Have you ever squatted until your back gives out, but you felt that your legs still had something left in them? Or you might just want to do a little extra because you know that as soon as you get home your wife will put you to work around the house.
I've had both of these problems, so I decided to incorporate some special assistance exercises to extend the length of my leg routine in order to boost my squat poundage.
In general, my preference lies in the area of high rep movements. Along with the high reps, I like to be handling a graduated amount of weight as my strength and conditioning increases. The following assistance movements for the legs are ones I've used previously and ones that I encountered specific problems with.
One legged squats worked my frontal thighs tremendously. If you stay with the one legged squat you can work into high reps in no time. However, adding more resistance is very awkward because of balance problems.
Later I tried front squats, which seemed to be the answer for a while. Then I found that I had difficulty in breathing when I performed many reps in training.
Hack squats, a bodybuilding type movement, also worked my thighs very well for a while. But once again the problem of adding weight cropped up as it made the movement awkward and a strain on the ligaments of the knees developed.
Noticing that Olympic lifters usually squatted with elevated heels, I realized that their backs were much straighter than a powerlifter's back generally is. The raised heels and straight back employed by Olympic lifters was obviously placing a greater strain on the legs. I also determined that the muscular development of the Olympic lifter around the knee area was more prominent than that of the powerlifter. The reason being most powerlifters neglect this region of the thigh in their workouts. The powerlifter usually has better developed hips and upper thighs, because the most emphasis is placed on them in a powerlifter's routines.
The powerlifter, to be able to squat maximum weights, has to place the bar lower on the back and lean forward slightly, while the Olympic lifter does the type of squats with the bar high on the back and maintaining a straight back, enabling him to develop the strength needed to rise from a low squat clean position. These two slight variations will, as I mentioned before, produce thigh development and leg power in direct opposition to each other.
The point I'm trying to make is that each group of lifters should devote a little extra time to work the area in which they have a definite weakness. The Olympic man could include some power squats in his routine, and the powerlifter could work on the Olympic style squat for that "added something" that they both could use.
Being a powerlifter who wished to increase my overall leg strength, as well as the physical development around the knee area, I began to experiment with an Olympic type of "heels on board" way of squatting. First, I tried a two-by-four that had been lying around the gym collecting dust. This is what the Olympic lifters generally had used in their squat programs. However, after a few workouts I felt I needed added board height to more effectively work my knee area. Next I tried a four-by-four, but immediately ran into trouble with the extreme angle the board placed my feet in. It just put too much pressure on the arches of my feet. So I decided to saw the board in half diagonally, with not just comfort in mind, but placing maximum resistance on the lower muscles of the thigh. It worked great and I began to notice improved development around my knee area, plus I was adding weight to the bar every leg workout without strain or pain.
Occasionally, during a leg workout, as I stepped back to do my squats on the four-by-four, I would accidentally kick it over backwards. Rather than messing around with the sometimes clumsy piece of wood, I devised a small incline board out of plywood with a larger base to stand on (see photos). This was perfect for me and by type of leg workouts, so I dubbed the new exercise "The Incline Squat."
The incline squat is a great change of pace exercise, as well as a tremendous lower-thigh size and strength developer. If you want to incorporate it into your powerlifting routine, let me first explain how to properly perform the exercise.
As you adjust yourself, under a light weight at first, be sure to place the bar high on the traps of the upper back. Step back onto the incline board, placing the feet close together (approximately 10-12 inches apart). Controlling the weight, with an upright posture of the back, descend slowly and go down as far as you are able to. This will really stretch the muscles, ligaments and tendons around the knee area, so be sure to use a light weight at first, don't bounce out of the bottom, and work into the heavier poundages gradually.
With the elevation of the heels, you will notice a difficulty in completely straightening the legs and locking the knee joint. This is quite natural, and you shouldn't worry about losing your balance during your first attempts at squatting on the incline board. As a matter of fact, I've found that the inability to straighten out the legs completely while incline squatting is a definite plus, rather than a minus. If forces you keep your balance with knees bent, which means that while you are fighting to stay on the board, the knee area of the lifter is waging its own battle against the everpresent resistance of the barbell. This extra "battle" might not seem like much, but you'll be surprised at the muscular development and strength that you will derive from this fight to keep your balance with the knees bent.
It can also be beneficial to your incline squat progress if you have a spotter stand behind you and slightly pull you back with his hands, as you come out of the bottom position. This method of spotting will allow you to maintain an erect stature, forcing the thigh muscles to do the majority of the work, instead of the back muscles carrying the load.
The number of incline squat repetitions that you do can vary, but I prefer 8-12 reps, followed directly by as many reps as I can muster after stepping off the incline board.
8-12 hard reps on the incline board, step forward off the board and gut out as many reps as you can.
Usually I can tell when to step off the board because I start to lean forward too much while performing the incline movement. The stance used for the last (off the board) sequence of squats can either be wide or regular. Just try to select a stance that will allow you to go down as far as possible, and as I mentioned earlier, do a lot of repetitions. This should thoroughly work the quadriceps, in large part the vastus internus muscle located just above the knee joint. That's what the incline squat is all about, and remember, you don't have to use an overly massive weight to do this.
A fellow powerlifter once told me after having done the incline squat for the first time, with 155 lbs.) that didn't realize 155 could be so heavy! And at the time of that statement this man was capable of well over a 500 lb. squat. I might also add that this lifter, after working on the incline squat for a time, increased his leg measurement just above the knee quite considerably.
You don't necessarily need spotters to do this movement. Just select a weight that will produce the desired effect, one that you can 'good morning' out front, or dump behind off your back, if you do happen to get stuck in the bottom or lose your balance.
An article by Hollie Evett on The Sumo Deadlift is here: