Jumpstart Your Squat with These 2 Squat-Boosters

Posted: June 13, 2013 in Lift Technique, Training
Tags: , , , , , ,

The squat is a jerk of an exercise. Just like everybody who’s ever played poker has a “bad beat” story, everybody who’s ever seriously squatted has a story about a time when the Squat Gods treated them unfairly. Hip flexor pain, patellar tendonitits, interminable plateau periods,etc. Even just learning to squat properly can take an absurd amount of time, which gets frustrating in a hurry. If you’re currently in need of a program tweak to crack through a plateau or finally achieve proper depth in the squat, try these two exercises out.


Lateral Lunges

Lateral lunges get a bad rap due their frequent inclusion in fruity at-home workout tapes that promise to “tone your hips and buns.” But when done with enough weight, they are brutally tough. Some people will do lateral lunges with a barbell on their back, but I prefer to grab two heavy dumbbells and hold them at crotch height (being very careful not to smash your gear between them). If you have access to heavy kettlebells, holding one in both hands works just as well, without the risk of squishing your manhood. Putting the weight in your hands instead of on your back provides a better training stimulus for your low back, and may also also build up some hand strength while you’re at it.

More often than not, lateral lunges are included in strength programs more for improving hip mobility than strength, but doing heavy lateral lunges can have a great effect on two muscle groups that are imperative when squatting heavy:

1) Glutes- by keeping the hips back and pushing through the heel, we make sure that the movement is mainly glute-driven. In addition to the gluteus maximus, we’ll also hit the gluteus medius and minimus since we’re pushing the weight up and back laterally towards the midline of the initial stance. I know several lifters who’ve shown big gains in their squat after learning to keep their knees out and spread the floor, and strengthening the glute medius and minimus is a good way to improve your ability to drive the knees out while squatting and get more overall glute involvement.

2) Core- after a heavy set of lateral lunges, your obliques are going to be ON FIRE. The added challenge of stabilizing the core during movement in the frontal plane causes the muscles on the side of the trunk to work extra hard to keep you from falling over. Not only that, but your lower back will get a lot of work too, since the dumbbells in your hands will be doing their damndest to pull you into lumbar flexion. Improving core strength can have a big effect on squatting strength, so this should be a no-brainer.

Not only will heavy lateral lunges build up the supporting muscles used in the squat, they will improve hip mobility and ability to hit depth in the squat as well. My friend Dan Blewett recently wrote an entire article dedicated to improving mobility through heavy lifting rather than tedious stretching and soft tissue work. When it comes to strength exercises that pull double duty as mobility exercises, the lateral lunge is right there at the top of the list. If your hip adductors are chronically tight, the lateral lunge will take care of that by stretching them out for you. When squatting, if the adductors are too tight, it becomes extremely difficult to hit depth without experience significant discomfort. By improving flexibility of the adductors, we’re allowing for better depth in the squat and a better lift as a result. Not only that, but we can work on getting beyond parallel while performing the lateral lunge, and driving up powerfully out of the hole.

If you’re just starting out with heavy lateral lunges, I would recommend starting on the lighter side with 8 to 10 reps on each side. Once you’re able to maintain low back tightness and achieve below-knee depth while keeping your heels down and knees back, then you can increase the weight and work up to 4 heavy sets of 4 reps to each side. For reference, my max squat is 390 and 4 sets of 4 with 65 lb dumbbells is very challenging.

Bench Pinches

One of the most underrated and overlooked muscle groups of all time is the adductors. Usually, the only time anybody even thinks about their adductors is when they strain their groin or develop medial hip pain from squatting heavy. This is a damn shame. No matter how much we espouse the value of a balanced training approach, people will always somehow forget that medial and lateral hip strength need to be balanced too. As much time as people spend building their hip abductors and working on driving the knees out and spreading the floor during squats, you would think that they would occasionally throw in some adductor strengthening to at least pretend to be making an attempt at maintaining muscle balance. However, this is (very) rarely the case.

I think part of the reason for this is a lack of exercises that train the adductors that aren’t completely wimpy. Thighmasters and the “good girl machine” are obviously out of the question, which leaves us with Straight Leg Cable Adductions, which get old in a hurry. As far as I know, the best way to build adductor strength is by performing bench pinches.

Think of the bench pinch as a side plank for your adductors. If you’re one of those guys who’s always been plagued by groin strains, this exercise is a must for you. Having weakened hip adductors makes athletes far more likely to suffer groin strains, and strengthening them can not only reduce your risk of groin injury, but it will also contribute to a stronger squat with better mechanics. Plus, the adductors also serve as hip extensors, so strengthening them will give a boost to your squat by adding to the overall strength of your hip extension. Strengthening the adductors will also keep the knees from flicking inwards when driving up out of the hole.

To perform bench pinches, set up next to a bench and place one foot on top of it. Then lift your body off the ground as if you were doing a side plank, and try to pinch the bench with your feet (one on top and one underneath). In my experience, 30 seconds is a pretty good time for your first attempt. This is probably going to be pretty difficult at first, especially if you haven’t done any adductor work in a long time, so don’t be upset if you drop off at 15 seconds. I’ve seen it happen to some pretty strong dudes, so you’re not alone. If you do get to the point where you can comfortably perform the bench pinch for a minute or more on each side, you can load the exercise by draping chains or a weight vest over your hips. You could also try putting a weight plate on your hip, but there’s a good chance it will just fall off, so I would recommend the chains or weight vest.

Start out by going for 2-3 sets of around 30 seconds, and adjust the time as needed to get a good burn in your adductors. Work up to sets of 60-80 seconds, and then you can add weight as needed.


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