Building the Squat and Deadlift

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Building The Squat & Deadlift

The squat and the deadlift have many similarities. Regardless of the style used in either lift (wide stance, close stance, low or parallel), both use the same muscle groups to a greater or lesser degree. It stands to reason that it is possible and highly effective to build both lifts at the same time. I mean any style of squat or deadlift. If you select your exercises correctly, squats will build deadlifts and deadlifts will build squats. Limiting oneself to just one style of squat or one style of deadlift is less than ideal for this purpose. Why? Over development in some muscle groups will occur while leaving other muscle groups underdeveloped. Underdeveloped muscles will bring progress to a grinding halt at some point. By using combinations of exercises, one can work all areas equally leading to a balanced strength ratio in the needed muscle groups.

To accomplish the goal of a large deadlift (of any style) and a large squat (of any style), I have put together what I consider to be a selection of fool proof exercises. Raising one of these exercises is not sufficient – you must raise them all.

There are 4 main categories of exercises I consider to be most important:

  • Pulls
  • Squats
  • Torso work
  • Grip work

Let’s break them down further and pick out the best of the best.

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Pulls

Various types of pulls can be used to build strong hamstrings, the prime movers in deadlifts & a highly active muscle group in the powerlifting style squat. I consider 3 types of pulls to be king:

Ultra-wide sumo deadlifts – spread the feet out so that they are as wide as possible(on an olympic bar they should be an inch away from the plates). The feet should be turned slightly outwards. The hips should be pushed to the rear. Using a grip of your choice, rock the hips downwards whilst simultaneously pushing the knees outwards and pull the bar up. As the bar rises, pull it back into your hips to lock it out. Lower and repeat. Any type of heavy pull should be performed with a deep breath in the abdomen to keep the torso secure. These can also be performed whilst standing on blocks to increase the difficulty and provide variety. Use a mixed or double overhand grip.

Snatch grip deadlifts – the hand placing should be wide. On an olympic bar, the minimum width should be so that the little finger should be touching the rings. Keeping the head up and the chest high, rock the hips downwards and pull up to separate the bar from the floor. As it rises, pull it towards the hips to complete a rep. Lower and repeat. To increase the difficulty stand on blocks to increase the ROM. I like to mix the grip in this style which is not a highly practiced technique but it is highly effective.

Defecit deadlifts – Stand on blocks 2-3 inches high. The style of execution is very similar to the snatch grip deadlift. Use the same cues – head up, chest high, pull the bar up and back towards the hips to lockout. Use a mixed or double overhand grip.

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Squats

In my opinion, front squats are the unrivalled king of squats. If done correctly they ensure a super training response to the entire spine, from low down to the thoracic region, the hip adductor’s, glutes & quads.

Wide stance front box squats – use a box height of no higher than 12 inches. The minimal height can go as low as 6 or 7 inches depending on hip mobility. Use a front squat harness, a cross-arm grip or a clean grip. The feet should be as wide as possible while allowing you to sit completely on the box – again this will vary on your mobility. Un-rack the bar, take a deep breath into the abs and descend to the box keeping the head up and the chest high. Always push the knees outwards whether descending or ascending. DO NOT sit back onto the box, sit down – if you sit back you will disengage the glutes and squads, the very muscles we want to pulverize in this movement. Do not collide & crash on the box, land under control. Relax the legs and hips momentarily, keep the abs tight. Keep any rolling on the box to a minimum – this will force you to fire the glutes and quads very hard on the ascent. As you rise, keep the head up, chest high & the abs tight.

Wide stance front pin squats – The form will be identical to the box squat except there is no box to relax on and the movement is started down low. Make sure the pins are set with the barbell on so that the crease of the hip is below the knees when the bar starts to move – this ensures a high level of activity in the glutes and quads. Relax briefly before and after every rep to eliminate momentum.

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Torso

A weak torso is going to leak power faster than a bucket with a giant hole in will leak water – there will be an incomplete transferral of force throughout the body. Areas of focus are the spine (the static component of spine strength has been covered with front squats), obliques & front abs.

Suite-case holds – Keeping the torso locked and immovable is critical to any type of heavy squat or deadlift. The obliques play a major role in this. Suitcase lifts are an anti-movement exercise – they train the obliques to remain locked in place. Suitcase holds can be performed with a dumbbell or barbell. Load up with the desired weight, stand up and hold for time whilst trying to resist lateral bending of the torso. Train one side at a time.

Suitcase deadlifts – Load up with the desired weight and stand up to complete lockout whilst trying to resist lateral bending of the torso. Lower back to the floor and repeat. Train one side at a time.

Straight leg sit-ups – lock the feet under the end of a sit-up bench or glute/ham apparatus. Keep the legs straight and perform strict sit-ups with a moderate and controlled tempo. Relax briefly on the bench to eliminate momentum before commencing another rep. This can be done with a plate or dumbbell over the chest but I prefer a plate behind the head. Declining the bench can also be done to increase the resistance.

Leg raises – start with the legs fully straight out in front of you. If straight leg raises are too hard, start with bent legs. Raise the knees up and roll the back off the bench. Return the legs to a fully straight position. In the straight leg version raise the legs to a 90 degree angle and then lower again keep the legs locked throughout. Use ankle weights or incline the bench to increase the difficulty.

Seated good mornings – good mornings are a great exercise. The only problem is they can be misused as one of the worst ego exercises known to humankind. Doing them seated ensures that cheating is practically impossible. It also works the thoracic extensors very effectively. Keep the barbell high on the upper back, take a deep breath into the abs and lower until the chin touches the bench. Rise up by pushing the traps into the bar and pushing the feet hard into the floor. Repeat for desired reps. These can be done on a flat bench, or with a slight decline or incline for variety.

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Grip

Last but not least we come to the grip. For some, suitcase lifts and other types of deadlifts will be sufficient for the grip. For others, some extra work is needed.

Deadlifts – no, that is not a misprint. A great way to pulverize the grip is to perform sets of snatch grip, ultra-wide sumo or deficit deadlifts with a double overhand grip. When the grip starts to fail, switch to a mixed grip to finish the set.

Isometric crushes – these can be performed with a thick block of wood. Simply squeeze the block as hard as possible for 3-5 seconds at a time. This will raise grip strength extremely fast.

Isometric pulls – find an immovable metal bar or load up a barbell with more weight than you can deadlift. Pull against the bar for 3-5 seconds at a time. This will also raise grip strength extremely fast.

Programming

I will provide some ideas as to how to utilize these exercises in your routine.

If you train lower body one day per week and like to max out on a squat, deadlift or good morning during this session, simply insert these exercises as assistance work after maxing out. Pick exercises from the categories mentioned in this article:

Front squat – 3 sets 6 reps

Deadlift – 3 sets of 6-12 sets

Suitcase lift – 3 sets of 6-12 reps

Seated good morning – 3 sets of 6-12 reps

Straight leg sit-up/leg raises – 3 sets of 6-12 reps

If you train lower body two days per week and like to max out on a squat, deadlift or good morning during one session & dynamic box squat during the 2nd session, simply insert these exercises as assistance work after maxing out and dynamic box squats. Pick exercises from the categories mentioned in this article:

Day 1 assistance work – max effort day:

Front squat – 2 sets 3 reps

Deadlift – 3 sets of 6-12 reps

Suitcase lift – 3 sets of 6-12 reps

Seated good morning – 3 sets of 6-12 reps

Straight leg sit-up/leg raises – 3 sets of 6-12 reps

Day 2 assistance work – dynamic effort box squat day:

Front squat – 3 sets of 6 reps

Deadlift – 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps

Suitcase lift – 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps

Seated good morning – 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps

Straight leg sit-up/leg raises – 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps

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Extra tips

  • Use extra grip exercises only if you need to – these can be done in short extra sessions lasting merely a few minutes or at the end of regular workouts. 2-3 sets work well.
  • Choose the exercises from the ones mentioned in this article – you will only need to use one exercise from each category at a time during each training session.Work on increasing the weights in each category as often as possible – vary the methods used, for example, switch from a box squat to a pin squat, change the bench angle during seated good mornings or change the rep ranges of the exercises. This will keep progress steady and help avoid a frustrating plateau.
  • Keep records in all exercises to monitor progress.
  • Every few months test a squat or deadlift of your choice to track progress – if you are breaking records in the exercises in all the categories, there should be no reason why your squatting and deadlifting strength will not show a marked increase. If you do not break a record, simply focus more work into the weak muscle group/groups that are holding you back.
  • The exercises in this article will put great stress on all the muscle groups involved in squatting and deadlifting, regardless of whether that is an olympic style squat or a sumo deadlift.
  • During your upper body sessions use preacher curls – they will strengthen your biceps in such a way as to protect them from the stress of deadlifts. This will help prevent biceps tears.

Author: Will Vatcher

Will is a strength & conditioning coach and published author based out of Cambridgeshire, England. His articles have been featured in other major online publications and include interviews with legends such as Louie Simmons and Fred Hatfield.

 

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