The Training Trick to Increase Your Squat Strength

Add 1.5 reps to your training routine to boost your power and improve your technique.
Add 1.5 reps to your training routine to boost your power and improve your technique.Henk Badenhorst / Getty Images

You may know this feeling well: You're slowly lowering to the bottom of a back squat, and the weight feels heavier than it should. You eventually break parallel and prepare to push back up — but hit a sticking point where no amount of oomph can get you out of the hole.

squat

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Breaking through barriers like this can be tough, both mentally and physically, especially if you've only been stuck squating the same amount of weight for what seems like an eternity. A good way to get to the next level is adding 1.5 reps into your routine. What that means: With a barbell either in the front or back position, you'll squat until you break parallel, rise back up to slightly above parallel, then lower back down past parallel again and push fully up to stand. It's exactly what it sounds like — a full rep plus a half rep in the middle.

Ryan Hopkins, co-owner and head Olympic weightlifting coach of SoHo Strength Lab, says adding sets of the 1.5 reps to regular strength workouts does more than help you push through that sticking point. For starters, the extra practice and repetition of the squat, particularly below parallel, will teach your muscles and nerves to communicate more fluidly and quicker — that translates to a smoother push out of the hole. 

Man working out with two kettlebells

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The extra half rep from below parallel up to just above parallel will also thicken the connective tissues around the knees, hips, and lower back, which is what you really use to transfer the force up into the barbell during that pivotal going-up stage of the squat. The muscles produce the force, but the soft tissue is what does most of the power transfer. Additionally, this extra time under tension will strengthen your back and postural muscles, particularly those in the thoracic column, or your upper back. This will help you keep your shoulders back and chest up as you lower and push back up. 

It may sound counterintuitive, but using a 1.5 rep will get you more comfortable with the full range of motion of the squat, too. That's because confidence moving in and out of the bottom position is the most important aspect of mastering a heavier lift, and you'll be doing that two times in a row. Squatting is a skill, so practicing that skill more — what you'll get in a 1.5 rep — improves performance.

How to Perform 1.5 Reps
"The most common mistakes I see are when athletes perform it too fast, too heavy, or too often," Hopkins says. "This is a training tool to help you break through current barriers on your full back or front squat." The point of this variation is to improve your full squat, not your 1.5 squat. To make sure you attack this variation in the safest and most effective way possible, Hopkins recommends these five tips: 

  1. Limit your 1.5 reps loads to 65–80 percent of your one-rep max. If you go too heavy, you risk losing the technique aspect of this move.
  2. Move with smooth control as you lower into the bottom position of the squat, which is just breaking parallel.
  3. Once you hit the bottom, push back up to 5–10 degrees above parallel. Do not bounce. There should be a momentary pause at the bottom as well as at the point slightly above parallel.
  4. Stand back up fully with control. Repeat for three sets of 5 reps. This is a training tool, so don't rush the movement. 
  5. Add the 1.5 reps into your regular routine for two­ to three weeks at a time, at the most. This will be long enough to get the training effect, and you'll see your sticking point moving north.

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