One of the most effective, intimidating, and technical exercise, the squat has been commonly referred to as the king of all exercises. Some have even claimed it can cure cancer.
Squats are great because it works your whole body, demands agility and control over your body, and destroys your posterior chain. Nothing is more exciting than throwing the 45s up on the bar, squatting deep, and fighting your way to stand up.
What's not exciting is when your strength has stalled. Being stuck at a plateau sucks, kills your will to keep trying, and it is limiting your capacity to build muscle.
Below is a list of 6 exercises that, when utilized effectively, will help you bust through plateaus and improve your squat.
6 Best Squat Assistance Exercises
#1 - Glute Hamstring Raise
If you go to any real powerlifting gym, you're going to see some sort of glute ham raise machine. They are well-known and proven in their ability to hammer your hamstrings and glutes.
Since your glutes and hamstrings play a major role in producing power, hitting them with this quite difficult exercise will guarantee a boost in squat strength.
#2 - Paused Squats
Paused squats may seem like a no-brainer to use, but still, it is neglected. Paused squats are ultimately pausing at the bottom of your squat for a one to three-second count before ascending.
Failing in the hole and inability to maintain tightness causes the bar to come out of the groove. This small shift in weight causes you to lose all leverage and generally will cause you to fold like a lawn chair.
By squatting down and pausing into this position, you are able to build the technique and muscles needed to maintain tightness. Increasing your strength in this position effectively strengthens your weakest link; allowing you to start making some serious progress.
#3 - Barbell Hip Thrusts
While this exercise has caught a bad rap for being a "social media exercise," barbell hip thrusts can improve your glute activation, build your posterior chain, and increase your overall lower body mass. Your glutes are the primary movers that produce hip extension, which is extremely important coming out of the hole.
If you've ever noticed yourself or someone else's knees caving inward on their ascent, their glutes are weak or inactive. When properly done, barbell hip thrusts place a strong isometric demand on your quads.
#4 - Split Squats
One of the exercises that come from left field, split squats have many advantages to building a bigger squat. They are a great tool for single leg strength and hypertrophy and can help iron out any asymmetrical strength differences that you may have.
Split squats demand a lot out of our stabilizers in the hip. Improving the function and strength of these stabilizers allow us to have our hips properly aligned and produce force when needed.
#5 - Box Jumps
When you think of box jumps, you may not look at them as an obvious choice for building your squat. While heavy squats build maximal strength capacity, we are missing out on our ability to produce force rapidly.
Box jumps improve your ability to produce immediate power. This ability to produce more power means we can lift more.
#6 - Leg Extensions
One of the most hated machines, leg extensions offer powerlifters and other strength athletes a way to pound those quads. One main reason this machine gets criticism is bodybuilders and other gym bros love to train their quads with this machine, but they do not train their antagonistic muscles.
Not training your hamstrings enough will cause overdeveloped quads... Which causes knee problems.
Getting the Most Out of Your Squat
If you're having troubles with your squat, there are generally three main reasons why:
- Your form sucks
- You have a weakness
- You max out every week
If Your Form Sucks
Look, we all started somewhere. If you are having issues with form, there are plenty of reputable sources to show you how to properly do a barbell back squat.
The squat is a highly technical lift and you need to utilize your leverages the best you can. If your stance, grip, and form are sloppy, you need to take a step back and fix it.
Record your form and critique where your form breaks down. Are your knees caving in? Does the bar sway front to back while performing the lift Maybe your hips shoot up before the barbell does?
Whatever is not right, take note and fix it.
Find Your Weaknesses
Find where you are failing in the lift and tackle those weak points. Paused squats improve movement out of the hole, getting better glute activation helps tremendously, and having a weak upper back will cause your back to round.
Find your weakness and beat the hell out of them.
Quit Maxing Out
If you are trying to see how much you can squat every week, stop it. You're wrecking your nervous system, you aren't going to progress, and you're eventually going to get hurt.
Strength comes over time, testing it is slowing your progress and getting you nowhere.
Wrapping It Up
The iron game is for life, you can't expect massive jumps in strength every time you step in the gym. Do your due diligence and watch your form, try these accessory exercises, and perfect your form.
Nothing beats hard work.