Squats are the king of all strength training movements. It is a display of tremendous force, and is a movement that will recruit a significant amount of motor units when executing it properly. The overall strength you can gain from squatting big is no mystery, it is well known. And it is also painful exercise, which is why some of you sickos are into it.
Though a traditional old back squat will build the mass, strength and power you seek, man does not gain from squats alone. Assistance work needs to be done, and often times variations need to be used to help focus on and develop weak points. What are the best squat variations you can be doing? And why should you be doing them?
Why Should you do front squats? Front squats are significantly more thigh intensive than a traditional back squat. The upright posture of the spine removes much of the movement efforts of the posterior chain. This is ideal for leg-weak/back-strong squatters to develop more thigh strength. This is also a double edged sword though, as it is easy to feel pulled forward by the bar, and if you are leg weak your brain just might allow you to do it, so as to rely on its “strong” back. Extra focus should be paid on maintaining upright posture.
Often misused as a tool to gauge squat depth, these squats are very useful to develop strength at the bottom of the squat, which is often the weak point. Squatting onto a box, and pausing, removes the elastic force from your squat. This will force you to generate the strength to drive upwards, without any assistance from the well worn rubber bands that are your glutes. Refrain from making the rookie mistake of simply tapping (or bouncing) your backside off the box, as you lose all the benefits of the pause. The stopping of your elasticity, and then driving the bar back up, is where you’ll make your money.
Safety Bar Squat
A Safety Bar Squat is a tool often used to mitigate shoulder mobility issues. Lots of bros tend to get a bit bound up (because lifting is fun, and mobility work is for CrossFitters) in the shoulder girdle area, and develop impingements that 1) make squatting uncomfortable, and 2) lead to other form and position issues in the spine. If you have healthy shoulders, fret not, you can still play with this variation if your gym has the equipment. This will actually play out very similar to a front squat, in that you will be forced into a more upright posture. It will also feel like pushing you forward even more, which can be utilized to help develop the motor cues for a back squat, to drive your back upwards through the bar.
The final squat variation, like the Safety Bar Squat, will tackle the limits of mobility. But unlike the safety bar, which helps mitigate mobility issues, the overhead squat will help you highlight your deficiencies and then develop them.
The overhead squat should be done with a snatch grip. With arms overhead and elbows fully extended straight, you will need to put tension on the bar to help create tension in your shoulders. So pull outwards on the bar, this will help keep your upper back tight. This tight posture in your upper back MAY result in premature back rounding, as your lack of hip and lumbar mobility can not be masked. Unless you are into Olympic weightlifting, I would recommend using this as a corrective tool. Use light weights, focus on developing mobility from your shoulders down through your posterior chain and hips.