Steph’s note: Today’s post comes from JVB, strength coach at The Movement Minneapolis and all-around badass when it comes to helping people get strong. You know I love my strength training—that’s me in the photo above hitting a PR back squat of 291 pounds—so when JVB offered to share these excellent assists with you, I jumped at the chance. Be sure to scroll all the way down for a super-special opportunity from JVB!
I won’t lie to you, I really enjoy the squat.
This works out well for me because I compete in powerlifting and testing my max strength in the barbell back squat is required. (The other two lifts tested are the barbell bench press and the deadlift.) Because powerlifting is a sport and as such, training specificity matters, the simple fact remains: to great a really big back squat, you need to do lots and lots of back squatting.
But before you rush off to the bar, let me tell you the full story, which includes accessory movements. In powerlifting, accessory movements are meant to complement the competition lift. Accessory movements for the back squat will hit the same muscles that are worked in the main lift but in a more targeted manner, which is important because you can use accessory lifts to zero in on your body’s weak links.
The below are three of my favorite non-squatting exercises to complement the back squat. Even if you’re not a big squatter, you’ll appreciate the overall strength you’ll gain by adding these lifts into your exercise routine.
Seated Box jumps
Here’s another thing I’m not going to lie to you about: jump training is a little scary for me. I didn’t include in my training for a very long time until I began reading article after article from Chad Wesley Smith of Juggernaut Training extolling the benefits that jumps can add to your training.
According to Chad, jump variations are clutch for building a big squat because it will teach your body to instantly recruit a lot of muscle fibers and quickly produce force, a good quality to have when driving out of the bottom of a heavy squat.
You can train jumps in various ways, including jump squats and regular box jumps, but one of the ways I got around my fear of scraping my shins on a box was by implementing Seated Box Jumps into the beginning of my workout, after my warm-up, and right before the barbell back squat.
Seated Box Jumps start and land with your feet on the ground, but the important part is they start from a dead stop. To get maximal muscle recruitment from this static position, avoid rocking forward, taking a moment to pause and reset between every rep.
Side note: I incorporated Seated Box Jumps into my training cycle for my last meet. I set a 22-pound PR in that meet, taking my squat from 264.6 pounds to 286.6 pounds. The jumps, they are staying.
While you’re building up your leg strength with back squats, it’s important not to overlook how developing solid unilateral leg strength will contribute to that endeavor.
Weighted Step-Ups heavily target the quads and glutes and, because you’re on one leg, have the added benefit of improving stability in the ankle and the knee.
The key is to do them slooooooowly. Be very strict about not letting any rocking or heaving come into play for the concentric portion of the movement. And don’t discount the eccentric, or down part, of the movement, either. Try to lower your foot to floor as slowly as possible, like you’re about to step on a glass window.
Barbell Bent-Over Row
A strong back plays a key role in a big squat. Beginning with your set up, when you duck your head under and get the bar on your shoulders, squeezing the bar and flexing your upper back muscles gives the bar a cushion to rest on. In other words, strengthening your back is going to make for a more comfortable bar position.
Also, while we often automatically think of squats as a mainly a leg exercise (and for some variations that’s certainly true) the game changes a little when the weight is resting on your shoulders. Improving your back strength and will give you greater control over the lift and that means decreasing your chances of having to bail.
Strengthen your back with the barbell bent over row to get some core work in there as well; your core needs to brace hard in the hinge position to avoid letting your spine round. Along those lines, keep the weight challenging (because this is your back after all, and these muscles are big) but doable, to allow you to keep your back flat.
Unapologetically Powerful is here!
Are you ready to become Unapologetically Powerful? If you’re even just a little bit interested in improving your back squat, bench press, and deadlift, and building lean, beautiful muscle, you’re going to love digging into this program.
Unapologetically Powerful is your go-to resource to learning all about the “big three” lifts, and getting super strong.
Trainers Jen Sinkler and JVB have teamed up to provide you the answers to all of your strength training questions—and get you radically and unapologetically strong. Here’s what’s in the program:
- A comprehensive training manual that includes Beginner and Early Intermediate 12-week powerlifting programs with a detailed introduction to biofeedback training.
- An extensive guide on how to compete for first-time powerlifters who want to step onto the platform.
- A complete exercise glossary with clear-cut written coaching cues and images.
- A MASSIVE video library of more than 140 exercise demonstration videos. Every movement in the program is in the video library, with detailed coaching cues to walk you through each exercise step by step.
- A revamped version of Lift Weights Faster geared specifically toward powerlifters.
Unapologetically Powerful is on sale for HALF OFF now through midnight Friday, December 11. For more info, click HERE!
And a Bonus From Me
Steph here! Hope you loved these three excellent insights from JVB and Jen. I’m including a sweet bonus for anyone who snags their own copy of Unapologetically Powerful using any of the links in this post:
I’m adding on my Nutrition & Fitness Guide…it’s all my seminar info in one handy 30+ page PDF—plus some resources that I don’t share anywhere else. And, I’m adding in my Fix Your Lifts checklist for the barbell clean in case you want to add some olympic lifting to your routine.
Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake’s leggings might be pink but her weights aren’t. A personal trainer at The Movement Minneapolis she is a powerlifting coach and competitor with a passion for helping her clients discover and grow their strength, inside and out. She’s here to spread the good word that strong is empowering and because of that, really, really fun.