How’ to Perfect Your Squatting And Increase Muscle Size in Your Upper Body…

The Art of...‘SQUATTING’

Squatting is without a doubt the ultimate leg training workout and before we discover the art of squatting, you may or may not know; that this exercise is one of the basic core strength exercises that has a direct benefit on the growth and development of other muscle groups. Let me backup and say that again…‘benefits the growth and development of other muscle groups’.

On the surface this doesn’t make much sense, ‘How’ can doing a squat exercise have an effect on the rest of your bodies muscle groups? Let’s take a moment to discuss this facet of this exercise, because this is such an important, but mostly overlooked part of this training program and can really make or break your progress.

When you train really hard, and squats do just that, a signal is sent to the brain telling it to release (HGH) Human growth hormone’… apart from when you are in deep sleep, this is the only other time the body will do this.

Because the legs are a big group of muscles the signal produced is quite sufficient to release a large volume of ‘HGH’. Plenty to supply the leg muscles and the other muscle groups you trained days before…helping them to repair quicker and increase in their muscle size.

This wouldn’t happen when training say the Biceps, sorry you guys who have gig arms. Working the Biceps wouldn’t produce anything like the strong signal the legs can to release the volume of HGH required to affect other muscle groups.

That’s why the core exercise like squat, bench, and dead-lefts work and should be part of your training routines.

But back too squatting form…

A facet of squatting, aside from setting up, is obtaining or reaching proper depth in the squat. Far too many people either don’t reach the required depth, or go well beyond to do much good, other than to strain the knees and back. In order for the squat to work it’s necessary to get the joint at the top of the femur (where the thigh bone joins the hip) in-line with the knee.

It’s also important to reach full squat under control, slowly, then pause at the bottom of the movement for a moment.  This puts the leg muscles under maximum load. No bouncing at the bottom either, as this puts unnatural stress on the knee, and lower spine, and takes the load off the muscles too…thus defeating the object of the exercise.    

There are many different ways to train that will help your squat and reach an acceptable depth, which is necessary to develop both strength and size. We will also look at some movements to help strengthen areas that are generally not up to par and some tips that I’ve used in the past, to help those not reaching the required depth or going way below parallel to become competent squatters.

But Before We Begin We Need to Take a Quick Look At ‘Why’ You Should Stretch Before You Start your Squatting… 

As I have mentioned before, weight trainers so often overlook this, and it’s important to understand that flexibility goes hand-in-hand with strength, but research has shown that stretching before training can reduce overall strength, or number of reps possible.

However, and this is the exciting part, it’s been shown that stretching after training is very beneficial and indeed helps reduce muscle breakdown and increases muscle growth.  I will come back to this subject on ‘how’ this works in more detail in future issues, but for now… 

As mentioned you should however, do a light warm-up before training.  This helps prepare the joints, increases blood flow, etc, for your workout.

Let’s take a look at hamstring stretches as an example;

Start by simply placing one leg in front of the other and bend forward. One thing we do differently is not to keep the back erect. A friend of mine, a former dancer, showed me that all you want to do is stretch and not stress. Let the weight of your trunk slowly stretch you out and breathe normally. This won’t allow you to do the splits, but we just want to get loose and put blood into the muscle.

I ask you to keep an open mind and try to stretch lightly before training, and fully stretch after.

Try to think of it like this… ‘Strength ultimately is strength, regardless of where it comes from’.

For more information on stretching please ‘click here’!

Let’s take a look at some other leg exercises that will lead to better and stronger squatting…

Wall Squatting

Let’s begin by talking about ‘wall squats’ and ‘wall squat holds’ first. Why should you bother to do an exercise that requires only body weight, no bar on your back? Well, this movement allows you to squat with total support and just as important, strengthen and warm up those leg muscles to help prevent injuries.

As mentioned, you don’t have a bar across your back; which leaves you free to view a few issues that all squatters deal with at one time or another. Most times, the groin over powers the hips, and the knees cave in. We’ve all had this problem before.

It’s not just a question of weight, its technique. When you are wall squatting, you can focus on keeping the knees pushed out, and being able to see this with your own eyes is extremely helpful. It’s also very useful to be able to ‘FEEL’ the movement, feel the correct depth position, so you can aim to replica the same feeling during the traditional squat…this is more important than you may realize at this moment in time.

Another issue is with an injury or sore knees or just plain being tight. You can warm-up all these areas as you prepare to do your squat training.

The wall squat holds are accomplished by squatting down parallel with the knees and holding that position for roughly a count of 10, more if you have strong legs. Again, visually you are able to focus on pushing out the knees. The lifter is also getting in some good hip and glutei work.

This movement is great for beginners to help them develop the strength to get into the hold position in proper form and strengthen the hips without using an awkward movement of weight on the back… it’s very much like a pause squat.

It also helps with sore knees and tight hips. I have suffered with a knee issue for years and have had two operations on my right knee. When I squat I would suffer so much knee pain that it made me lean forward to get depth and try to avoid making the knee hurt. Turns out I was never quite hitting the required depth to do much good, because my knee was hurting anyway.

I had to stop squats for two weeks and started to do 3 sets of 10 reps of wall squats, and then 5 wall squat holds for a count of 30 seconds before doing leg press. After about two weeks, I added box squats; which I will get to shortly, followed by regular squats.

Within 6 weeks, I was able to squat to a good depth and my strength began to increase dramatically. Most importantly was the fact that the knee soreness and tightness issue was dramatically improved. I actually learned this movement from a bodybuilder friend of mine, who had a knee injury that required surgery, and this was part of his rehab workout, which worked wonders for him.

I have now taken it a step further, by using it as a tool to locate any possible weaknesses in the squat, without the stress of weights for the beginner. Try it out for yourself; you’ll be surprised at the results…

Let’s now take a closer look at ‘Box squatting’

What is a ‘box squat’?

Well we use a box to help locate our depth while remaining as upright as possible during the squat. The idea comes from the need to let powerlifters feel and note proper depth.

While squatting, especially for beginners, it’s tough to focus on so many facets all at once. As you progress, then obviously, it is not as difficult to focus on what you need to do. By using a box, the lifter can focus on setting up and sitting back, and on touching the box they push back up.

Seems simple enough, but I still see very experienced lifters make lifts to only be denied by red lights over depth. The benefits are plenty from strengthening the hips, learning to stay upright, and most importantly hitting the proper depth. So give these a try as well.

But a word of warning don’t use heavy weights and don’t become reliant on solely using a box…

Because every time your bottom touches the box the total amount of weight on your back will compress the spine, and this isn’t a good idea.  Remember the object of this exercise is to develop squatting with a straighter back as possible.  If your back is even slightly bent on the push up, the stress could cause permanent damage to your lower spine, or surrounding muscles.

And just as important…until you perfect your squatting movement you will NEVER be able to increase your weights. After a period of time training with the box, take it out of your routine and concentrate on doing your squats without it. If you don’t then you run the risk of only becoming confidant enough to squat with the box, delaying any possible progress.

These are just a few things you can add to your squat workouts to help you improve reaching the correct depth and strengthening the muscles during exercise. When using any of these movements, have someone that has a trained eye, is experienced, or will be honest with you, watch your movement. In this way you can adjust any imperfections before they become a habit.  

You need to know how deep you are going, if the knees are caving, or if you are keeping your back as upright as possible during the squat.  I have seen many lifters favouring one leg over the other, in other words leaning to the side and using their stronger leg, this is very dangerous as the strain is enormous on the knee, lower back, hip joint and muscles in that leg.

It’s so important to perform the correct squat movement, allowing you the opportunity to gain that hard-earned muscle growth.

And yes, always have a spotter with you…’safety first’!

But regardless of the method you use to train with, it’s just as important to be consistent.

And one last thing…don’t become dependent on mirrors.  You need to learn to feel every part of the movement, not only will it help to develop more strength, but it will alert you when the movement isn’t quite right…practise, practise and more practise.

Also…have you ever seen a power-lifter or Olympic competitor using mirrors when they squat…no they rely on the ‘Feel’ not the look.

These then are the tools, which will help take you further reaching the goals that you set out to achieve. Hopefully, these movements will carry over to your regular squatting and depth will never be an issue again. Never under estimate the benefit of stretching and properly being warmed-up, and always have an open mind to the unconventional.

Until next time, lift heavy, train smart, eat more pizza, and grow some impressive muscles…John!