Strength & Conditioning

10 Ways to Improve Your Squat

It's perhaps the most functional of movements, executed without thought 100 times a day. No surprise, then, that focusing on getting better at squatting yields a variety of benefits.


“So here is the ‘meat and potatoes’ of why you are all here. I am going to squat and squat and squat. In fact, I won’t be doing much else other than squatting. I have picked a movement that arguably provides the greatest potential for training adaptation and transferable functionality through sport and life. My goal is to increase my overall strength through all movements over broad time and modal domains … but really all I am going to do is squat … every fucking day.

“The rules are simple: I must squat below parallel at least 450 lbs on the bar for a minimum of 1 rep every day. Some days squatting will only be the warm-up for a single or double in conjunction with other work, other days the squats will be for work sets. Either way my axial skeleton will feel that weight through the system.”
— David Lipson,

In late May 2010, David Lipson launched a personal challenge. The goal? Squat every day, at least one rep with at least 450 pounds. He did it to honor fellow CrossFitter Amanda Miller and to raise awareness of melanoma, the disease that killed her at age 24, less than a year after she had competed in the 2009 CrossFit Games. When the year was over, Lipson had increased his strength on the squat and a variety of other lifts and had raised thousands of dollars for the American Melanoma Foundation. And he had developed a fearsome knowledge of squatting. He shares some of that knowledge here.
— The Box Staff

The squat is the king of all exercises. There is no movement more essential or foundational than the one that comprises the basic ability to raise and lower your center of mass and express strength and flexibility through the extremities of the lower body while stabilizing the spine. You will always need to squat. If you are sitting down, you must perform a squat. If you go to the bathroom, you must squat. Losing the ability to do this movement is losing the ability to live independently. Think: “Help! I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” Long story short, this is a movement you will want to do — and do well — your entire life.

Squatting is also an amazing stimulus for the body. This one multi-joint movement allows you to load the skeletal structure with high amounts of weight, increasing your bone density over time. The muscles of the core get trained in a static state as forces running through the body are translated into the ground. There are few movements that can move such a large weight with as much power. The intensity of the squat provides a strong neuroendocrine response, flooding the body with hormones like human growth hormone and testosterone. I once squatted at least 455 pounds for at least one rep every day for a year. After the third month, my strength had skyrocketed with a personal record of a 670-pound deadlift and a 375-pound bench — without even training those movements! All in all, the squat is the quickest path to getting big and strong as fast as possible.

There are lots of great strategies to improve your squat. Many of us who train in linear formats experience a plateau when we stop changing things up to provide a new stimulus for the body. There are many different variables you can work on for the squat. Here are 10 ways that I have found to be very effective.

1. Improve Your Technique

Work on accessing the most powerful part of your body, the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors), by sitting back as far as possible and keeping your weight on your heels. Drive your knees out apart and away from each other to get better depth and torque through the hips.


2. Increase Your Flexibility

Practice squatting below parallel with various stances and bar positions. For instance, try a high-bar squat (supported on the traps) with a more narrow stance. This is very applicable to Olympic-lifting positions. Then try a wider stance with a low-bar position (across the shoulders). This is more of a hip- and back-intensive squat. You will find that differentiating positions recruits different muscle groups and requires varying types of flexibility.


3. Fortify Your Back

The spinal column is your transmission for applying force in the squat. The erectors of the lumbar spine are one of the most important muscle groups for maintaining a safe and strong core. Strengthen the muscles of the back with deadlifts, hip extensions and good mornings. Work on the upper back with bent-over rows and pull-ups.


4. Train Your Belly

The abdominals are critical for creating pressure around the spine for support. Train the abs with sit-ups (weighted and unweighted), Turkish get-ups, yoke walks and overhead squats.


5. Lift Heavy

Try to perform reps at 90 percent of your one-rep max or higher for three to five sets of one to two reps once per week.


6. Lift Fast

Try speed days, when you lower the weight to 50 to 70 percent of your one-rep max and move for as much speed as possible. You can try this for eight to 10 sets of two to three reps once a week.


7. Use Dynamic Resistance

Vary the resistance at the top and bottom of the squat by hooking up bands or chains or both (most badass) to the barbell. Work at 50 to 60 percent of your one-rep max, and use this as a speed day.

8. Increase Your Athleticism

Become athletic and explosive through the use of the Olympic lifts (snatch and clean and jerk) and plyometrics. This will help you develop your coordination, agility, balance, power and flexibility along with your strength.


9. Be Explosive Out of the Bottom

Use box squats to develop power out of the bottom of the squat. Vary heights and rep schemes.

10. Improve Your Recovery

Incorporate the use of stretching, foam rolling, massage and chiropractic work. Get eight to 10 hours of sleep per night. Eat clean whole foods. Use ice baths and hot/cold contrast therapy to reduce inflammation and promote circulation and healing of the body.