Ground Up Strength: Anderson Squats
Looking through the pages of GUS you’ve probably seen Anderson being used to describe squatting exercises. Way back when Paul Anderson was a major powerlifter he would deload his barbell during his squatting. The term deload, in this case, implies that the barbell is rested on the pins of a power rack or similar apparatus such that you are no longer ‘loaded’ with the barbell. Anderson used various methods, including digging holes. After deloading he would brace himself and drive into the barbell, and complete the squat.
What’s the difference between a regular squat and an Anderson squat?
As mentioned above, the main difference lies in the fact that the barbell is deloaded at some pre-determined depth. There are a few other differences which are not so subtle.
1) The deload prevents ‘bouncing’ in and out of the hole (the transition between eccentric and concentric). This is a very well known method for overcoming a sticking point, however we all know that well known methods are not necessarily the best.
2) If we’re performing Anderson Front Squats there is a very large core component involved, mainly activation. Ordinary front squats involve a core component as well but imagine the speed and force at which you must activate the core musculature in order to not only support the weight, but to also support it while accelerating the weight from a dead stop. There is something to be said about being able to very rapidly engage and stabilize your core.
3) Consider what the main difference is between a continuous movement and one that has a deloading portion, eccentric contraction. As you perform the eccentric portion of movement you are elongating the muscles while maintaining a contraction, when you reach the transition point, between eccentric and concentric, and begin to perform the concentric portion your muscles are sort of preloaded with tension. More accurately it can be thought of as a displaced spring, in other words a store of potential energy. If you deload the weight you also lose the stretch shortening cycle1. In layman’s terms, it adds difficulty to the movement.
Why use Anderson squats and how do you implement them?
As mentioned above, the main advantage is the core activation component. When very heavy weights are being used there is also the advantage of being able to grab a breath or two when the barbell is deloaded. It also helps form to a degree. If your form is sloppy or you aren’t able to get into, or maintain, proper position then you will run into problems.
Another advantage is that this may help develop explosive starting strength. Over a very short period of time you are going from a dead stop to exerting a large amount of force, thus increasing the speed of recruitment of motor units. This is a main component of explosive starting strength.
Implementing them is rather easy. Any squat can be turned into an Anderson squat and any depth can be set. Depth also allows for another means of progression. Rather than increasing the weight or reps you always have the option of lower your pins another notch. You can go ahead and do a straight substitution for any of your regular squats but, like so many things, a bit of experimentation is a good idea.
How to perform them:
1) Set your pins or catches on your squat rack at the desired height.
2) Step into the squat rack and unrack the barbell as you normally would do.
3) Perform the eccentric movement, decelerating as you approach the pins. You do not want to be dropping down and smashing into the pins every rep, deload gently.
4) When you reach the pins completely deload the barbell. Its even a good idea, providing you don’t get out of position, to drop down an extra inch or so and completely break contact with the barbell.
5) Regain contact with the barbell and apply a slight pressure. Brace your core and drive into the bar to accelerate it. The best way to describe this is analogous to punching in martial arts. Just as you would try to punch THROUGH your target, try not to squat against the bar but try to drive through the bar.
6) Finish the concentric portion. Either rack the barbell or perform more repetitions.