Squatting is arguably the best exercise in all of weight training, as it is the most challenging and demanding exercise, and it is also a compound exercise meaning that it works many different muscles simultaneously helping to develop muscles all over your body.
The squat is amazing for developing great leg strength and rounding out your glutes as well as your quads, and there are also additional benefits for your core and supporting muscles as squatting allows you to work with very heavy weights.
This is because the primary muscles used for squatting are the legs, and the biggest, strongest muscles in the human body are located in the legs.
All weight lifters eventually hit a plateau, however, and this is true of squatting as it is with any other exercise.
In this guide, we’re going to look at how to break through stagnant performance and find ways to continue increasing your squat and making progress towards that new personal best even when you’ve been stuck at a certain weight for weeks.
There are a range of things you can do to hit a new best, but before we get to that, let’s make sure you know what a squat actually is.
What Is A Squat?
For those who don’t know or beginners, squatting is the movement of entering into a crouch until the knee is roughly 90 degrees parallel to the ground, while keeping the back straight and head up.
Many people place their hands on their temples, or when using weights use their hands to hold onto the barbell or dumbbells being used to add difficulty and overload to the exercise.
Squatting is an incredibly important exercise for all lifters, so ensuring you can maximize its potential is very important for your development.
Form And Technique
The first thing to ensure when trying to add weight is that your form and technique is correct.
Squatting is a very challenging exercise and incorrect technique can actually be incredibly dangerous both in the short and long term, leading to serious injuries if not performed correctly and hampering your progress and performance.
There is a lot of debate about proper technique, but generally, there are some key things to keep in mind.
Always ensure that your feet are just past shoulder-width apart. Always keep your back straight, and don’t arch your neck or lower back at all, keeping your head up can help with this.
But the main point of contention is how deep to squat, with some arguing that deeper is better, and others believing that anything past 90 degrees puts undue strain and pressure on your knees and hips without bringing worthwhile benefits to the exercise and the muscles it works.
We’re not going to delve into this debate today, as there is a range of factors that can affect what movement is best for you, but generally, a depth of around 90 degrees, or until the rear of your thigh is parallel to the floor, is generally considered deep enough to get excellent benefits out of squatting without risking injury.
If you don’t squat deep enough you aren’t working the muscles enough and will slow your progress considerably.
Use A Spotter
Sometimes you may feel ready to increase your weight, but be uncertain, particularly when squatting as it’s a particularly difficult exercise to recover from if the weight is too heavy.
This is where using a spotter can give you the confidence to try a heavier weight, and support you a little to help you overload and get used to a new weight even if it is a little bit on the heavy side.
Spotters are used all the time not only for safety but confidence and support when stepping up a weight, so don’t be afraid to ask someone who knows what they’re doing to spot you if you’re stepping up.
Most gym-goers will be incredibly hyped up by your progress and more than willing to assist you, but ensure you don’t ask a total beginner who doesn’t know how to spot properly as this could lead to disaster…
Reduce Your Reps
When stepping up the weight for any exercise, particularly the squat, it’s acceptable to lower the reps slightly to get you started at this higher weight.
If you usually do 8 reps per set, it’s totally fine to drop to 6 reps or even 4 reps per set if you’ve stepped up the weight considerably.
Your body will respond to this overload and it is this which helps you increase your strength and begin to develop new personal bests and improvements.
Eventually, your muscles will adapt to the new weight and you’ll eventually find yourself able to get up to the 6 to 8 reps per set you should normally do, and this will signal that it’s almost time to step up the weight again, which leads us on to our next point…
Progressive overload is the fancy sports science name for increasing the strain you put on your muscles!
This is the only way to increase your strength and thus the maximum you can squat, and this is achieved by sticking to a pre-planned and structured regime of weight increases that forces your body to adapt and strengthen, continually driving your development and increasing the weight you can lift.
Work Squats More Often
Another popular way to accelerate your squat progress is to work it into your program more than once a week, as long as you are splitting the workouts far enough apart to allow for adequate recovery to avoid injury.
This can be done by simply doing squats at the beginning of a different workout in your split to increase the strengthening of these muscles.
Another very important aspect of improving your strength and increasing your squat weight is how you eat.
Without adequate nutrition, your muscles won’t be able to recover or grow, which can stagnate or totally halve your progress and prevent you from increasing the weight of your squat as well as other exercises.
Eating plenty of lean protein, adequate fat to help absorb the protein, and other important macro and micronutrients is key to ensuring you’re able to put on muscle and develop your physique and strength as well as prevent injury.
We’ve touched on this already, but it warrants its own segment as it is really important.
Getting enough rest in weight training is immensely important as without it the risk of injury increases hugely.
Muscles only grow and become stronger if they are given time to recover between workouts, and without this, you will also stunt your progress and weaken yourself instead of being able to increase your weight.
Consider A Personal Trainer
Finally, if you’re really struggling with a particularly stubborn plateau, it may be beneficial to consider hiring a personal trainer to help provide more bespoke tips on issues with your technique, as well as your diet and your regime.
Personal trainers can be expensive but they are very successful at helping improve people’s performance and can get you over particularly difficult periods in your fitness journey.