If you love the snatch, clean, and jerk as much as I do, then your next best friend better be the squat.

The foundation of any weightlifting program, squats in all of their variations are an essential aspect of a well designed strength and conditioning program.  Strong legs, hips, and core will follow when you employ squats effectively into your training program.

But how strong of a squat is strong enough?  While it is true that as the squat increases in capacity so  to do the snatch, clean, and jerk .  For every investment of time and energy, however, there is a cost.

Are we going about squatting in the least effective manner?

Is chasing a bigger squat the right answer?  Should we be focusing on being able to squat more weight or squatting weights at certain intensities, better?

According to R.A. Roman in The Training of the Weightlifter, the optimal intensity for squat training is 75-105% of one’s clean and jerk maximum, way below what a weightlifter’s theoretical 1 rep max should be.  (67)  In The Science and Practice of Strength Training by Vladimir Zatsiorsky and William Kraemer, squatting a weight at submaximal intensities to failure or with increased speed are incredibly beneficial.  Zatsiorsky and Kraemer do argue that lifting to maximal weights is important for developing full central nervous system activation, subsequent motor unit recruitment, and therefore maximal strength.  (82) However, squatting with maximal (1 rep max) weights comes at a cost.  Over time excessive maximal squatting “decreases vigor, elevates anxiety or depression… [and] high blood pressure at rest.”  Tudor Bompa discusses the need to develop one’s Rate of Force Development in his landmark book Periodization:  Theory and Methodology of Training.  According to Bompa, change the rate at which forces is enacted on an object i.e. how quickly the weight can be accelerated and one will be able to generate more power and therefore lift more weight.  (261-262)  By extension therefore, reactivity and speed and not just brute strength become important variables and impact the intensity of the weight squatted.

The literature clearly concludes that including a majority of squats done with technical precision and speed will transfer over to the weightlifter’s success in the snatch, clean, and jerk with much less of the increased costs associated with more frequent heavier squatting.

So, how can one get the most out of your squats during the important preparatory phases of training without leaving you smashed and withered?

At Steelworks Strength Systems, we alter our squats with tempo and intensity a number of ways.  However, one constant no matter the type of squat is the intent we have when we squat.  The athlete is encouraged to focus his or her movement with explosiveness, reactivity, and speed, no matter how fast or slow he or she actually moves.

  1.  Forced Eccentric Squatting – The athlete squats with a forced descent of up to 5 seconds per rep.  This decreases the intensity of the weight lifted, but the increased time under tension helps recruit more muscles and even increases the metabolic costs of squatting.   The forced descent also makes the weight “feel” heavier and mentally prepares them for future heavier loads with no forced descent.  Better positions and body awareness are developed as well as the athlete moves more slowly.  Great tool for beginners.
  2. Non Stop Squats – The athlete descends and ascends to full extension but no rest is taken at the top or bottom of each rep.  Constant movement occurs.  Helps develop reactivity, and rigidity and endurance throughout the core.  At Steelworks, we sometimes use the same weight for a couple of weeks and TIME each set.  A reduction in the time it takes to complete the set means the athlete is becoming more proficient.
  3. Double Bounce Squats – Also known as 1 1/2 squats.  The athlete squats down with hips below the knees then ascends to bring the thighs parallel the floor.  However, the athlete then drops back to the bottom of the squat and “bounces” out of the bottom of the hole.  Great tool for developing reactivity and helps teach the athlete how to effectively use his or her stretch reflex to get out of a heavy clean.
  4. Pause Squats – The athlete descends to the bottom of the squat and holds the bottom position for a number of seconds, no more than 5 usually.  Great way of developing core endurance and explosiveness.
  5. Bottom Up Squats – Also known as pin squats.  Usually done in a power rack or from blocks, the athlete sets the barbell at a height that places him or her at a weak position in his or her squat.  This can be either all of the way in the bottom of the squat or at the squat’s “sticky point” i.e. the position of lever weakness.  Great way to help develop an athletes correct sequencing of the quads and glutes which will help keep the torso more vertical during the ascent.

If you want to become great at weightlifting, you need squats.  Period.  However, if you are organizing your training with a LONG TERM development in mind, you need to organize your squat training with care.

If you are curious to learn how we at Steelworks Strength Systems utilize this Squat Better, Not Heavier approach, fill out the form below!

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