Anyone that has ever trained with me will tell you that I am pretty good deadlifter, but as a squatter I leave a lot to be desired. Being well aware of this fact, there have been large periods in time that avoided squatting altogether. But, last summer into fall I decided that I needed to become a better squatter. So, as any good coach would do, I looked at what my deficits were first. I have a relatively rigid upper-back because of congenital scoliosis, my hip flexors were a little too tight and I didn’t have a great amount of dorsiflexion at my ankle. Many of you know that these are the common deficits that can ruin squat form, so I won’t go into great detail about how I found the and the corrections I made. What you may find a little more interesting is the cycle of training I designed leading up to that first day I put some man weight on my back and squatted with it.
First up was a cycle of Bulgarian Split Squats. I started doing them with a hold at the end of the eccentric movement and worked up to just a normal tempo for sest of heavy 3′s. My second exercise during this cycle was always reverse lunges, working from dumbbell version on flat ground up to a front squat rack position from a deficit. I didn’t start with these exercises to be cute or trendy; I used them because I knew I needed to improve my hip mobility drastically while under some kind of load. I also knew that these exercises would limit the amount of CNS fatigue I would experience, so I put them at the beginning of the entire training cycle. I used this set up for 4 weeks.
For the next month conventional deads became the center piece of my pre-squat programming. I knew that I needed to build some strength in my upper-back and lats while also moving some pretty serious weight. What better exercise than conventional deads to nail all three of those objectives in one fell swoop? I kept bulgarians on as my second exercise but I started loading them with dumbbells. I really liked this cycle, mostly because I got to deadlift heavy and that just makes me feel good about Todd! I also really liked it because I kept the hip mobility I worked for in the first phase while getting a lot stronger.
My last month pre-squat was spent in the middle of the trap bar pulling some heavy weight off of the ground. Trap bar deadlifts were a good choice for the last phase pre-squat because they are very similar biomechanically to squatting. So, this helped me prepare for loading a squat pattern without actually putting a bar on my back. My second exercise was still my old friend the bulgarian, only I went back to loading the movement with a barbell. Barbell bulgarians struck a great balance and transition between trap bar deadlifts and squatting.
I’d love to tell you that I crushed 500 at the end of my first squat cycle back under the bar. But, that would be a lie. I hit 365 for 3 and it felt great; that made me happy. What’s the take away from all this? Have a plan to get where you want to go and be practical (and logical) in your application. I know it’s a pretty big cliche, but sometimes the journey to where you want to be is just as fun as getting there.
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