive exercise something is, the higher its degree of transfer will be. So as you progress though higher and higher levels of qualification, your exercise selection will need to become more and more narrow towards the competitive exercise. This is why the highest qualified powerlifter and squatter, Andrey Malnichev, continues to thrive on the competitive exercises at varying intensities, only. You are not Malnichev, I am not Malnichev, we need some exercise variation but it needs to be strategically chosen.
I’m a quad dominant squatter and know that power out of the hole so my choices of assistance work are Olympic squats, front squats and pause squats.
As you are looking at selecting exercises for yourself that will transfer well to your specific weakpoints, here are some that will help common problems.
Falling Forward-Front Squats, Safety Squat Bar Squats, High Bar Olympic Squats
Stuck In The Hole-Pause Squats (below parallel or slightly above parallel without ever breaking if you are squatter who uses a lot of rebound)
Stuck Slightly Above Parallel-Pause Squats (slightly above parallel on the way back up), Dead/Anderson Squats
Read More: The Pyramid of Strength
3-Address Your Weakpoints
This point goes hand in hand with the above issue of choosing exercises with high degrees of transfer. Your weakpoints are unique to you and I can’t tell you what they are in this article.
Critically and honestly evaluate your technique and where things start to breakdown during your max attempts and place extra energy towards developing those areas.
For me currently, I don’t feel like I have any relative weaknesses effecting my technique, though I have placed great energy in the past towards my upper back and ab strength, for that reason, I’m not doing any real directed weak point training for the squat, just drilling my technique and letting everything improve together.
4-Consolidation of Stressors
This concept was illustrated very well throughout this training cycle in several ways. Consolidating of stressors is the idea of restricting training frequency over time as intensity and output increases, to facilitate recovery as each session provides greater stress/stimulus.
Through the 3 microcycles of this training plan, I consolidated from 3 squat sessions per week, to 2 session, to 1. As this consolidation occurred, intensity of the lifts increased in 2 respects, increased percentages and increased supportive equipment.
A question I often get is about the role of beltless training and how to implement it. There are 3 primary factors you can manipulate in your training, intensity, volume and frequency. Training without a belt limits the amount of weight you can use, fact, so intensity is inherently limited. With this variable being reduced, to maximize training effect, the other two (volume and frequency) need to be raised.
Through the first microcyle of this plan, all my work was beltless and I squatted 3x/week. The 2nd microcycle was done with a belt and I squatted 2x/week and during the 3rd and final microcycle I squatted 1x/week wearing a belt and knee wraps. Each microcyle the intensity increased and with that each session provided more stimulus necessitating more recovery, so frequency was decreased.
Now that we’ve discussed the why behind the creation of this program, let’s get to what you guys came for, the what and how!
- 5 Things That Are Holding Your Squat Back by Chad Wesley Smith
- 10 Steps To Great Squatting Technique by Chad Wesley Smith