Leg bending: the queen of all movement. Some dread it, others adore it. Whatever your goal or the sport you practice, this strength training exercise is certainly one of the most beneficial for muscle building.
Unfortunately, the squat can become a problematic movement when a period of stagnation sets in. The causes of a lack of progress can be multiple: a problem of mind, strength, or technique.
Fortunately, if you’ve really hit a plateau, there are plenty of ways to get past it. We will see in this article 8 different methods to progress down the flexion and up the squat.
How to progress at the bottom of the squat?
Getting up is definitely the most difficult part of the movement, especially after performing a full squat. It is at this point that the body changes from an eccentric effort to a concentric effort. If you have difficulty making this transition, your leg curls and extensions will become more and more difficult. Here are 5 strategies to stop blocking this step of the squat.
1. The tempo
Training while controlling the tempo is an easy way to progress in the squat if you happen to get stuck at the bottom of the movement. This is definitely one of the best methods of progression for two reasons. First of all, it requires concentration and patience, which allows you to perfect your body control. Second, you don’t really need to change your training schedule to use this ploy.
Novice: try with a 3-second lowering phase (count three seconds in your head during the leg curl). Most beginners can get by without decreasing their load with an eccentric movement lasting 3 seconds.
Intermediate: try to do your flexes with a duration of 3 to 4 seconds. If you are working with a load heavier than 70% of your RM, it is recommended to take a lighter in order to avoid getting trapped under the bar.
Advanced: Aim for 3 to 5 seconds of descent. If you are an advanced athlete, you are likely lifting already heavy loads and you probably will not be able to keep your workload with such long tempos (5 seconds). Take the time to adjust your weight by doing tests to choose the right weight.
2. Isometric breaks
Along with slow tempo work, isometric contractions are among the most effective techniques for increasing squat strength. If you want to gain strength at the bottom of the movement, you’ll need to take an isometric break at the bottom of your flexion.
Most of the time, this pause will last 1 to 3 seconds. Be careful, this intensification technique requires you to maintain a powerful core that allows you to maintain good posture.
To integrate isometric breaks into your training, you can add them both at the start and at the end of the session (for warming up or finishing) with light loads.
If you want to merge them into your training, first do an isometric pause test between 1 and 3 seconds with a bar loaded at 65-75% of your RM. Advice according to your feelings for the other series. You can very well keep the same load with a long break or take a heavier load with a shorter break.
To work in complete safety:
If you have a training partner, get help so they can help you raise the bar.
If you are training alone: the best is to train in a squat cage with the supports adjusted to a height that allows you to put your bar down in case you no longer have the strength to go up.
3. Elastic bands
Elastic bands can be used at the bottom of a guided frame or squat cage to work with more tension at the top of the movement and reduced at the bottom of the squat, allowing for a less difficult ascent.
In this case, you will be working at the top of the extension with an additional load that will apply in addition to the load on your bar.
These resistance bands can also be fixed at the top of any machine, always in the same principle: to assist the passage between the descent and the ascent. With this setup, you will be working at the bottom of your flex with a lower load than the one loaded on the bar, as you will benefit from the potential energy of the stretched elastic.
A study published in 2011 demonstrated that resistance band training can improve an athlete’s strength and power. They can therefore be a useful tool for someone who has difficulty making the flexion/extension transition down the squat.
4. Seated squat (box squats)
Sitting squats have been in use for years and were heavily popularized by Louie Simmons (American powerlifter). This variant of the squat requires you to control the descent phase of your squat, come to a complete stop while sitting down (while maintaining good posture), and return to the starting position.
The “box squat” is very interesting because it requires focusing on both static and dynamic effort. For practitioners who have difficulty getting up from a squat with a large amplitude, this method allows working specifically on this transition zone.
5. 1 + 1/4 squat
The 1 + 1/4 squat is an excellent variant of the classic squat which also allows you to increase your performance at the bottom of the flexion. This squat requires you to do a normal descent, come back up, and then come to about 1/4 of the comeback, come back down to the bottom and come up completely.
For those who tend not to descend completely for fear of getting stuck under the bar, the 1/4 squat with a lighter load is just one of the many tools you can use to progress.
The advantage of the 1/4 squat is that it allows to work the sheathing, but also the strength and the muscular hypertrophy with an additional time under tension.
Tips for progressing to the top of the squat
You’re less likely to lack the strength to complete the last portion of the squat extension, but if you do, there are a few tools that could be of great use to you.
6. Dead stop Squat aka. Anderson Squat
The “Anderson Squat” consists of resting the bar with each flexion on the safety supports. To work the upper part of the squat, position the supports high enough. Usually, this allows you to work with a heavy load.
As you progress, lower the supports to gain strength over greater amplitude.
- This variant has several advantages:
- You can easily merge it into your training without the help of a partner to ensure you.
- It allows you to adjust and find the bar position that suits you best (high bar or low bar).
- As you are not doing a full movement, you can overload the bar which will work on the sheathing of the stabilizing muscles of the trunk.
7. Squat with inverted elastic
As written earlier in this article, elastic bands can also be used to work with decreasing tension as you lower the load.
Attached above the bar, the elastics allow you to work with a tension opposite to the weight of the bar, much like having a training partner constantly standing there to give a little push to go up.
8. Quarter squat
This is one of the few times that a quarter squat can come in handy. This type of squat requires that you move the bar on reduced amplitude compared to a regular squat. For this reason, you will have the ability to load much heavier. Be careful not to go too deep, because you may not be able to lift the load.
The quarter squat can also be useful for emphasizing the quadriceps. On the other hand, this squat can help gain confidence with heavier loads, which in a sense also helps progress. You will have understood it, although useful for stimulating the neuromuscular system, this type of squat is not to be done in routine.