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.

The Back to Basics Workout Plan

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With all the new technology, science and theories on fitness, getting in shape can become more complicated than it has to be. Sure, there is always room for an exercise that can provide a new challenge, and when you introduce a new movement to your workout routine, you can definitely see results.

But there will always be something to be said for a simple, basic approach to weight lifting: Pick up something heavy and move it! For function and aesthetics, few things will yield more all-around noticeable results than going heavy with basic compound movements. To that end, we’ve created the NUTRISHOP Back to Basics Plan – a 1-month program you can use to break up your routine and introduce some low-complexity training, or that you can repeat for up to 12 weeks as you gain strength and muscle.

You won’t need much for this plan when it comes to equipment: A barbell, a rack, a bench, a jump rope and some weight plates is the majority of your equipment. The idea is to simplify your workouts, using a 4-day split to provide the rest you need while creating sensible muscle group pairings. You will get stronger and likely see a noticeable difference in muscle gain should you pair this plan with a sound, lean diet.

The approach you’ll use will be somewhat mixed, but the concept will be similar throughout: You want to warm up using the exercise you’re working with, and work up to your one-rep max (1RM). Challenging yourself with a progressive load will ensure you get stronger and some early mid-to-high-range sets will promote hypertrophy.

DAY 1

Legs & Core

Back Squats: 10 (warm-up – go light), 10, 5, 5, 3, 3, 1. Go deep enough that your knees are parallel with your hips – don’t cheat yourself.

 

Stiff-Legged Deadlifts/Standard Deadlift: 10 (warm-up), 10, 8, 5/3, 3, 1, 1. – Perform the first 4 sets using the stiff-legged variation, then perform a standard deadlift using heavier weight for the final 4.

Power Clean: 10 (warm-up), 6, 6, 3, 3, 1.

Planks: 3 sets of 45 seconds, followed by 1 set to failure. Focus on drawing your navel into your spine and keeping your glutes clenched hard.

Side Planks: 2 sets per side at 20 seconds each. Hold your upper arm perpendicular to your torso, with your hand pointing toward the ceiling.

DAY 2

Push & Pull

Barbell Bench Press: 10 (warm-up – go light), 10, 5, 5, 3, 3, 1. Grab the bar just outside of shoulder width with a wrapped-thumb grip. Don’t bounce the weight off your chest – and, if possible get a spotter for your final three sets.

Bent-Over Barbell Rows: 10 (warm-up – go light), 10, 5, 5, 3, 3, 1. Be sure to keep your back flat and shoulders drawn back, pulling the bar toward your belly and not your chest.

Incline Barbell Bench Press: 10, 5, 5, 3, 3, 1. Take note to keep your elbows in toward your torso, forming a 45-degree angle at the armpit – this will protect your anterior deltoids through the lift. Concentrate on the contraction – mentally, think of pulling the bar apart and putting it back together at the top of the lift.

Pull-Ups: 4 sets to failure. Use as wide of a grip as possible that will still allow the range of motion to clear the bar with your chin – for most people, this will be just outside shoulder-width. Control your descent and lower yourself completely, drawing your shoulder blades together through the movement.

Push-Ups: 4 sets to failure with weight plate on back. Concentrate on keeping your body board-stiff from neck to ankle, and use the chest, back and triceps to control your movements.

Hanging Rows: 4 sets to failure.

DAY 3

Rest Day

DAY 4

Legs & Core 2

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Front Squat

Front Squats: 10 (warm-up – go light), 10, 5, 5, 3, 3, 1. Keep your elbows up and forward and your upper arms parallel to the floor – this will help protect your back. Also concentrate on keeping your knees tracking out toward your pinkie toes – avoid letting them “dip” inward.

Deadlifts: 10 (Stiff-legged), 5, 5, 3, 3, 1 (standard).

Walking Lunges: 4 sets x 100 feet. You will need some space to work – if you can find a 20-foot hallway and can traverse it 5 times total, that’s fine. Alternate your lead foot, keeping your upper body upright and your hands on your hips (to avoid resting them on bent knees).

Planks: 3 sets of 45 seconds, followed by 1 set to failure.

DAY 5

Push & Pull 2

Pull-Ups: 4 sets to failure.

Seated Military Dumbbell Press: 8, 8, 6, 6, 4.

Incline Barbell Bench Press: 10, 5, 5, 3, 3, 1.

One-Arm Dumbbell Rows: 4×8 (per arm).

Diamond Push-Ups: 20, 15, 10, 5. If you cannot perform the prescribed reps, go to failure (diamond push-ups are much more difficult, especially for novices.)

Reverse-Grip Chin-Ups: 4x failure. With a close, reversed grip (palms facing your body), lower yourself to full elbow extension slowly on the descent. Contract your shoulder blades before lifting yourself, concentrating on using your back to begin momentum and your biceps as assistance.

Split Your Squats and Deadlifts to Different Workouts

Two of the most important lifts you can perform, for any reason — be it strength, muscle mass, or even just better all-around athleticism — are the squat and the deadlift. You probably already knew that.

But should your legs day include both of these elite compound movements? You should be doing both, after all. Perhaps not on the same day, however.

The question is not so much whether you can handle the workload (if you can, that’s one heck of a workout). Some lifters’ legs day might actually include just the squat, deadlift and some other auxiliary lifts. But if you’re trying to train to get stronger in each lift, you should definitely split up your legs days into quad-centric and hamstring/glute-centric days, and that could mean up to 3 legs days per week. This is a good thing!

squatdlThe biggest reason for doing this type of split is that it allows the largest muscle groups to get the most work while getting ample rest between workouts, and still allows for enough overall energy to perform at a high level with every session. Strength training isn’t about maxing out every time you train, but you certainly will be using heavier weights than you would if you were solely concentrating on hypertrophy with a bodybuilding-style emphasis.

It’s highly recommended that each of your legs days starts off with either the squat or the deadlift, to get the most physically taxing lifts off the table first without sacrificing the strength and support of stabilizing muscles. In practice, this makes enough sense — you wouldn’t hit your abs or fire off a bunch of lunges before getting under your squat PR, or hammer the middle back with rows and shrugs before you tried to pull your best deadlift. Same concept applies to doing both the squat and DL in the same session: Because both lifts activate so many muscles, whichever one you do second will inevitably suffer if you are aiming to get stronger with it (and there is really no practical reason to deadlift, in particular, for reps). So let’s avoid that.

Splitting these lifts into separate workouts gives you the opportunity to focus on hammering the quadriceps and also training the posterior chain. An example of this alternating split would look like this, if you were performing a legs day every other or third workout and training 5-6 times a week (exercises listed in order of execution):

Legs Day 1 (Squat Focus): Squats, Power Cleans, Forward Lunges, Box Jumps, TRX or Swiss ball hamstring curls

Legs Day 2 (Posterior Chain): Deadlifts, Power Cleans, Backward Lunges, Deep Goblet Squats, Calf Work (Jump rope or raises)

Note that power cleans, which are tremendous for building from-the-ground all-around strength, are included in both workouts — they have the power to complement both the squat and deadlift, but can be performed with relatively light weight and still have a big impact for explosive strength. You’ll also note that each workout has an antagonistic exercise included; that is to say that the quad-focused day has some hamstring/glute work and vice versa. This is to help allay any imbalances as the workout progresses.

Squats and deadlifts are both important parts of a strong athlete’s training plan, so do them — just consider giving each lift its proper attention when it comes to crafting your workout sessions.

The NUTRISHOP Hard-Gainer Trainer

Those of us who are naturally more thin and lean and have trouble adding and maintaining weight of any kind are called “hard gainers,” and we’ve got the workout and supplement plan for you!

The goal every time you hit the gym should be hypertrophy — the increase in muscle volume. To achieve this on a lean frame, you won’t be able to simply use a generic workout plan. Like all lanky guys experience when we clothes shop, you need something a bit more custom-fitted, tailored to you. Forget three sets of 10. We need to reach deep muscle fibers, building the slow-twitch ones larger and the fast-twitch ones stronger. To do that, we’ve set up this workout plan that will not only add size, strength and endurance of strength, but will provide just enough of a calorie burn to ensure that you’re not storing up fat.

Follow this plan for 4-6 weeks, and DO NOT cheat yourself — make every workout, do every set and get every rep. Anything less than full effort is a failure! It is a four-day split, with three rest days, ample time to get both physical and mental rest before you’re back in the gym, so there are no “burnout” excuses here.

Download and print out the .PDF version of this workout for easy gym use!

The supplement plan that works best for hard gainers is one that addresses the need for a calorie surplus, muscle recovery and rebuilding and even hormonal issues that aren’t as uncommon as you might think.

Absolutely, if you’re a hard gainer trying to build muscle fast, we recommend:

  • GAINER7, MASS COMPLEX, KARBOLYN or MASS FUZION — all effective at delivering quality calories in a hurry post-workout.

  • BCAA SPORT. Around the clock, your body needs amino acids to prevent catabolism, where the body feeds on muscle storage for energy.

  • N’FUZE  — Abundantly researched and shown to increase muscle volume and strength, there is no reason to pick a low-quality version of creatine anymore — it’s mostly a very affordable supplement. Kre-Alkalyn is a buffered form of creatine that ensures nearly 100 percent of this product goes to the muscles and doesn’t get converted into useless creatinin.

  • ANITEST, ARABOL, AUGMENT, 1-XD and HGH-191 are outstanding options to get your body back to growing, the natural way. Hard gainers are hard-wired to simply not produce much muscle mass. This can be changed with more natural testosterone production. As many lean guys can attest, during puberty there was one massive growth spike where we got taller and filled out (at least as much as we were going to). Natural testosterone, which caused that spike, decreases dramatically as men get older, leading to increases in body fat and decreases in muscle  mass.

  • Pre-workout products like N’SANE, NOX-P3, ANX-P3, STANCE and THERMOVEX deliver more energy, both of mind and body, for the most high-quality workouts you can get. Plus, the increased blood flow means your other supplements are working more efficiently.

THE TRAINING PLAN

MONDAY (Chest and Back)

5 Supersets: Wide-grip pull-ups (failure)/barbell bench press (x12). Clear the bar with your chin and lower yourself all the way down; likewise, on bench, pull the bar down to your chest and, without bouncing it, drive it back up. Perfect form is the biggest key.

5 Supersets: T-bar rows (x12)/dumbbell incline press (x12).

5 Supersets: Seated cable rows (x12)/dumbbell flys (x12).

TUESDAY (Legs and Abs)

5 Supersets: Wide-stance squats (x12)/narrow-stance leg press (x12). On the leg press, keeping your feet close together, toes pointed straight forward, will target the upper leg’s outer sweep more, while a wider squat with the toes pointed slightly outward allows for a deeper, more engaging movement.

5 Supersets: Romanian deadlifts (x12)/wall sits (x15 seconds).

5 Supersets: Hamstring curls (x12)/seated calf raises (x20).

3 Supersets: Hanging leg raises (x8)/decline crunches (x10)/planks (x30 seconds).

WEDNESDAY (Arms)

5 Trisets: EZ Bar Curls (x6)/French triceps press (x12)/Reverse-grip curls (x6)

3 Supersets: Weighted dips (to failure)/preacher curl machine (x25)

3 Trisets: Hammer curls (x10 per arm)/V-bar cable pushdowns (x20)/incline dumbbell curls (x10 per arm)

THURSDAY (Shoulders and Abs)

4 Supersets: Arnold Presses (x12)/Upright rows (x12)

Standing overhead press: 4×12

5 Supersets: Lateral raises (x15)/front raises (x15)

3 Trisets: Hanging leg raises (x10)/decline crunches (x12)/planks (x30 seconds)

 

WORKOUT WEDNESDAY: Mix In Goblet Squats

Whatever your reason for wanting a new leg exercise — injury, change of pace, a new way to look awesome — goblet squats are a great addition to your workout routine as either a staple movement or a throw-in from time to time.

Similar to a front squat in terms of weight distribution, the goblet squat differs from other forms of the squat in one regard: You hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of you like, well, a giant chalice (or goblet).

The benefits of the goblet squat are many. It helps improve your overall squat form when done correctly, improves balance through the movement with repetition and builds up the core stability and leg strength you’d want from a squatting movement. It also provides a greater range of motion than a standard back squat can, given where the weight is.

Take a wide stance (about a step beyond shoulder width on each side, though you can go even wider), and focus on squat fundamentals — chest out, butt out, shoulder blades squeezed together, head neutral — but instead of climbing under a bar, you’ll simply hoist your weight up to about chest level. If you’re using a dumbbell, use both hands to “cup” (GET IT?) the top head of the weight. If you’re using a kettlebell, simply grab either side of the handle.

As with a normal squat, start the movement with your hips, control it on the way down, and explode up, driving from the heels. Since you’re using a lighter load than normal, it’s a good idea to go for higher rep ranges (at least 10) on goblet squats; there’s no big benefit for going ultra-heavy here — if you’re a heavy squatter, you can do these with a decent weight as a form corrector, but you’re probably better off to keep your big numbers in the rack and on your back.

The great thing about goblets is that they’re difficult to get injured with; if the weight is ever too heavy, you can just drop it in front of you. Just remember to keep your head neutral and back flat, as you would with a regular squat.

The Squat Debate: How Low Can You Go?

squats1If exercises had a Mt. Rushmore, there’s no question the squat would be on it. Loads of research show that it’s not only good for building muscle in the legs and glutes, but it also strengthens the core and, through increased muscle mass in large groups, helps fire up your metabolism and burn fat.

But there’s still a debate when it comes to squats: How low should you go? Powerlifter, bodybuilder and regular gym rats go back and forth on this on a regular basis in internet forums and at the rack. Some say a box squat is enough; others argue in favor of the “ATG” — (*** to grass) — squat, where the upper thigh breaks the 90-degree angle at the knee.

Our take: It can depend on an individual’s physiology, but in most cases, 90 degrees is going to be the happy zone for depth of a squat. This provides the best range of motion through the hips without overexerting the knees, and without leaving the lower back prone to rounding.

Does that mean you shouldn’t go ATG? Or that you should always come down to 90 degrees? When we question a lift’s form, we take into account range of motion, efficacy and, perhaps most of all, safety. But none of those factors stand alone or exist in a vacuum; it’s all in relation to the other. That’s to say — what is the best range of motion I can get, while safely performing this lift, to get the most benefit from it?

Consider weight: Yep, training with a heavier weight will make you stronger. But there is a point of declining utility — when the weight gets so heavy that you can’t properly execute a lift, it no longer is beneficial. That’s the same concept with going past 90 degrees at the knees on squats — you may be increasing range of motion, but at what cost? The tension is off the thighs and hamstrings once you break that floor-parallel plane anyway, and once you do, the pelvis tilts and forces the lower back to round, which you NEVER want to happen in a squat.

So, our stance on squats is to take the safest, most effective path, and go as deep as 90 degrees, tops of the thighs parallel to the floor.

Legs Day for Athletic Performance and Strength

It’s that time again — Leg Day! Go hard!

Check out the workout below, or simply print out the .pdf for easy gym reference.

Warm-up: 1×10-15, light Romanian Deadlifts.
Sumo Deadlifts: 5, 4, 3, 3, 3. Go progressively heavier. Stretch the hamstrings well after each set.
Parallel Squats: 3×10.
Split Squats: 3×10 per leg.
3 Supersets: 5 Box Jumps/10 Jump Squats
Lateral Shuttle: 4 sets, 20 feet each direction as fast as you can. Once you’ve done a run to the right and left, that’s one “set.” Stay in a low, athletic stance.
3 Trisets: :45 planks, 20 BOSU crunches, :15 extended side planks, per side