Big Squat Routine
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How to build
a big squat for the average guy with no genetics.
by Jason Burnell,
Ok, let's get the first
thing out of the way. Many of you reading this must be asking yourselves,
"who the heck is Jason Burnell and why should I listen to him telling me how to squat?" Excellent
question. After all, I am by no means a big
name lifter and chances are that you have never heard of me. I'm pretty
much an average guy with a pretty good squat.
For the record, in the
220 lbs class I squatted 700 or more 3 times in 2000 (699.75 in March, 705
in June and 710 in
October). Ok, 699.75 isn't exactly 700 but it's pretty darn close. 700 is
the mark of being a pretty good squatter at 220.
750-800 and you are awesome. I'm not there yet. A glance at the top 100
list will show that quite a few guys in my class
squatted 700 or more last year. When you consider how many of that number
did it in single ply gear the number goes
down. Factor in the number that did it without steroids and it goes down
Second, I am not going
to make the claim that what I'm about to tell you is the "only" way to
build a good squat. There
are as many different training plans as there are good lifters. However,
I'm pretty sure that most good squatters will
agree with 90% or more of what I'm going to say. In fact, what I'm going
to present to you isn't even MY theory. Almost
everything I've learned, I've learned from OTHER really good squatters. I
have been very fortunate in that over the past
few years I've been able to talk to some of the best squatters of all
time. Kirk Karwoski, Rickey Dale Crain, Louie
Simmons, Dave Tate and the Great One himself, Eddy Coan, have all been
very gracious with their time and have spoken
to me on occasion and passed on tidbits that have helped me. This is the
essence of what I pass on to you. In the
tradition of our sport, I have been helped and I offer my help to you. I
hope you find it useful.
With that out of the way, let's get right to it. You are in the gym
getting ready for your first warm-up set. Let's just
crank out a few reps really fast and get to the heavy stuff. WRONG! Many
people that I've spoken with do their warm ups
haphazardly and don't get serious until the weight is heavy. That is a big
mistake. A good saying is, "treat the light
weights like the heavy weights and then the heavy weights will go up like
the light weights." That means focusing on the
details from the very first rep of the very first set. Coan stresses this
as being a key point. You should try to make every
rep the same in terms of set up foot position, bar placement, descent etc.
In reality, the set
begins before I touch the bar. As I approach the bar, I go through a set
of mental checkpoints. These
checkpoints are reminders to get all the things right as I approach the
bar. I'll list them now and then go into a bit of
detail on each one. That list is the beginning of my set up. The set up is
the most critical part of a squat. When I look
back on missed attempts, I can almost always point to a problem with my
set up. Conversely, attempts that I've made
usually have a solid setup. Here is the list:
I grab the bar, always left hand first in the same spot. The key here is
to make sure that you are grasping the bar
evenly. That is just one step in making sure that you set up in the center
of the bar.
I dip under the bar and slide up high, then lower down and wiggle in until
the bar is in the precise spot where I want it.
I take the bar fairly low in the notch between the lateral and posterior
delts. There is a spot that just feels "right" and
each set that is where I make sure the bar lies. The second part of this
is that I squeeze my shoulders and upper back
together and rotate my elbows down and forward. This is the base for the
arch in my back.
Next up is foot placement for taking the bar from the racks. This isn't
the same as the squat stance. I place my feet
about the width of my hips right under me. I'm not saying that you should
use the exact same placement as I do but two
things are important. Too narrow a stance and you will be out of balance
and too wide a stance and you may end up
leaning over when you walk out. Find the spot that you feel comfortable
with and make sure you hit that same spot each
I then get my hips directly under me. You don't want to lean over too far
to take the bar from the racks. It's surprising
but I see quite a few guys almost do a good morning just to take the bar
out of the racks at meets. Just get your hips
under you find the spot where you feel tight and powerful.
At this point, I take a medium sized breath and push my abs against my
belt while tightening my back to prepare for
taking the bar from the racks.
Here I focus on a spot on the wall or ceiling. This focus is a key. If you
can train yourself to find that spot and focus on
it, you will keep your head up. If your head stays up, your chest will
stay up and the lift just became a lot easier! This
means that you don't take your eyes off that spot, EVER. Do not look down
while you walk out with the bar. That takes
practice. Most people watch their feet as they walk out with the bar. It
is very possible to do that with 70-80% of your
max and still get your head and more importantly your chest back up,
however when you attempt to do that with a PR
weight, it is really hard to get your torso back in position. Practice
setting up without looking down. Have your training
partners tell you when you get it right and try to repeat that over and
This is simply when I take the bar from the racks. An important part of
this is that I stop for just a second. This is a tip
that Captain Kirk taught me after watching my aborted set up at the 98
USAPL Nationals. Take the bar from the racks
and just stop for a second to let the bar and plates settle. This will
become very important as you get to heavier weights
and the bar tends to whip a bit more. The key that he stressed to me was
that you must control the bar at all times.
Don't be in such a hurry to back up that you go too fast and let a whippy
bar throw you off.
We've all seen people
take a bar from the racks and immediately step back fast and proceed to
lose their balance. The
recovery from that takes up far too much energy and ruins your confidence
for the actual squat Stand there just long
enough to allow the bar and plates to stop moving around.
This is the maximum number of steps to take. I squat with a wide stance
and 3 steps are about right. If you use a
narrow stance you can do it in 2 steps. I don't know how many times I've
seen people wasting a ton of energy taking 5-10
steps, walking all over the platform trying to set up the squat. You have
a limited amount of energy, don't waste too
much of it on walking around with the bar on your back.
The first step is a
SMALL step back. Just step back enough to clear the racks. You don't have
to walk back a mile. Then I
take one step to the left and one to the right. Boom I'm done.
Following the third
step I again stop to let the bar settle. You don't have to squat as soon
as the head ref says, "squat."
Make sure you are ready again.
Prior to the descent, I take another breath. This is hard to explain. I
never fully let the air out that I took just before I
took the bar from the racks. Some air does escape while I set up, though.
I try to keep as much in as possible to
maintain tightness. Anyway, I take a big breath to get as tight as
possible and to get as much air in as I can. This is
another key to keeping your head and chest up and your back tight.
Butt Back, Knees Out
As I start the descent, I want to sit back. I'm thinking about pushing
back with my butt while keeping my knees out.
Eddy Coan calls this opening up your groin. At the bottom, my torso is
inside or between my legs. If you use a wide
stance like mine, you probably want to remember to push off your heels and
not wind up on your toes. I actually lift my
toes toward the ceiling just before I start the descent to remind myself.
This also helps as a physical reminder of how I
want the weight to be balanced.
A big key here is to
keep your focus on your spot on the descent. DO NOT drop your head or look
down. That almost
always leads to dropping your chest and rounding forward. I've done this
several times. It sucks every time.
Scott Waits (a lifter
from my area in my weight class who out squats me consistently) pointed
out in a discussion we
had that it is also important not to let the elbows move up and rearward
on the ascent. This also can lead to rounding
and leaning forward.
I think more of driving back against the bar than I do of pushing up. This
comes directly from Louie Simmons. Louie's
idea is that you have to drive your head back and drive your back against
the bar. Where the head goes the body follows.
Those are the basic points that I try to focus on. These alone can make
big difference in your performance. The setup is
probably the most critical part of the squat for most of the people I
know. If you get these things down pat, you will feel
more confident every time you set up. There is a bit more however.
For a narrow to medium stance squatter, it seems that a show with a heel
is preferred. Some people prefer work boots
or combat boots. Others prefer Olympic lifting shoes with the wedge heel.
I've never worn those but when I did squat
with a narrower stance, I tried the shoes made by Safe USA. They offered a
wide base which was very stiff and made for
a solid platform. For that stance, I liked them a lot.
When I widened my
stance out, my knees started to hurt when I used the shoes with the heel.
I followed Louie Simmons
advice and used the Converse All-Stars. They had a flexible sole, which
allowed me to feel the floor while I pushed out to
the sides. In fact, they were my shoes of choice until I got a pair of the
Inzer Power Shoes. The Power Shoes have a
similar sole to the Cons, in that I can still feel the floor when I push
out. They have a leather upper that goes up much
higher than the Cons though. That gives me more support in the ankle area,
which is important with a wide stance.
The first thing about suits and wraps that I'd like to mention is the fit
of the suit. As far as I'm concerned, a good squat
suit is tight in the hips and thighs. The straps should be slightly snug
but not so tight that they pull you forward. You
should also be able to breathe at the top. Most everyone I know that is
into squatting has had some modifications done
to their squat suit. Just as bench pressers dial in their shirts, so must
a squatter dial in his suit for maximum
performance. My first suits were all off the rack and they worked fine. As
I got more into the sport, I started to
experiment. My favorite suit used to be a stock size 34 Z-suit. Then John
Inzer made one that was about an inch tighter
in the hips and with a little more room in the legs. Tight? Yes. Locked
in. Yes, but more COMFORT. Little adjustments
can make a big difference. Ahhhh. Now, I'm dialing in a Hard Core suit.
The second thing about
a suit and wraps is that you must spend some time in them. Obviously, you
don't train in them
year round but you must spend enough time in them to get used to them.
Just putting them on the day of the meet isn't
going to work. Your groove will be off. I personally use a suit and wraps
for my last six workouts. Generally three with
the straps down and three with the straps up. Knee wraps are worn each
time. I start out with them loose and tighten up
a bit each week. The last two workouts I wear them just like I do at a
Knee wraps were hard
for me to get used to at first. A tight wrap just didn't feel right. To
get over that, I actually
started wrapping my knees at home. If I were watching TV, I'd grab my knee
wraps and wrap up. Then I'd sit there and
just wear them as long as I could.
At first, I couldn't
take more than a minute. Within a short time, however, I became more
acclimated to them. After a
few weeks of doing this several times a week, I was cured. After I did
that, I wound up at a meet and the guy in front of
me had a mis-load or dumped the bar or something. Normally, when you are
standing there in the wraps, you get all antsy
and someone says, "Hey, we gotta guy wrapped here" This time I was fine.
Find a Mentor
Another important aspect of building a squat is to find a mentor. It's
much easier to follow the path of someone that has
already been where you want to go. That person has probably made most of
the mistakes you are making and can help
you reduce the time it takes to achieve your goals.
Read every book and
article on squatting you can find. Buy videos of meets as well as training
tapes. I like to listen to
the tapes a few times and then turn the sound off and just watch. You'd be
amazed at what you can learn just by
watching. Sometimes there are small keys that the lifter on the tape may
not mention because it's second nature to him
BUT if you watch and pay attention you can pick up pointers.
Well, I suppose it's
almost obligatory that I write up a sample of my current routine. Every
training article has a routine
with it. Before I do that, let me say that if you are following a system
and/or working with a mentor, don't just copy my
plan and junk what you're using. The tips about will fit into any training
plan and I really think that form, technique and
above all consistency are more important than a specific plan.
Think about it. Ed Coan
uses a different training plan than Kirk Karwoski , who uses a different
plan than Rickey Crain
who uses a different plan than did Matt Dimel and so on, They have all
taken different paths to become squatting
legends. The key is to find a plan that works for you and then tweak it to
make minor variations while maintaining the
general outline. When Louie Simmons has a bad meet, he doesn't junk the
Westside system, he makes some changes
but keeps the basic framework. I think we, as lifters, spend too much time
looking for the magic routine.
Having said that, here
is the basic plan I follow right now. When I don't have a meet for a while
(months) I train with no
gear at all. - No belt, no wraps, no suit. I work up to a heavy set of 8
like that over a period of time. Each time I will try
to set a new 8-rep max. As the meet approaches I'll add in my gear and of
course, drop the reps. Here is the exact
routine I used last June to hit 705. Oddly enough, I'd been trying to hit
700 for over a year. I kept coming close but
missing for one reason or another. I trained a bit lighter during my
pre-contest peak than I normally did and wound up
feeling fresher and more solid on meet day. I'm not going to guarantee
that you will put 30 pounds on your squat with
this as I often see people write. Heck, most of us would be happy to just
hit a PR at the next meet.
SO far, I've used it
three times and hit three PRs. I recently gave a copy to another guy I
train with from time to time
and he used it to hit a PR. It may work for you. Keep in mind that this is
the final part of the Pre-meet cycle and all the
off-season work is higher reps and without my gear. Good luck.
Squats - Monday
Week 1 - 530 x 5 for
2 sets belt and wraps.
Week 2 - 545 x 5 reps
for 2 sets belt and wraps.
Week 3 - 565 x 3 reps
for 2 sets Straps down, belt and wraps.
Week 4 - 580 x 3 reps
for 2 sets Straps down, belt and wraps.
Week 5 - 595 x 3 reps
for 2sets Straps down, belt and wraps tight.
Week 6 - 625 x 2 reps
and 655*1 rep. Straps up, belt and wraps tight.
Week 7 - 630 x 2 reps
PLUS one walkout and hold (3 count) with 725. Straps up, belt and wraps
Week 8 - 415 x 3 reps
for 2 sets - belt only - only calves and abs for assistance.
Note: This is the
Monday before the meet. I just go in and get a little blood flowing. This
is also the last workout of any
kind, before the meet. So, I will have a full 4-5 days rest before the
For assistance for
Hi bar squats 2 sets
of 5 -8 with a medium close stance adding weight each week no gear.
Leg extensions 2
sets of 8-10
Leg Curls 3 sets of
Seated Calf 3 sets of
Good mornings are
optional also as are pause squats in place of the high bar squats.
In the off-season, I
don't do the leg extensions and Iım currently doing more glute ham raises
and front squats.
Psych Up vs. Psych Out
I've seen a bunch of people (too many, actually) yelling and screaming,
slapping each other, sniffing ammonia, banging
their heads on the bar and basically making a lot of noise before a lift.
One guy even circled the bar, screaming at it like
he was hunting it.
I've never actually
counted but for every 10 people I see go through these antics it seems
like about 2 actually make the
lift. Some people can use the fight or flight response and get that
adrenaline rush and channel that energy into the lift.
It seems like most people I've seen try it though, just get too tired to
make the lift The histrionics that go on forever
just wear them out.
Look at it this way, if
a bad walkout can throw you off and cause you to miss a lift, why would
you have your partner
beat the tar out of you before a lift? I'm firmly convinced that most
people would be better off just focusing on the task
at hand and getting ready to execute a perfect lift.
On the other hand, if
you just want to be remembered, that guy that stalked the bar is burned in
my memory forever.
Of course, I also remember him missing the lift and almost bombing out of
I'll leave it at that.
Your mileage may vary on this one. Hope this helps!
DISCLAIMER: This information is not presented by a medical practitioner and is for educational and
informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read.