There are many reasons to squat, and several variations of the squat serve different purposes. Many trainees and participants in sports use a form of the squat borrowed from powerlifting called the power squat. It’s really a half-squat when compared to the full Olympic-style squat, and it uses a wider stance. You can learn power-squat technique quickly and produce good overall results in strength and development.
Powerlifters put much effort into improving their squat poundages. They achieve that in several ways. Some perform the squat only; others have brought the box squat back to popularity. George Frenn first made it popular in the late 1960s and ’70s. Frenn held the heavyweight squat record and was a top hammer thrower. He also competed in the first World’s Strongest Man contest. The box squat is used to develop power in the bottom of the movement and to teach powerlifters to be in a position to use their hips to their fullest ability at the bottom.
Some powerlifting clubs have added other techniques to improve squat poundages and squatting ability. Additional methods include using chains around the end of the bar. The large, heavy links hang down from the bar so that the lower the lifter squats, the more links are on the ground and the less the bar weighs. When driving up, the higher the lifter goes, the more links are off the ground and the more the bar weighs.
The use of chains isn’t new to training, and other methods can change the weight during the squat. I recall seeing a series of photos in the Soviet Sports Review 30 years ago in which an athlete was performing squats. As he began to descend, a hook was placed on each end of the bar, and the hooks had weights attached. That made the bar heavier, and the negative, or eccentric, portion of the squat was heavier. At the bottom of the squat the hooks were removed, and the athlete stood up with less weight on the bar.
Athletes can also use elastic bands to help them squat in a more explosive manner. As with the chains, the more you stand up, the more the bands are stretched and the greater the resistance.
Olympic weightlifters don’t use the same training methods as powerlifters. While Olympic lifters certainly do squat often, they’re not interested in squatting with absolute maximum weights. For example, Shane Hamman, then a superheavyweight—meaning he weighed 231-plus pounds—switched sports from powerlifting to Olympic weightlifting. Shane had performed 1,008 pounds on the power squat. When he moved to Olympic lifting, he rarely squatted more than 660 pounds, or 66 percent of his max squat. The reason is that he needed to develop technique on his snatch and clean and jerk, and the weight he could lift was limited by bar velocity during the pulling motion. Shane performed a snatch with 435 pounds and a clean and jerk with 518 pounds.
Athletes who train to improve their sports performance rely on the squat. They typically alternate a half-squat or power squat with a front squat. Some use a lunge walk with dumbbells, with a few key lifts rounding out the strength program: power cleans, power snatches, bench presses, push presses or jerks from the rack and either hyperextensions, glute/ham raises or Romanian deadlifts. Those athletes don’t have the time or energy to incorporate training tools like chains, bands and changes of weight during one rep or boxes of various heights. Unlike powerlifters, who compete in the squat, bench press and deadlift, or Olympic lifters, who compete in the snatch and clean and jerk, athletes in other sports use weight work as just one component of their training. They also have speed programs, speed-endurance training, agility training, explosive and plyometrics training and, of course, practice and competition in the sport itself. That limits the amount of strength training they can do. They cannot spend time trying to improve just one lift, such as the squat, with other supplemental lifts.
Editor’s note: Visit www.SoftTissueCenter.com for reprints of Horrigan’s past Sportsmedicine columns that have appeared in IRON MAN. You can order the books, Strength, Conditioning and Injury Prevention for Hockey by Joseph Horrigan, D.C., and E.J. “Doc” Kreis, D.A., and the 7-Minute Rotator Cuff Solution by Horrigan and Jerry Robinson from Home Gym Warehouse, (800) 447-0008, or at www.Home-Gym.com.