There is a reason why the squat of all exercises is called the king.
It takes hard work, determination, and an immense amount of effort to achieve a four-plate squat. And more than that, to boot, a big squat takes a huge amount of lower body strength, a bunch of persistence, and a whole lot of mental strength.
In addition, find someone with a big squat for me and I'm going to show you a guy with a monster pair of wheels.
And for this, there is an obvious explanation.
A pair of pins that extend the trousers' seams shows a considerable amount of muscle mass. And we understand that strength is directly proportional to muscle mass (exercise science 101 boys and girls).
And I assume that most individuals are aware of this strong connection (between a big squat and big legs).
So, they squat as a result.
Ok, and squat.
And some more squat.
And while the rule of precision would certainly mean that this is the most productive way of constructing a big squat (and, subsequently, a good pair of wheels), in my personal experience, it is not.
I don't think it's the be-all-end-all, though I'm a Big fan of the barbell back squat.
And when constructing both a wide squat and muscular legs, this seems to be especially true. Of course, the barbell back squat requires a large amount of muscle mass and allows us to use heavy loads (which are necessary for both strength and muscle mass to be built) and should be an important part of a well-rounded training programme as such.
But to target those areas that it does not strengthen, it needs to be complemented by specific exercises that allow us to build on our weakest link, leading to a Big squat, and significantly optimising hypertrophy.
The Barbell Front Squat
It is sad indeed, but the front squat is forever trapped in the shadow of the barbell back squat as an exercise.
Although the similarities are evident, it's very unusual for anyone to come up and ask you, 'how much do you squat in front, brah?’’
In addition, the front squat is regularly regarded in some circles as a mere 'regression' in which it is only used as a move to execute a complete barbell back squat.
Quite honestly, the front squat doesn't get anywhere close to the respect it deserves, well and truly.
This is unbelievably unfortunate, since the front squat is one of the keys to optimising the leg growth and creating a truly jaw-dropping squat for a variety of purposes.
First of all, the front squat completely annihilates the anterior trunk muscle. And though most would not believe it, this is one of the main advantages of standard front squatting, which puts an incredibly large amount of load on the trunk muscles (think rectus abdominus and obliques).
Probably, this is due to the bar positioning during the movement.
The bar is positioned slightly in front of the torso during a forehead squat. In the end, this brings forces on the trunk that attempt to pull the spine into flexion. This, in turn, puts enormous pressure on the trunk's anterior muscles to hold a pleasant upright, neutral spinal position.
This demand makes it a great way to develop core strength and stability, which during a barbell squat is completely vital to maintaining a solid and secure trunk position.
In addition, the demand put on the spinal erectors of the thoracic spine is also increased by this same role (which are rarely targeted during the back squat due to the bar placement sitting lower on the back).
We can improve our ability to maintain good positioning during heavier led squats by building stronger spinal erectors and a stronger core, which eliminates the likelihood of caving forward during a heavy back squat (you know what I'm talking about-those squats that end up looking like a good morning), reducing the risk of injury AND leading to a stronger squat.
Second, the front squat was crushing the quads (and I mean CRUSHES).
Usually, a barbell back squat is more hip dominant than a front squat, which in turn brings more demand on the hip extensors than the knee extensors (this is related to bar placement and increased forward lean during the back squat).
We can develop a Massive amount of hip extension strength by only practising the back squat, but we can restrict our knee extension strength growth, which can lead to imbalances that can contribute to squat weakness.
By putting a primary focus on knee extension strength, front squats can help resolve this, enabling us to remove imbalances and build a solid, well-rounded squatting movement.
In addition, we can produce some extreme quad growth by putting undue focus on the quads (it seems reasonable really), leading to those jean-tearing legs you have always dreamed of.
'Stop. Hang on. Front squat 140kg for reps on reps.' No big deal...
Now, though it may sound like a little left field, just bear with me for a second.
We can improve good bilateral strength (which is clearly necessary for building a big ass squat) by practising bilateral squat variations all the time, but we lose unilateral strength AND hip stability by doing so.
The hip is put under much higher stability requirements when practising one leg at a time using single leg squat variations, than when using bilateral variations.
This implies that the muscles around the hip (with special focus on gluteus maximus and gluteus medius) and the trunk have to work even harder to maintain a good pelvic alignment and location of the femur.
This strengthens our ability to maintain a good pelvic position during a squat, while enhancing the technique by ensuring that during the squat we maintain good knee alignment (avoiding knee valgus from occurring).
In addition, split squats offer a great way to remove any unilateral strength imbalances that we might have, which can not only create a much stronger squat, but can also trigger substantial technique changes in those individuals who during bilateral squatting movements tend to transfer weight to one hand.
Now, this is where split squats really shine in terms of growing leg musculature.
Firstly, we basically end up doing twice the amount of reps we would have done during a bilateral movement when we decide to do some single leg practise.
Now, while I know that each leg performs the prescribed number of reps individually, it is necessary to state that the rest of the body works overtime to maintain stability, carry heavy dumbbells and maintain postural position (for what would easily be twice as long as it would during a bilateral exercise).
This means that the overall workout volume (the total amount of training performed per session = load x sets x reps) will increase dramatically, which will immediately have the potential to enhance muscle growth.
On top of that, we understand that such phenomena occur where the contralateral side will still undergo some changes in both strength and hypertrophy (coined by the contralateral strength training effect, suggested to be a neural response) if we train one limb of the body, and that limb alone.
As a result, we can further increase the hypertrophy effect on the other side by about 10 percent by exercising unilaterally, which is pretty crazy if you take a second to think about it.
A great way to hate your life for 15 minutes is to have split squats (especially rear elevated ones).
Now, the pause back squat is the third and final assistance exercise that can contribute to both massive growth and massive strength.
Although this is still a barbell back squat movement technically, I consider it a valuable help exercise as it is not what you will normally use in either competition or a 1RM back squat attempt when practising.
Basically, a paused back squat is just a barbell back squat where you pause fully (as in full stop) for 2-3 seconds (or longer, for those of you who are very masochistic) at the bottom of the squat for each individual rep within any given sequence.
Now, it makes complete sense if we take a second to think about it objectively. At the bottom of a squat, most people are the weakest when they come out of the pit. This is where they seem to struggle, as a direct consequence, and where they generally feel the least relaxed.
So, we can get a little more relaxed in that position by simply spending a little more time hanging in the bottom position of the squat (while under load). This boosts our confidence at the bottom, leading to a stronger squat.
And if we dig a little deeper, beyond only being more relaxed, there are some significant advantages.
Paused squats also create power directly out of the cavity.
A drop rapidly into the bottom position of the squat is a common thing to observe during a squat (especially during heavy squat attempts), and then bounce up (using the momentum from their rapid descent).
While there's not really something wrong with this, it has the potential to cause a few problems.
We depend on two things when we drop quickly into a squat to get us out of the bottom position.
The first is the ability of the muscles to effectively use the stretch shortening period (SSC) (The SSC describes the storage of elastic energy during the eccentric portion of a movement, followed by the use of that energy for the concentric portion of that same movement).
Thus, using the squat as an example (it seems very fitting), the quads and glutes lengthen under load during the descent (which is creating an eccentric contraction). They store 'elastic' energy in muscle and tendon tissue during this eccentric contraction, which can be used to increase the amount of concentric force we generate.
Now, while during a heavy squat attempt, this should be considered a positive thing, it is not something that we want to become too dependent on during the squat, especially during training, as if we rely solely on the SSC to get us out of the pit, during the lift we will restrict our strength growth.
If we become too dependent on the SSC, we restrict our ability to generate strength and our ability to increase the output of power, which is integral to a broad squat.
Secondly, squatting puts a considerable amount of tension on the hip's passive support systems in this way. This is because after we quickly drop into the bottom position, the hip capsule and ligaments surrounding it will take a substantial portion of the load.
This contributes to the dependency of these structures, rather than the muscles surrounding the hip and trunk, to provide support to the hip during the squat.
Although this may contribute significantly to hip problems and possible injury, it also restricts our ability to gain power in the squat's lower position.
We can absolutely remove the SSC from the lift by pausing at the bottom of the squat. This implies that we have to rely on the muscles around the hip to provide the requisite strength and stability to build a big squat.
In addition, this often helps us to build strength in the squat's bottom position (which is sometimes the weakest position), which can improve our strength out of the hole and increase our entire squat strength.
As an added bonus, we will also limit the stress imposed on the passive structures of the hip by increasing our strength in the bottom position, while simultaneously enhancing our ability to use the SSC out of the hole as a result of increased muscular strength in that position.
Now, although this pause can lead to tremendous increases in strength, severe muscle hypertrophy can also contribute to it.
We increase the total amount of time under stress (TUT) that the muscles are under during a given set by pausing during a single repetition.
Time under stress is considered in the main mechanical causes of muscle development, and we can further improve muscle hypertrophy by growing it in this way.
So if you want massive quads (silly question, everyone wants massive quads), then pause squats are a major variation that can lead to improved muscle development.
Old school squats pause.