Leg strength, more specially your squatting (front and back) and pulling abilities, are key factors that affect weightlifting performance, aside from technique and power application. When progressing throughout training, leg strength may stall, for whatever reason, leaving many lifters (like myself at times) frustrated and compelled to squat their lives away.
While front and back squatting are critical movements in the training of maximal strength and muscular development, certain exercises can also play a complementary role in the overall progress of lower body strength capacities. Implementing such exercises within a training regimen in assistance training blocks can increase lead to improvements in:
- Muscular Hypertrophy: Increases in lean muscle mass can result in a greater pool of motor units and tissue that can be trained to produce more force and explosiveness.
- Neural Adaptations: Increased motor unit activity, synchronization, and rate of force development can offer when implementing the below exercises, which can result in more strength and explosiveness.
- Maximal Performance: While there is a specific skill-set needed to perform well at near maximal or maximal levels, increases in lean muscle mass, neural activity, strength, and power output can significantly affect maximal performance.
Therefore, in this article we will offer five leg-specific assistance exercises that weightlifters, powerlifters, and functional fitness athletes can build into current training programs to improve leg and squat strength capacities. It is important to note that while back and front squats do not appear on this list, those two exercises should be primary movements to develop strength and muscle i.e. development, with the below supplemental exercises used to facilitate optimal development.
This unilateral exercise can help athletes to overcome any asymmetries and imbalances that may be present in the loading of the hip, knee, and ankle joints while assuming a squat. Walking lunges, when done with a normal stride (when walking, have the front heel he nearly in line with the back knee to mimic best the high bar squat patterning) can increase muscle activation (see the science behind unilateral training here) and overall development of the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
Deficit Stiff-Leg Deadlifts
While this is a deadlift variation, it can offer hamstring, glutes, and erector strength and development. The development of the posterior chain will allow for greater hip strength and explosiveness, both keys to squatting and weightlifting.
In the event you have access to a leg press or hack squat machine, I highly recommend you include this training exercise within your training routine, even if only used every few weeks. While this may not translate directly to patterning of the squat, this exercise can be used to target the quads and hips while minimizing the load on the spine, making it a great way to add quality training volume and increase muscle hypertrophy.
Hip, hamstring, and back strength (lower, middle, and upper) are necessary for stability and strength in the squat. Goodmornings are a great exercise to develop a stronger “packing” of the back similar to that needed while squatting, and can be programmed to increase a lifter’s ability to resist spinal and thoracic flexion under loads. The added benefit of hip and hamstring engagement can further facilitate improvements in overall leg and squat strength.
Jump squats are a plyometric-based exercise offering weightlifter the ability to train muscle fibers to recruit faster and fire in synchronization, which equates to greater force and power output. The additional development of the eccentric training (when jumps are done in cyclical fashion) can translate to increase control and stability under loads high velocities, similar to the receiving positions of the snatch and clean.
Increasing squat strength can be very straight forward (progressive overload) and/or a complicated matter (neural adaptations, addressing technical faults, or assistance training). The below articles can assist you on your pursuit of squatting ungodly numbers (relative to your abilities), each addressing various aspects for maximal development.
- How Wave Loading Can Increase Your Squat and Olympic Lifts
- How Much Should You Clean in Relationship to Your Front Squat
- How Can Weightlifters Benefit From Squat Walkouts
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Featured Image: @juliusmaximus24 on Instagram
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