WORKOUT: Squat for Strength

Few lifts are as gratifying to watch grow as is the squat. When executed with good form, the barbell squat is an iconic exercise that belongs in almost everybody’s workout regimen.

Building up squat strength can take time, because it is a “skill” lift – by nature of being a compound lift, many moving parts demand practice and control. Once you have developed a clean, well-formed squat, however, you can start building big all-body strength. Below are a few key squat pointers, followed by a workout you can execute twice a week to start increasing the load you can hoist on this classic lift.

Squat Keys

1. Plant the heels. Many amateur squatters experience knee problems from squats, not because the movement is inherently unsafe, but because of this common form mistake. When you shift your weight to the balls of your feet instead of your heels, you immediately put more stress on the knees and allow them to track forward over your toes. When you first unrack the weight, try a brief moment of popping up onto your toes (as if you were doing a calf raise), then lower yourself and dig in with your heels. Your choice of shoe matters for squats too – either go barefoot, or use a hard, flat sole.

2. Chest up; head neutral. Focus on a point on the wall at standing eye level in front of you, and keep your chest elevated with your shoulder blades pulled back together. This position ensures that your shoulders won’t round forward during the squat, which again can bring the weight forward, creating a dangerous position for your lower back and knees.

3. Refer to your joints. Meaning: Your ankles, hips and knees should all be indicators of your form. At the bottom of the squat, your hip joint should be parallel to your knees; the bar and your shoulders should be over your ankles. Get a spotter or use the timed camera on your phone to check your form and make any adjustments you notice.

The Workout

Walking Lunges: 2×20 per leg. Lunge forward with your right leg, hands on your hips and torso erect, and land on your right heel. Your back knee should drop low but not hit the floor; before it does, begin the next step quickly.

Squat: 10 (warm-up set), 10, 5×3, 3×3, 1×3

This pattern will get you stronger. By working up to a heavier load gradually, you spend more time under heavy weight while still getting the requisite reps for muscle growth. If you have a squat belt and/or knee wraps, consider using them on your sets of 3 and 1.

Foam Roller/Hamstring Stretches: 5 minutes. Do a variety of leg stretches to increase blood flow and help reduce soreness. Focus on the calves, hamstrings and quads (note – foam rollers on the quads may be uncomfortable).

Suspension or Swiss ball hamstring curls: 3×12. Lying on your back with your feet in suspension cables or heels on a Swiss ball, keep your arms flat at your sides and lift your hips off the ground. Now, curl the ball toward your butt using your hamstrings, and roll it back out until your legs are fully extended again. That’s one rep.

Workout of the Week: Explosive Movement Leg Day

Print out this workout in easy, one-page .pdf format for the gym!

You can sit on a leg extension machine and hyperextend your knees 30-40 times as a leg workout, or you can spend some time doing functional, strength-and-muscle-building exercises that you can actually use in your day-to-day life. If you’re doing this workout, you’ve chosen the second option. Congrats!

A mix of set-rep schemes and weight ranges, plus a focus on explosive movements, are key to this workout. You want to go heavy, but you also want to be keeping the weight moving as quickly as possible. That’ll mean lightening up on a few lifts (but not squats. We know, you’re bummed).

Squats: 5×5. Head up, chest and butt out, shoulders back. Thighs parallel to the ground, drive from the heels. You know the drill by now. Go heavy, and get rested between sets.

4 Supersets: 5 Power Cleans/30 second planks. Squat over a barbell on the floor and take an overhand grip. Keeping your butt down and back flat, explode upward and fully extend at the ankles, knees and elbows, and, in the same movement, lower yourself to “catch” the bar as you pull it high to your shoulders and rotate your elbows forward. Start light if you need to get your form down. On the planks, concentrate on keeping your navel drawn in (imagine you’re trying to touch your spine with your belly button) and — don’t laugh — clench your butt cheeks. Yeah, we said it. This keeps your core activated throughout the exercise.

Dumbbell Split Squat: 4×10 per leg. Use a bench behind you and put your trail foot on it. Keep the same squat principles in mind here — head up, chest out, etc., etc. Hold the dumbbells at your sides, or for a bigger challenge, above your head. Alternately, you can use a kettlebell, holding it elbow-up by your shoulder on the side of your lead leg.

4 Supersets: 6 Box Jumps/15 second side planks. Use the highest box you can land on safely, and start from a two-footed position — don’t take a step first to gain momentum. By jumping back up as soon as you hit the ground when jumping off the box, you can build a great deal of stamina as well as vertical leap power. Let’s see the leg extension machine do that!

WORKOUT WEDNESDAY: Core and HIIT Cardio

CORE AND HIIT CARDIO

hiit, cardio, core, abs

Three Giant Sets:

8 Hanging Leg Raises/12 Decline Sit-Ups/8 Twisting Crunches (to the left, down, to the right is one rep)/30 seconds plank.

3×15: Kneeling Cable Crunches

8 x 20 seconds: Side planks (4 sets per side). Stay rigid as possible, without letting your hips dip.

–Have a BCAA shake, to fight off catabolism, before moving on to cardio.–

Cardio: 15 minutes of HIIT, with a 2:1 ratio of high intensity to low intensity. Do five straight “sets” of 1 minute at full sprint, followed by one minute of a fast run, followed by a moderate-paced jog for a minute.

Save your ink! Print out the workout and take it to the gym with you!