Squatting for Increased Strength & Conditioning
by Anthony Ditillo
At this point we are going to begin a section your strength training program which is of the utmost importance to you, no matter what your ultimate goals are in the field of weight training. It makes no difference where your aims may lie in the would of weights, leg work is of the utmost importance in determining whether you eventually reach your maximum potential or whether you fall by the wayside, somewhere along the road. There is so much positive information concerning correct leg training for increased muscular development and increasing muscular power, that to outline such a subject in minute detail would take in itself a complete book. The value of heavy leg and squat training is so far reaching that by now it should seem somewhat redundant to hear these time worn clichés repeated here, once again. Yet, I feel such remarks are indeed necessary , for in today’s world of weights, the amount of competition has increased so drastically and dramatically that some feel in order to reach the top in a given lift or two, only these particular lifts should be concentrated on so that increased workloads can be adapted with little or no increase in the overall training volume, which would take place , should we include sufficient leg work and squatting practices along with our particular chosen lifts in our particular chosen fields of physical endeavor. However, such a situation is not conducive to any great increase in the individual’s overall conditioning and overall body power. This is because it is absolutely necessary to work the thigh and hip area quite hard and regular in order for these sought after attributes to become physically possible for any real length of time. Make no mistake about it – hip and thigh specialization is necessary for any great increase of bodily strength and proficiency in which the immediate gains are sought to be held onto for any great length of time.
Hip and thigh specialization, with most emphasis placed upon the various squatting movements, can and will literally transform your physique beyond your wildest dreams, should you have the intelligence and fortitude to undertake a rigorous training regime and all around training program.
The most important aspect of hip and thigh specialization is the overall conditioning such training will develop in you. It matters not what field of lifting you are interested in, be it powerlifting, Olympic lifting or bodybuilding, such specialization will enable you to handle longer and more intense workouts, for all the areas of the body and this in itself is worth the price in energy such work warrants.
One major value of gross amounts of lower body work is the stimulation of the circulatory and metabolic systems of the body. Such stimulation will enable you to develop greater muscle mass and definition as well as muscle density, not to mention the increase in physical strength such undertakings will involve. With heavy lower body work, the blood is circulated to the working muscles at a faster rate and this has a carry over effect on the rate of muscular recuperation and physical adaptability, which we have already mentioned in previous chapters. Since one prerequisite for muscle growth lies in the increase of muscle pump, through exercise such an increase in your circulation is a handy way to develop the ability to “pump” the muscles with less sets and repetitions. This means the muscles will be operating at a higher level of proficiency and capability and this will develop greater gains in muscle size and athletic conditioning given enough time and sweat as well as determination on your part.
Make no mistake about it, a better conditioned athlete has the potential to be a stronger athlete as compared to another trainee with the same amount of basic power but without the same level of athletic conditioning. How many times have you been to a lifting meet and noticed how tired and pooped out the lifters were by the time it came to take their third attempts on either of the two Olympic lifts, or the three power lifts? Do you think the Western European athletes of the lifting platform suffer from this same lack of conditioning? I should say not. Nothing could be further from the truth. The major difference between our lifters and theirs lies in their superior conditioning.
When training the lower body for the purpose of developing greater physical conditioning, certain points in the training should be emphasized for the greatest results in the shortest possible time. To begin with, it is not necessary to use any assistance movements besides the conventional Back Squat when training for this pre-mentioned goal. Three workouts per week on the Back Squat will be necessary and for the most part weights will be handled that are well within the lifter’s physical capabilities. Further gains in strength will come as a natural by-product of such vigorous training and no attempt to handle maximum weights for singles will ever be necessary. Why? Because such training will cause a strength increase without the usual coaxing with very heavy poundages that most strength programs deem necessary. However, in our situation, we will be using the Squat as an exercise, sot as a lift. and the difference will be both seen and felt after the initial breaking-in period and with regular performances.
With our three day per week squat routine for conditioning purposes we will break our training into one heavy, one light, and finally, one medium day. On the first squat day we well be working with 80% of our limit for ten repetitions and our goal will be to ultimately perform five sets of ten reps with this weight. This means that if your limit for ten reps is 300 pounds, then you would be using around 240 pounds for the five sets of repetitions and your ultimate aim on this day would be to get five sets of ten reps with it. I would advise one or two sets of six to eight reps with lighter weights to properly warm up the muscles. After these sets you are ready to go. Finish up with one set of eight or so reps with around 50% of your maximum and then call it quits for that day. To do them first would over fatigue you for the rest of your program.
On our second day of squatting we will be using 50% of our one rep limit and our goal will be two or three sets of twenty repetitions with this weight. Have one warm up set and then get to the working poundage and get to work. Although the weight will be light the high number of repetitions will greatly stimulate your entire body with increased physical endurance and long lasting stamina. You can cool off from this work with a very light weight and one set of ten reps. Do these last in your program because you will not be able to walk properly after doing them. All rest between sets during this leg work (on all three days) should be kept to a minimum in order to further intensify the stress (effort). All other upper body work can be done on alternate training days, if you desire, or first on the squatting days before such leg work is undertaken. It is this light training day, with its few sets and very high repetitions, which is so important for increased cardiovascular efficiency and muscular development. Do not be misled by the use of such light training poundages that the routine is not of any great importance. One month or six weeks on such a routine will more than testify to its value and importance.
On our final day of squatting we will be using 70% of our one repetition limit and the rep scheme will be seven sets with between five and seven repetitions. Naturally a thorough warm-up will be necessary and desired. Two or three sets with increasingly heavier weights, until we are at our poundage for the day’s work, will be necessary to enable us to train unhampered with injuries. After our selected number of sets, one or two cooling off sets with around 50% maximum should do nicely. Finally, be sure to do this work at the end of the day’s routine or on another training period. By no means put this leg work first!
The kind of routines I have outlined for you here will revamp your metabolism to new heights of efficiency and ability. The overall results will be an increase in training drive, an increase in your workload capability, and finally, a great increase in tour leg development and repetition squatting proficiency. Your ability to recuperate from heavy exercise will enhance beyond your wildest dreams and the beauty of this type of repetition squat training is that the amount of weight handled will seem oppressive and overly heavy on the shoulders. This will enable you to use fairly good style and finesse while using this kind of squat training. This freedom from pain will enable you to attempt limits in repetition strength which you would have never reached had you continuously used the usual “five by five” routine used by so many of us. After some time at this type of training, you will find yourself using repetitions for very heavy weights.
For bodybuilding, heavy leg work and various assistance movements are both desirable and necessary for complete physical development. Make no mistake about it, heavy leg development is of the utmost necessity for top physique honors. The day of the top heavy bodybuilder is slowly but surely coming to an end. Such a half-developed physique is surely becoming a thing of the past. Leg work is paramount in importance for the would-be-bodybuilder competitor and champion. Along with the various squats, there are many leg assistance movements which are also necessary for complete development along aesthetic lines of achievement. To be sure, the high repetition squatting previously mentioned will develop a well developed pair of legs, but for the bodybuilder such development must also be defined, shapely, and aesthetic in shape. Correct squatting techniques are of the utmost necessity when planning to develop a pair of legs to rival John Grimek and all the rest of our bodybuilding heroes. It will take a lot of work and a lot of planning.
First and foremost, an exercise style should be developed which closely patterns itself after the style exhibited by the various Olympic lifters who use the Back Squat and Front Squat as a means to an end and not an end within itself. For the bodybuilder, squatting should be done primarily with the muscles of the frontal thigh and not with the muscles of the hips and buttocks. To work the muscles of the hip and buttocks at the expense of the thigh is indeed foolish for both the Olympic lifter and for the bodybuilder, since the lifter depends on the frontal thigh when coming out of the clean and snatch position. The bodybuilder will miss an important shaping benefit if he does not squat correctly and such a development will offset his overall impressiveness and beauty.
To Back Squat correctly the bar should be placed high on the traps for better control and balance. The foot spacing should be medium to medium close and the most important part: when lowering into the deep position, keep the torso erect and make the knee the axis of movement, not the hip. At the fully flexed bottom position, the leg biceps muscle should be “crushing” the calves with the upper thigh folded over the lower thigh as much as possible. Rebounding out of the bottom position is necessary so as not to utilize the muscles of the hips and buttocks.
For bodybuilding purposes I would advise two squat workouts per week. I also would advice additional assistance movements in order work the thigh from various angles so as to gain both in development and muscle density as well as shapeliness. The repetition scheme should incorporate both high and low repetitions so as to develop both usable strength as well as muscular size. I would still advise that such leg work be done at the end of the usual routine so as not to deplete oneself too early in the training day, or better still, do such work on separate days of the week which the lower body would be worked alone, so as to incorporate maximum muscular recuperation. The main assistance movements used by the majority of successful trainees would be the Leg Press, Leg Extension, Leg Curl, and at certain times, the Hack Squat.
As mentioned earlier, I would recommend a strict, upright, Olympic squat for properly developed thighs without excessive use of the hips and glutes. Be sure to keep the bar high on the traps and fold the thighs over the calves when in the low squat position. For the shaping movements such as the Hacks and extensions and Leg Curls, I recommend rather high repetitions such as ten to fifteen reps and at times, even higher. The Front Squat could be incorporated here on one squat training day, in place of the Back Squat, however, by using the correct squatting techniques I’ve outlined, the Front Squat is not really necessary for the bodybuilder. His Back Squat will work the same muscle groups much more comfortably. Using a two day squat routine, the following is an example of an intermediate trainee’s schedule:
Back Squat – seven to ten sets of eight to ten repetitions increasing to a weight just about maximum for one set of ten repetitions. Leg Extensions – four sets of ten to fifteen repetitions, done slowly. Leg Curls – four sets of ten to fifteen repetitions done slowly. Calf Work – eight to ten sets of whatever movements you decide to work on, keeping the repetitions rather high and the sets done rather quickly.
Front Squat – seven to ten sets of ten to fifteen repetitions done quickly for muscle shaping and pump effect. Hack Squats – four sets of ten to fifteen repetitions done slowly. Calf Work – the same as chosen previously.
On the opposite days you would work the upper body and on one of the squatting days you would finish up the routine with heavy deadlifts, if you are a powerlifter of light Stiff Legged Deadlifts, should you decide to do them solely for bodybuilding purposes.
Leg work for the bodybuilder is no longer a point of debate in lifting circles. The necessity of such work is made more apparent with each succeeding bodybuilding championship. The kind of routine listed for you here is a basic, sound, intermediate routine which you can work with after a given period of time, and improve upon by choosing your own method of incorporating the previously discussed training theories. The rest is up to you.
Squat specialization and leg work for the Olympic lifter or powerlifter is another matter which will require further discussion in this part of our chapter. Although many will disagree with me, I feel the training methods of the Olympic lifter will more than suffice as a training medium for the powerlifter also. This is because the Olympic lifter sill try to develop as much usable strength in the frontal thighs as he possibly can. This is necessary in order to recover strongly from the front squat-like clean position. Also, the squat snatch will necessitate such frontal thigh strength or he will never be able to recover from this position. I also believe that their attitude towards the amount of weight one regularly handles in the Back Squat is a more intelligent application of training ego. An Olympic lifter is not interested in how much he can Back Squat for a single, he is interested in how many sets and repetitions he can handle with a certain percentile of his limit as this volume and load training will develop itself in terms of how much he will be able to lift in competition. While the powerlifter is in a somewhat different position, being responsible for back squatting very heavy limit attempts in training during his peaking period before a contest, this idea of being concerned with not how heavy you can go, but how much work you can do does have merit. By keeping this mental attitude in place of trying to force up anything you can in training to impress your friends, you will develop a much superior style in your squats due to not having to concentrate solely upon the weight of the bar. Moreover, such use of the Olympic Back Squat as a main thigh strengthener will undoubtedly increase your leg strength to such an extent that during your pre-contest peaking periods, when utilizing the much more lax powerlifting style, the pre-developed leg strength will show itself with an increase in your powerlifting squat capability.
When formulating a basic power squat training routine, we must remember that the kinds of overload principles discussed in previous chapters will be most useful in trying to develop our ultimate squatting potential. However, it would be almost impossible for me to outline an example routine for each and every type of training principle and training methodology previously outlined. This is because such a topic would take the length of a book, in itself, to discuss fully. By attempting to overcome the stress of the proposed training routine which I am about to give you, the Olympic lifter as well as the powerlifter can incorporate the various training methods into future advanced routines as he sees fit. By first working on the program outlined, he is guaranteed that he has developed past the intermediate level of training and from there on in, it will be his own choices of training programs and how to mix these various methods, that will develop him into an advanced lifter.
The powerlifter should be squatting two days per week. The Olympic lifter can go to three days, since he will not be interested in some of the assistance movements which will prove most helpful for the powerlifter. For the powerlifter, one day heavy and one day light will usually suffice. On your heavy day you will be using the power style of back squatting. This means that the bar will be placed low on the back and the foot placement will be necessarily wide. Hips and glutes will be forced into play with this style and this will greatly add to your squatting poundage. This is as it should be since this is the style you will be using in competition.
On your light squatting day, perform the squat in Olympic lifting style. There should be no need to go over performance style again. The Olympic lifter would doing Back Squats twice per week in Olympic style and Front Squats once per week. The amount of sets and repetitions he will decide to utilize will be chiefly up to him and his coach, since he will be using these squatting movements for a means to an end, not as an end in themselves. For the powerlifter, I would advise Partial Back Squats within a power rack after the light Olympic Back Squats in his light training day. By using the power rack and doing a few sets but without maximum poundages, he will be adding to his training intensity without undue strain to his physical capabilities.
The closer you will get to a contest, the less volume of work you will be doing in your squats. This is known as peaking. For the powerlifter, this is the time for doing the heavy singles and doubles in the power style and for holding back on the power rack work and the Olympic style squats. For the Olympic style lifter this is the time to be mainly concerned with how much you can handle in the Clean and Jerk and the Snatch, not in the Squat. Be sure to realize what a peaking period in your training really stands for. For the powerlifter to rely on strict Olympic squatting at this time would be a mistake. For the Olympic lifter to be doing power squats at this time would be ludicrous. Think, and then train accordingly.
By cultivating an intelligent approach to lower body training, both the power and Olympic lifter may learn that they have a lot more in common than they would have previously thought. Correct leg training is one such consideration. By incorporating the Olympic strict style in back squatting our powerlifter will develop the ability to use his frontal thigh muscles to great advantage and this increase in sheer leg strength will definitely gave a carrying over effect on his regularly performed power squat. The Olympic lifter will also benefit from such regular strenuous thigh programs because his sport requires that he have developed just about the most powerful thighs one can imagine. Both facets of our sport require massively developed, terribly strong lower bodies.
In closing out this part of Chapter 3, let me remind you all, once again, that no matter what facet of the sport you are into at the present time, you will never make it to the ultimate of what it is you are really capable of without hard, regular lower body training. Intense, voluminous leg work will literally revamp your conception of just what constitutes plain, hard work. It will also aid you in developing a more muscular physique. The ability of the metabolism to be greatly stimulated through vigorous leg training is the key to your weight training future. Without this intense worthwhile training, you will be doomed to a future of lifting mediocrity. It is up to you to decide just what it is you want and where it is you wish to someday go.
I love anything and everything written by Ditillo!
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