Part 1: Troubleshooting Heavy Squats
Characteristics of the Movement’s Breakdown:
• Early Hip Rise & Push-Back
• Failure to Maintain Hip Flexion Out of the Hole
• Increased Torso Angle (relative to eccentric phase)
• Knees Push Back (failure to maintain knees over toes)
• Pressure Shifts to the Back / Erectors
• Loss of Brace (shear loading is too high)
• Valgus Knees (knees coming together)
• Poor Expression of Maximal Strength
• Stronger Brace Needed at Submaximal Loads
• Low Ratio of Front Squat to Deadlift
Part 2: Developing Leg Strength for CrossFit
This discussion is centered around competitive CrossFit Athletes who have the primary goal of Sport performance.
As such, they not only seek to maximize squat strength, but loads lifted in Weightlifting movements (i.e. Snatch and Clean & Jerk), as well as performing well on an endless combination of workouts, including elements of cyclical, gymnastics and weightlifting elements.
Problematic Themes in Squat Strength Work
High Reps: If volume squats are done to near failure, compensations will get worse the more fatigued the athlete becomes. Errors & inefficiencies such as the Ping Pong squat and an early hip rise will be exacerbated.
High Intensity: As the intensity rises, as a percentage relative to their one rep max, the bar speed will slow. As bar speed slows, the athlete will resort to their default patterns to get the job done. This means the same errors and inefficiencies will appear as high rep squats.
Searching for Solutions
Step 1 | Strength Work: Find the rep range and intensity thresholds that allow the athlete to get the most high quality work completed with minimal compensation. This includes lower rep ranges with heavier loads where bar speed shows minimal slowing, as well as high rep ranges where fatigue does not climb so high that the athlete is unable to perform clean reps. Tempo eccentrics and sub-maximal pause reps are incredibly helpful tools.
Step 2 | Accessories: Find accessory movements that target the legs in the ranges of motion necessary for heavy squats while minimizing input from the erectors and back. Be sure to include exercises that emphasize quad involvement with an upright torso (e.g. cyclist squats, belt squats, front rack lunges, weighted step-ups, and Bulgarian Split Squats.)
Step 3 | Sport: One of the most common errors I see from a program design perspective when an athlete identifies a weakness is that they do a bunch of strength progressions and accessory movements, but they stop actually doing CrossFit. If you’re a CrossFit athlete, you need to be training CrossFit consistently if you want to get better at it over the long run. Yes, you may choose to place a lot of emphasis on improving your squatting positioning and strength, but don’t pull out all the other leg driven movements from your training, including wall balls, thrusters, box jumps, and lunges.