Brandon Lilly is an elite powerlifter and strength coach, having competed in bodybuilding, strongman and powerlifting, in which he has a 2,237lb personal best. He is the author of The Cube Method and 365Strong. He is based in Richmond, Kentucky
Hold the bar right
If you’re not gripping the bar correctly you will never lift the weight you are capable off. Move your hand position in and tuck your elbows under your shoulder blades. Then squeeze the bar as hard as you can. When you rotate your elbows under the bar it will erect the spine – keeping your head upright – and bringing in the hands it will cause tightness and stability in your upper back. Grabbing the bar tightly will engage the muscles from the forearms to the lats to ensure maximum tightness. These simple corrections will greatly assist you in staying upright.
Learn to breathe
Have you been told the cue of breathing into your belly and pushing out against your belt whenever squatting? It’s only 25% correct. I was privileged to host a seminar with Ryan Brown and Dr. Quinn Henoch of Darkside Strength. They talked at length about ‘circumferential breathing’, which is extending the stomach forward, the obliques outward, and pushing the erectors back. This expands the core and rotates the pelvis giving you the optimal position to begin the squat. Learning to maximise how you breathe, and using your core correctly, will benefit you enormously. I had been stuck around 800lb on the squat for some time, with belt and knee wraps only, and was allowing my shoulders to round in and pitch forward. Learning to breathe effectively saw my squat go to 810lb, then 826lb, and then 843lb after I learned this technique.
Reps for power
This tip applies to all three of the big lifts. If you find yourself struggling to hit a new PR, it’s easy to get sucked into the trap of trying each week to bust through that wall. In reality it’s best to step back and get better at lower weights for a few weeks, then go back to a PR attempt. Here’s how to do. Week one: squat 75% for max reps. Week two: 80% for max reps. Week 3: 85% for max reps. Week 4: 75% with the goal of beating week one. Week five: try for a new PR. Believe me, sometimes by going backwards you end up moving forwards.
Paul Carter is the chief executive at Lift-Run-Bang.com and has more than 25 years of experience under the bar, having coached some of the best strength athletes in the world. He is the author of Strength, Life, Legacy, and Base Building and is based in Kansas City, Kansas
Get the weight on your heels
If you feel yourself getting on your toes in a squat then the bar has come out of the centreline of your body, and you have lost leverage over the bar. Make sure to keep the weight of the bar on your heels. This allows you to drive with more force from the hips. When the weight gets on your toes it removes the hips and glutes from the movement and shifts everything onto the quads.
Stabilise your core
If you wear a belt it prevents you from understanding how to properly facilitate intra-abdominal pressure. With a belt, you need to push out against it. Without one you need to learn how to push down with your abdominals and obliques. When you perfect both of these things, your squat will immediately improve.
Squat more often
If your squat sucks then one of the best things you can do to bring it up to par very fast is to squat more. Sounds simply, but it’s effective. That means squatting more times per week than you probably ever dared. My suggestion is to start by having your normal squat day, then a second day later in the week where you use 80% of your heaviest sets from that session for five or six sets of five reps, being as explosive as you can on every rep of each set.
Josh Bryant is a strength coach at Metroflex Gym in Texas. He holds 12 world records in powerlifting and is co-author of the Amazon best-seller Jailhouse Strong. His new book, Built to the Hilt, is out now. He is based in Arlington, Texas
More sets, less reps
If your goal is to build the biggest squat you can you need to do more sets of fewer reps. Squatting is not just an equation of brute strength; it’s an actual skill. How we test our strength in squats is by the amount of weight we can lift for one repetition. So, instead of three sets of eight reps, do eight sets of three reps. This way you get eight first reps instead of three first reps. Because you are doing fewer reps per set, you can produce more force for each rep. More first reps means more enhancement of the squatting skill, and so your numbers will start to soar.