How to Improve Your Squat

How to Improve Your Squat

Hey Coach,

I have very little power coming out of the bottom position of my squat. Would it be better to focus more on assistance lifts like goodmornings barbell bridges or barbell hip thrusts to try and strengthen my hamstrings more with my squat. I have trouble exploding up. 



Hey Joe, this is a pretty common problem you have and one that I have had in the past. Without seeing video of you squatting it’s hard for me to tell you exactly what you need to do. It can be a mobility/stability issue, or you can just be weak out of the hole.

Before I get into what I recommend for you, let me tell you a little bit about my own issues with the squat. First off, my squat sucks but I am working to fix it. I’ve deadlifted 600lbs but only squatted a little over 400lbs! One of my issues with the squat is I lose stability in the last 2 inches before I achieve proper depth due to poor mobility. Playing catcher my whole life, including 4 years of college baseball, has led to some nasty muscular imbalances and flexibility deficits.

Mike Robertson pointed out some issues I have in an article on his website about rebuilding a deadlift. Mike pointed out that I have a wicked anterior pelvic tilt and that I am extremely quad dominate. From my long history as a catcher, this doesn’t surprise me much. Also, as a catcher I also had a tendency to lean on my left side. This is a bad habit I developed at a very young age, and quite frankly most catchers usually lean to their left side and chances are they have similar issues to me.

So if you take into consideration the fact that I have a wicked anterior pelvic tilt, the fact that I am quad dominate and have terrible hip external rotation (probably from catching), there is no wonder why I too have been slow out of the hole and lost some stability as I approaching proper depth. Like Mike pointed out, I have some mobility/stability issues that need to be fixed if I ever want to squat some serious weight!

With this said here are some solutions for you:

1-If you think that your problem is a mobility issue check out this article on How to Squat Deeper. Fellow Underground Strength Coach, Steve Rizzo and I put this article together.

2-If you  are having stability issues, I would highly recommend you check out Mike Robertson’s Single Leg Solution.

3- Attack your weakness with assistance exercises. Keep reading below.

If you know you are slow out of the hole, attack that part of your squat with these exercises:

  • Anderson Squats or Dead Squats
    • Great excise I learned from Josh Bryant on
    •  You can perform these as a front squat or back squat.
    •  Check out this video below from my good friend John Gaglione

  • Pause Squats 
    • This is a great exercise to help teach you to be tight and to build explosive power out of the hole.
    •  Perform a squat and hold at the bottom then explode up
    • Make sure you are extremely tight throughout
    • Check out this video from EliteFTS on pause squats


Contrary to what a lot of coaches recommend, I do not recommend box squats for guys who are trying to improve their raw squat because it has little to no carry over from box squats. Look, I think the box squat is a great lift for athletes, especially those learning how to squat and for those athletes that are quad dominate. But for a raw lifter who is having issues out of the hole I just really don’t see a place for it.

One of the issues is the box provides too much stability . Like I stated earlier, the reason why I am slow out of the hole is because I lost stability as a approached proper depth. Probiding stability via a box certainly won’t help the problem. There is no wonder why I like so many other raw lifters can box squat a lot more than we can free squat. The other issue with the box squat is once a quad dominate athlete starts to increase the weight, the quads start to take over and it is no longer a true box squat.

Here is what a box squat should look like:

Here is what a box squat looks like when the quads take over:

Hopefully you can see the difference and now understand why I don’t like the box squat for raw lifters who are having issues getting out of the hole. Again I think its a great exercise and definitely has its place in training for geared powerlifters and athletes who need some more hip dominate training.

The exercises you listed above like good mornings and barbell bridges are great exercises to strengthen the posterior chain. Don’t forget that if you are lifting raw, you will need strong quads. That’s where the exercises I listed above come in along with single leg exercises like heavy step-ups. I would not replace back squats with these variations but instead start incorporating these exercises into your program as assistance exercises. Perform these exercises for multiple sets of 5-8 reps.  Hopefully this gave you some insight into how to improve your strength and power out of the hole in the squat. Feel free to drop a comment below and let me know if this helps 🙂

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