‘Find what works for you, and exploit it.’ – Mark Twain
Disclaimer: I need to remind you that I am not a certified trainer. The information I am going to share in this article is based on my personal experience and what works for me. It may or may not work for you.
I grew up playing basketball and doing some body weight training. I always have good level of endurance but I had never really performed weighted squat, deadlift, bench, leave alone snatch or clean and jerk. I used to love running and enjoy the sweat all over my body whenever I do some aerobic activity until I fall in love with strength training.
As many other people, I came to strength training via crossfit. I joined my first crossfit box in 2017 and found it enjoyable. My box was quite good. They have beginner and speciality classes where they teach you techniques (for gymnastics, powerlifting, and weightlifting separately). Those speciality classes were the one that changed my perspective on how importance strength training is.
I am quite competitive and I hate to lose. (Actually, this might apply to most crossfitter hahaha). I remembered I used to be the top finishers for all aerobic focus WOD but sucked so badly for everything else that require weight. That feeling led me to focus on getting stronger and train my strength separately on top of all the daily WOD programs.
Six months after joining crossfit, I moved to weightlifting and this is when the game starts….
The main competition lifts for weightlifting are snatch and clean and jerk. To perform snatch / clean and jerk, you need strength and technique. No matter how good your technique is, there will be a point when getting stronger is the only way to lift more. So… who doesn’t squat, right? Squat is the basic leg strength training. Full stop.
As I mentioned before, I didn’t grow up doing strength training. I started on my mid 20s. Although this might only be in my head, I constantly feel that I need to catchup for my strength capability.
I did Jim Wendler 5/3/1 programme as a dedicated strength program while I was doing crossfit. The main idea is you do 5reps on week 1, then 3reps for week 2, then 1rep for week 3, followed by a deload week before coming back to the same circle. It was designed for all three powerlifting lift (ie. squat, deadlift, bench press). It worked relatively well for me. Be it because I was a beginner – so a new PR every week or month is just how it was supposed to – or it’s just a great strength program. Many people do it successfully so I tend to believe the later.
When I moved to weightlifting. I started to have different programming that focuses more on developing my weightlifting capability. My program is focused on improving my snatch + clean and jerk while still increasing strength. It takes lots of repetition to get a consistency technique in weightlifting, so I might have neglected my squat improvement during my early weightlifting training life.
In addition to that, I made a mistake by not focusing on general – overall body strength aka accessory movements during my early time. If I’ve known better, I would have add more accessories work, especially in the early time when my overall strength wasn’t good. My knowledge was quite limited and I didn’t have any dedicated coach that wrote a personalised program for me back then. I came to some adhoc workshops, weightlifting classes, and build better knowledge over time but never realised how importance accessory works are until my second training year.
At the moment, accessory works is part of my regular training and I notice that there are some movements that are very helpful for my squat strength:
1. Squat Jump
I noticed that when I do more squat jump, I have a better leg power. This translates to a faster squat movement and also better snatch/ clean and jerk.
I use bar when I do squat jump. Depends on the reps, I usually use empty bar (ie. 15kg) or max of 25kg. I think it is prescribed as bar to 25% of your max squat by Greg Everett 2014 American Open program. He also put full squat jump and a quarter squat jumo on the program.
2. Pause Squat
First time I did a pause squat because it was on my weightlifting club program. Somehow, my coach added a pause squat once a week (we do 3x squat per week in total). I started from 60% of my max back squat for 8 sets of 5.
The key of doing pause back squat is to pause! Sounds obvious but not that easy to do! So – if you do it your self, do a recording of yourself can be a good idea. That way, you can check if you do a complete pause at the bottom before going up (and thus utilize your leg without any momentum) or you still jiggle at the bottom: go down a bit first before start moving up.
I didn’t realise how great pause squat is until I moved to a higher intensity of regular squat. I noticed better consistent on 90%+.
3. Glutes walk (with resistance band)
I’d be honest with you, this was suggested to me because I had a muscle strain somewhere on my legs. It happened after a 3w off training and I arrogantly squated 75kg 5*5 on my first day of training (ps. my max was around 90 back then). So – yeah – an important painful lesson.
I found out that I didn’t always activate my glutes when I squat and that was why I pulled my muscle. As a recovery program, I did glute walk 2x per week – 15/leg for 3 set. My sole purpose was to ease the pain but after doing it on a more regular basis, I actually feel more benefits beyond recovery. My squat was more solid since then.
Those 3 movements are the ones that seem to work for me. It might be different for you but if you haven’t tried it, give it a go. It took me sometimes to figure out what works and what’s not but eventually I did find it. So – good luck in finding what works for you and dare exploit it when you find one!