500 lb Squat: I did It and You Can Too
While there are already many well-written squat articles out there, such as this article by Greg Nuckols and this JTS article, I feel like I have a distinct advantage when it comes to writing on how to get your first 500 lb squat — I suck at squats. Out of the big three in powerlifting, the squat has always been a weakness of mine. I’ve been through more plateaus and breakdowns in form more often than I would like to admit.
You may be asking yourself, “How does this make you an expert on the squat?” and I don’t blame you. I do not profess to be an expert on the squat. Unlike Greg Nuckols and Chad Wesley Smith, the authors of the previous two articles, the squat does not come easily or naturally to me. I’m definitely not one of those guys who can add weight to his squat just by looking at the bar.
I’ve had to experiment, struggle and grind for each and every pound that I’ve added to my squat. It has never been easy or fast, yet with the implementation of a few key concepts, I have managed to overcome every obstacle in my way en route to a respectable 570@198 raw squat at 23 years of age. I guarantee that if these concepts were able to get a terrible squatter like me to a 500 lb squat, they will work as well, if not better for you.
Improve Your Squat Form
If your squat form leaves something to be desired, improving it can lead to huge dividends later down the road. Not only will proper squat form directly increase your squat max, but it will also help to keep you healthy so you can keep chugging along in pursuit of your first 500 lb squat. As this isn’t an article on what I believe to be optimal powerlifting technique for the squat, I will save you my long-winded analysis and provide you with a fantastic video below courtesy of Powerlifting To Win.
Squat More Often
As a powerlifter, we are most concerned with training movements, not muscle, so if you are looking to increase your squat, the simplest and easiest way to do this is by squatting more often! By increasing the frequency of the squat, you get extra practice with the movement to grease the groove and all that extra volume will pack on some quality muscle too. Who doesn’t want bigger quads, glutes and hamstrings?
If you’re currently squatting only one day a week, I cannot recommend this piece of advice enough. For most individuals, two to three squat sessions per week should be frequent enough, although some lifters have even found success with more, going up to as many as seven days a week of squatting! For more information about high frequency squatting, check out Squat Every Day by Matt Perryman, the Smolov Routine and Christian Thibaudeau’s tnation article on the Bulgarian Method.
Focus on Your Squats, Not Accessory Exercises
Jim Wendler, the well-known powerlifter and author of 5/3/1, once said “don’t major in the minor” in regards to people focusing excessively on their accessory work, and he couldn’t be more right. If you are chasing a 500 lb squat, you better bet most of your lower body training time should be spent squatting, NOT on accessory movements that offer a limited carry-over to the lift that you actually care about. Nobody cares how much you can leg press, especially if you have a piss-poor squat to go along with it.
You only have so much time and effort you can put into each training session, so make the most of it and get rid of some, or even all, of your assistance exercises and replace them with more squatting. Once again, all that practice will yield technical mastery, leading to an increase in your squat max, and all the extra volume will add muscle to the areas necessary for massive squats.
Stick to Accessory Exercises with High Carry-Over to Squats
If you are going to use accessory exercises in your training, you must choose exercises that will carry-over to your squats. With that in mind, most of our accessory exercises should be close variants of the squat that target a weakness of ours in the lift or variations that allow us to focus on where leverages are the worst, in this case the bottom of the squat. Examples include paused squats, beltless squats, dead squats, high bar squats (if typically a low bar squatter), low bar squats (if typically a high bar squatter), front squats and safety squat bar squats.
Personally, I am not a fan of box squats as I feel they place so much of an emphasis on the posterior chain that we lose out on a significant amount of activation of the prime mover of the squats — the quadriceps. The box squat is an excellent exercise when trying to teach a beginner form, but is well down the list of exercises I would recommend to an intermediate or advanced lifter looking to improve their raw squat strength. This idea of sticking to close variants of the competition lift holds true for all three of the powerlifts, so if you are having issues with your bench press or just want to progress a little faster, try reading Improve Your Bench Press Workout: Exercise Selection, an article I wrote where I rank all of the most popular bench press variations by tier.
If you are constantly failing in training, you’re doing something wrong. As a strength athlete, consistently training to failure is too taxing to recover from on a regular basis and the probability of injury increases drastically as our form deteriorates under loads that we cannot sustain. Select reasonable rep ranges at given intensities through means such as rep calculators, Prilepin’s Chart or auto regulation. A popular way to auto regulate your training is through the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale.
For lifting, the RPE Scale created by Mike Tuchscherer of RTS is even better. On this chart, a ten means you have zero reps left in the tank, a nine means you have one rep in the tank and so on. Estimated percentages are given with the RPE scale, but they’re nothing more than that. Actual percentages will vary with the individual, so use this as a guide, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Most of your time should be spent at a RPE of 7-8.
Don’t Train at Excessively High or Low Percentages
While you need some heavy singles on squats, particularly when close to a meet because of its effects on the CNS, specificity and confidence with heavy weights, you need to keep in mind that you are trying to build your squat during training, not test it. Testing your squat too often is going to make it hard to get enough volume in unless you do drop sets and the chance of injury just isn’t worth it. You want to be one of those guys or girls who have your best days when it matters on the platform, not three weeks out when nobody cares. I see this mistake time and time again by fellow powerlifters, but even if you are not a competitive powerlifter, this idea still applies. You can’t be at 100% all the time, so don’t waste your time testing your max unless you’ve been planning for this day and peaked accordingly. As a side note, if you need help preparing for a powerlifting meet or even a mock-meet where you want to test your squat max, click here.
Consistently training at excessively low percentages isn’t much better. Although your form won’t break down nearly as bad and you will get some volume in, squatting 60% of your 1RM or below for reps does not carry-over significantly to higher intensity squatting. If you increase your 5RM on squats from 370 to 390, you may see a 15 pound increase in your max whereas a twenty pound increase on your 15RM may result in negligible changes to your one rep max on squats.
With that being said, the volume from lower intensity lifting can build up a nice muscular base that can then be made more neurologically efficient through higher intensity training. Because of this, I recommend spending the bulk of your training around 80-85%, which is where force production is highest, and then add in some back off sets with a lighter weight for additional volume. This way, you get the best of both worlds.
If you don’t care about your weight or are sitting comfortably in your weight class, getting bigger is a straightforward way to increase your squat. A slight caloric surplus of 300-500 calories a day per week with an increase in squatting volume will turn you into a bigger and stronger squatter. Be careful about going overboard on the calories though unless you want to get fat. I wouldn’t go over a pound a week when bulking, but the choice is yours.
Incorporate Isolation Work for Quads
Earlier in the article, I suggested reducing or eliminating accessories with limited carry-over for more squatting and squat variations; however, if there’s a little bodybuilder in you, a little bit of isolation work for the quadriceps, the prime mover on the squats, could help to increase your squat max. Remember that the squat is your focus though and to not push your isolation exercises too hard. Also, no matter what people say, there is no special exercise that’s going to increase your squat more than actual squatting will. This includes GHRs, reverse hypers, the hack squat, leg press or any other contraption that you have seen or they may eventually come up with. All of these have merit, but the squat is king.
Wear Proper Equipment
I’m not the kind of person that buys all the newest powerlifting toys out there nor do I expect that from my readers; however, ideally you all should have a good belt, powerlifting shoes and a pair of knee sleeves.
You can go without a belt and I spend most of my training beltless, but when it comes time to max out, the trunk stability that you get from pushing out against your belt proves to be extremely beneficial. I use an Inzer lever belt, but Titan, Anderson Powerlifting and even Amazon carry good powerlifting belts.
I recommend a good pair of powerlifting shoes for both performance and safety purposes. Shoes with a raised heel make it easier to hit depth by reducing ankle dorsiflexion flexibility requirements and can prevent overpronation of the feet which can cause knee valgus (cave) on squats. Since this site’s original purpose was to discuss the role of shoes in powerlifting, I have written several in-depth articles on powerlifting shoes such as Powerlifting Shoes 101 and Cheap Weightlifting Shoes if you need help finding the right pair for you.
Practically every powerlifter wears knee sleeves nowadays when squatting. As I mentioned in this article on knee sleeves, the primary purpose of knee sleeves is to prevent us from causing damage to the knee when squatting through compression, increased stability and warmth, but you can also get a good twenty pounds or so out of a tight pair too. As a matter of fact, some high level powerlifters have a tight pair of sleeves that they reserve purely for competitions and maxing out.
Stay Healthy and Prehab
You can follow all these tips, but if you can’t stay healthy, you are going to have a hard time reaching a 500 lb squat. If you have the time, I would stretch the hamstrings, adductors and hip flexors after every squat session and foam roll these muscles along with the piriformis and the IT band on a regular basis. I also like to use a lacrosse ball and this Gua Sha Tool to break up scar tissue at home.
Many lifters also complain of knee pain when squatting. If you fall into this category, you’re in luck because I have dedicated an entire post to the causes and solutions to knee pain when squatting. More often than not, it’s a form issue so be sure to watch the squat form video above to make sure you don’t have any glaring flaws in your form that are the source of your knee pain.
By writing this and referring out to other well-known websites and authors, I hope I have provided some valuable information on your quest to a 500 lb squat, but there is always more that can be learned. The more high quality articles out there you read, the better your chances of future success. I am a big fan of these Strength Training Books and Fitness Websites along with other popular websites like EFS, JTS, Strength Theory and select authors on Tnation. I am sure by searching around on Google, Facebook groups or Reddit, that you can come across other quality sources as well.
If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that you are going to have to put in hard, consistent work to get your first 500 lb squat. We live in a time of immediate gratification where we can buy our clothes and see what our friends are up to without having to even get out of bed. Increasing your squat isn’t nearly as convenient. You’re going to have to put that phone down, drive to the gym, bust your butt and eat like a growing boy to see the results you want. It’s never easy, and that’s what makes lifting all the more gratifying.
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, that’s okay. I’m here to help. If you are lost, I encourage you to contact me and I will do my best to guide you in the right direction. If you aren’t sure how to create a program out of everything I have written, subscribe! Three sample squat programs with varying frequencies (1-3x a week) will be sent to you if you subscribe to my newsletter below!
With the tips I have outlined and the videos and links that were provided, you now have plenty of information you need to take your squat to 500 lbs and beyond. While it may be difficult, increasing your squat is a lot less complicated than most lifters make it out to be. Focus on squatting and squatting variants as often as you can, and try to increase your volume over time so long as you aren’t surpassing your recovery capabilities for an extended period of time in training. Learn proper form and reinforce it on both your warm-ups and your working weights. Record yourself and don’t accept anything but the best of which you are capable. Stay on top of your health by foam rolling, stretching and wearing correct attire and don’t ever think you have learned all that there is to know. Follow these steps and you will find success.
I hope you enjoyed reading “500 lb Squat: I Did it And You Can Too”! If you did, please share it and be sure follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Tumblr and Pinterest. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to comment below or Contact Me. Last, but most certainly not least, thank you for your time and feedback!