Building Bottom End Squat Power

by: Josh Bryant

Ed Coan- squat JEDI and powerlifting GOAT

Bottoms up! And I am not talking Saturday night at your favorite Sake Hostelry or toasting to the late Popcorn Sutton on the other side. 

I am referring to building a stronger, more explosive squat.

Remember, squats have an ascending strength curve. This means the squat is most difficult at the bottom and gets easier at the top.  The dumbed-down thought process is work the bottom end with pause squats and dead squats, however, this is a partial truth and you deserve the whole truth.

We are going to look at four ways you can increase your squatting power out of the hole.

Technique, Technique, Technique

Decades ago, a sports psychologist used a stop watch to time how long it would take Jack Nicklaus to pull his golf club out of the bag and hit the ball.  From the first green to the last hole in a major golf tournament, the time was never off more than a second.  Nicklaus had developed a ritual.

Similarly, watching a great powerlifter squat is like watching a master participate in a ritual.   Every repetition counts and it’s always perfect practice. From approaching the bar to every detail of completing the squat—it must be the same.

To get to Carnegie Hall, you must practice, practice, practice; to become a great squatter you must do the same because this builds great technique.  Great technique is not muscle confusion, it’s an efficient neuromuscular motor pattern which not only makes the squat easier to perform but makes you capable of producing a greater amount of total force in a shorter amount of time.  

Technique is everything!  Without its mastery, the next three points are futile.

Commit to the Descent

Squats are a reversible muscle action that utilize the stretch shortening cycle, meaning they have an eccentric phase (squatting down), amortization phase (transitions from eccentric to concentric) and a concentric (upward phase). 

Practically applied, when you squat down you are storing elastic-like energy that if you transition properly out of the bottom will greatly aid you on the way up.  Often, when a great squatter misses a maximum attempt, they do not get stuck in the bottom but a few inches above parallel. While not being strong enough to squat the weight, they are skilled enough to make this elastic-like energy work for them.

So, how do you do take advantage of this stretch reflex?

It’s a skill that is developed by committing to the descent! I feel this is so important I did not include it in the technique subheading, which it clearly falls under. Far too many lifters warm-up and squat lighter weights with a different descent speed and depth than they do with heavy weight.

Great squatters descend with the same speed and to the same depth every time, watch the late Dr. Fred Hatfield or Eddy Coan.  You cannot optimally utilize the stretch reflex unless you practice squatting to the same depth with the same speed over and over. 

Power out of the hole is optimized when the stretch reflex is working for you.

Pause Squats

Once technique is optimized and the stretch reflex is working for you, you can further develop power out of the bottom of your squats by training pause squats.  This exercise was taught to me by mentor, Eddy Coan, the greatest powerlifter of all-time.

Simply, use your competition or strongest squat stance and bar placement and descend to the depth where you will be testing your squat and hold this position for one to two seconds.  After this, explode out of the bottom back to the starting position.  

This is not worked in place of regular squats because, remember, they are a skill; however, these can play a paramount subservient role.  Do two sets after heavy squats of three to five reps and watch yourself become powerful out of the bottom.

Dead Squats

Just how there is no such thing as a free lunch, there is no such thing as a free squat! This is deceiving because the stretch reflex, properly utilized, will aid you out of the bottom of the squat for the first few inches but then it fades fast and then you are rolling all by your lonesome to squat the weight up.

This is where the dead squat comes into play.

Simply rest a barbell on the pins in a rack.  Get under the barbell and squat the weight up from this position and that is a dead squat.  This will not only help build power in the sticking spot, where elastic-like energy fades in the squat, but will also help build a massive deadlift because you build great starting strength. 

Dead Squats and Pause Squats Technique

Some Guidelines for dead squats

  • Only perform single repetitions
  • Do 3 to 6 sets
  • Start 1-3 inches above parallel
  • Use a safety bar if you have access
  • Perform as explosively as possible
  • Advanced lifters can cycle in bands and chains

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind, these tools are secondary to great technique! Build the technique and the power out of the bottom will come—then to throw icing on the cake, integrate pause squats and dead squats and power out of the bottom will become your strength. 

To a more powerful you.

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