People often forget to mention that the most difficult part of staying fit and building muscle is not simply staying consistent with your workouts, but persevering through periods of stagnation. Finding motivation to continue your workouts is easy when you’re consistently upping your weight and seeing progress. You feel powerful; you know you’re getting stronger. But at some point, your body’s ability to lift more weight will plateau. When this happens, the answer is a simple two-part technique to increase your back squat and keep growing your strength.
How? By employing squat stands and squat walks. The idea is really rather simple: use squat stands and squat walks to slowly and safely introduce your body to heavier weights, to grow your strength and familiarize your body with the weight.
Start with squat stands. Heavy squat stands are the easiest and safest way to introduce your body to more weight. To start, work up to your 1-rep max, but don’t actually do a full squat. Instead, load your weight on the bar, get under the bar as if you were going to do a squat, and then simply stand up with the weight. Stay there, holding the weight (don’t move!) for 8-10 seconds, then rack the weight.
Now you’re ready to increase your weight. Start safe and small. Increase by 10% of your max (i.e. if your 1-Rep Max is 200 you would add 20 lbs to make a total of 220 lbs).
Once the weight is on the bar, set the squat stand just as before, as if you were going to commit to an actual squat. Make sure you stay completely braced with your back and core tight. This is important to keep from injury and to grow your strength. Then stand with the weight for 8-10 seconds again. No movement other than simply standing up is needed.
If you can handle that, go ahead and add another 5%-10% of your 1-rep max (so another 10-20 lbs, if your 1-rep max was 200). Work toward getting to 15%-20% above your total 1-rep max, before trying anything more complicated with weight above your 1-rep max.
Squat stands are a simple way to get your body use to heavier weights so that your normal squat weight will feel lighter. Holding such a heavy weight on your back will cause your upper back, neck, shoulder, and core muscles to work harder, ultimately strengthening them. And, because the exercise employs minimal movement, the chance for injury is also minimal.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with squat stands, you can start employing heavy squat walkouts. Because this requires a little more movement, don’t expand as heavily above your 1-rep max. 10%-15% will be enough to make a difference. Because there is more movement, the risk for injury is much higher, so set your safeties high and grab some spotters (if possible, a 3-point spot is recommended).
Once you’re prepped and have your spotters, set up as you were for a squat stand, stand up, then step backwards away from the rack and brace yourself as if you were going to squat, but don’t. Just stay there and hold the position for your 8-10 second rep while keeping your core and upper back as tight as possible. Then walk forward and rack the weight.
Doing these two movements—heavy squat stands and heavy squat walkouts—will not only help grow your physical strength and ability to master more weight, but also your confidence, which is just as important. Having the confidence in yourself to conquer the weight is, as they say, mind over matter.