Squatting Big! By: Blaine Sumner

Squatting Big!  By: Blaine Sumner

Dec 28, 2012

Squatting Big

By: Blaine Sumner, IPF Powerlifting World Champion and World Record Holder

Introduction

The Squat is sometimes called the “King of Exercise” and it is my favorite of the three powerlifts. My lifting journey took me from a skinny high school freshman weighing 145 lbs. who couldn’t squat 135 lbs., to setting the IPF Raw World Record of 881 lbs. at 24 years old and 350 lbs. bodyweight.

I was always fascinated with the squat because it is the most challenging and technical of the powerlifts and at times – intimidating. I have always been motivated by great challenges and being one of the weaker kids on my freshman team I wanted to become the strongest. I began lifting to become a better football player and this was my motivation for 10 or so years. And once I became the strongest squatter on the football team, I wanted to become the strongest in the conference…… state…… country….. world.

 

Mindset

To achieve squatting big weights – the mind will be your best friend or biggest enemy. I have always looked forward to squat day more than any other day. The evening before squat day I start getting jittery and nervous thinking about the weight I have to hit. And I dwell on that weight and reps all day until it comes time to squat and I focus all my energy on accomplishing that weight. I usually listen to loud music, get a lot of adrenaline going, and get fired up – every squat session.

I approach the bar in a very aggressive way and have a clear, focused mind. I don’t like hearing cues or coaching changes during my workout. I want to get under the bar and get set up as quick and tight as possible. The first thing I do is set my grip to the outermost part of the bar and bring myself under it. Then I hit the bar a few times with my back before I lift it from the rack. This helps desensitize my body to the weight and makes it feel light when I unrack. I know I’m going to get the weight before I even unrack it – this unshakable confidence is a must.

 

The Squatter’s Body

Squatting huge weights, especially raw, is ideally achieved with a thick body. Starting from the top, a thick back and large shelf create a stable surface for the bar. A strong lower back helps you prevent caving when heavy weights are lifted. A thick mid-section provides a greater cross-sectional area to distribute the load and provide stability in the bottom of the hole. Thick legs also provide a greater cross-sectional area to distribute load, provide stability, and drive power to the ground to perform the squat. You can’t do much to change your joint size – but your training can dictate how you build your body. The smith machine and leg press won’t create the massive squatting body. But heavy, beltless, free squats, deadlifts, good mornings, and heavy ab exercises will. My favorite “ab” exercise is to lie on a decline bench, take the weight off, lower it to your upper abdomen and carry it like a Zercher squat. Perform a sit up and don’t rest on the bench – but pause just above it. This teaches you to hold your air and push out on the bar so it doesn’t crush you; all while building a thick, strong trunk. I have worked up to 405 X 8 on these.

 

Young Lifter’s Mistakes

There are many mistakes young athletes can make when learning to squat – but the worst two are maxing out too frequently and poor technique. As a teenager, everybody wants to be the strongest kid on the team or in school. And this usually leads to some terrible habits in the gym. The first is maxing out too frequently. Teenagers usually make great lifting gains in a short period of time because they are young and full of natural testosterone, and are training seriously for the first time in their life. Because of this, the temptation is always there to “see where I’m at.” But this is detrimental to long-term strength gains. Get on a 12 or 16 week program, follow it, and then test yourself. You will be stronger. Getting the itch to “max out” during the program is not a good idea. The other mistake many young lifters make is squatting with poor technique. Find a strength coach, or somebody stronger who knows what they are doing – and listen to them. The three worst things I see, in order, are: 1. Squatting far too high, 2. Knees coming way forward on the descent, 3. Knees buckling in on the ascent. All three have the same solution; drop the weight and learn to squat with proper technique and don’t add weight if your form beings to deviate. I have seen it countless times in high school weight rooms and commercial gyms where someone will have decent form, and each time they add a 25 or 45, the squat keeps getting higher and higher until I am not sure what exercise it resembles.

 

Technical Squat Mastery

One thing I learned many years ago is that there is no ideal squat style. Even for two people with the same builds, there are always differences in people that will dictate their most effective squat style. There are many variations: high bar/low bar, close stance/wide stance, sit down/push back, upright/lean. I consider myself a low bar, medium stance, push back, leaning squatter. You will find huge raw squatters that squat completely different than me, just like me, and some a mix of both. In a perfect squat, the shins would stay perpendicular to the ground – however this is a physical impossibility due to body mechanics and depth requirements of the IPF/USAPL. But when trying to keep the shins vertical it is also required that the center of gravity lies somewhere around the middle of the foot. Lifters try to achieve this in various ways by following cues such as knees out, chest up, sit back, etc,. The way I try to achieve this is by taking the body below the knee out of the equation. When I initiate the squat, I think of pushing my butt straight back and keeping the shins perpendicular. I keep the bar low on my back and begin to squat down until I am about 6” or so above parallel. At this point I try to stay tight and accelerate my descent and dip, helping the rebound out of the hole. Here is where most raw lifters hit their sticking point. What I do from here is focus on driving my elbows under the bar. When I see most raw squats miss – it is due more to a leverage/technique issue than lack of leg drive. At the sticking point, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to drive the elbows under and not let the hips shoot up without moving the bar up too. When the hips come up, this creates a greater horizontal distance between the hips and the bar. When relating this to engineering or physics; the moment arm from your hips to the bar just increased significantly. For some quick numbers, say a 700 lb. squatter keeps his hips relatively close to the bar and the horizontal distance from the bar to the hips is 6”; the moment is equal to 350 FT-LBS. Now say the same lifter lets his hips shoot up and that distance becomes 10”, the moment is now 585 FT-LBS. What works for me is thinking of driving the elbows under the bar. For others it could be head up, or big chest; find what works for you and make it instinctual.

In conclusion, it is important to find what works for you. Whether it is technical or programming – everybody will be different. And just because something worked for one person, does not mean it will work for another. Be consistent in your training, film and study your lifts, don’t look for shortcuts, and pick the brains of and study those stronger than you. Some will disagree but it has worked for me – I encourage you to treat EVERY squat day like meet day. Let that number for the week sit in your head and focus on it and make it your enemy. Do whatever you do that gets your adrenaline rushing, get your technique instinctual so you don’t have to be hesitant and think about it, and smash through new PRs!

Vanilla Gorilla 16 Week Squat Cycle

This cycle is what I have used numerous times and has helped my raw squat more than any other. I have tried many programs and variations out there and this has been the most beneficial to me. I would say it is “closest” to Western or Linear Periodization, but has evolved into something of its own through my years of tweaking it. Here is the concept of why this works:

Weeks 1-4: “Hypertrophy” – this builds the base for the cycle. The first week will probably make you excruciatingly sore but it’s important to break through this and have your muscles conditioned for the high rep, high volume work that will follow.

Weeks 5-8: “Strength” – this 5 X 5 block is the ultimate pursuit of high volume. The body will be conditioned for it after the Hypertrophy block. The 5 X 5 will be lots of reps and allows you to hone and nail down your technique.

Weeks 9-12: “Power” – This 3 X 3 push has always been key for increasing the weight and this is the money maker in terms of using the results from the first two blocks and transitioning those hypertrophy and strength gains into serious squats leading up to the meet. This block is a major taper in volume from the previous block but the intensity increases.

Weeks 13-16: “Peaking” – This is the final push towards the meet. The strength and technique are nailed down at this point and it becomes about acclimating your body to heavier loads and achieving the perfect taper towards into the meet. Volume comes way down and intensity peaks 2 weeks prior to the meet. Week 16 is the meet.

The overall goal of this squat cycle is to lead in with high reps to condition the muscles and prepare for the work ahead, then to increase the volume and intensity and build a solid foundation with the 5 X 5, followed by putting the hard work to good use and increasing the intensity and dropping volume with 3 X 3, and finally peaking for the meet. I like to hit my opener for two singles when I am two weeks out, and deload the week before. This is how I have achieved the best super-compensation heading into a meet. Some will scoff at the % numbers as they seem to be insignificant; but they have a solid purpose and are important for manipulating the Volume/Intensity curves leading into a meet. I also deload every 4th week and treat this as a speed week. Throughout the cycle the speed day intensities increase and the volumes decrease.

As for assistance work – you should be so entirely drained that you don’t have the energy to do a bunch of assistance. I do 3 assistance exercises – a squat stimuli, abs, and box jumps. For the low bar/leaning squatters, do 3 weeks of good mornings/1 week of front squats. For high bar/upright squatters, do 3 weeks of front squats/1 week of good mornings. Then do heavy abs, followed by box jumps. Keep the sets/reps in line with what the main squat protocol is. Good luck and train hard!

 

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One comment

  1. Thanks a lot Blaine! Looking forward to your future domination of the sport.

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