||By: Jason Burnell
How I Do The Squat.
(or how to build a big squat
the average guy with no genetics)
Ok, let's get the
out of the way. Many of you reading this must be asking yourselves,
the heck is Jason Burnell and why should I listen to him telling me how
to squat?" Excellent question. After all, I am by no means a big name
and chances are that you have never heard of me. I'm pretty much an
guy with a pretty good squat. For the record, in the 220 lbs class I
700 or more 3 times in 2000 (699.75
in March, 705 in June and 710
in October). Ok, 699.75 isn't exactly 700 but it's pretty darn
700 is the mark of being a pretty good squatter at 220. 750-800 and you
are awesome. I'm not there yet. A glance at the top 100 list will show
that quite a few guys in my class squatted 700 or more last year. When
you consider how many of that number did it in single ply gear the
goes down. Factor in the number that did it without steroids and it
down even farther. I'm not knocking the choices other people make
denigrating their hard work. I do, however, recognize a
between the lifts made in different fashions. I am merely
why I may have something worthwhile to offer.
Second, I am not going to make the claim that what I'm about to tell
is the "only" way to build a good squat. There are as many different
plans as there are good lifters. However, I 'm pretty sure that most
squatters will agree with 90% or more of what I'm going to say. In
what I'm going to present to you isn't even MY theory. Almost
I've learned, I've learned from OTHER really good (better than me)
squatters. I have been very fortunate in that over the past few years
been able to talk to some of the best squatters of all time. Kirk
Rickey Dale Crain, Louie Simmons, Dave Tate and the Great One himself,
Eddy Coan, have all been very gracious with their time and have spoken
to me on occasion and passed on tidbits that have helped me. This is
essence of what I pass on to you. In the tradition of our sport, I have
been helped and I offer my help to you. I hope you find it useful.
With that out of the way, let's get right to it. You are in the gym
ready for your first warm-up set. Let's just crank out a few reps
fast and get to the heavy stuff. WRONG! Many people that I've
with do their warm ups haphazardly and don't get serious until the
is heavy. That is a big mistake. One thing that almost every good
I've spoken with agrees on is that you must perfect your form on the
weights in order to perform well on the heavy weights. A good saying
"treat the light weights like the heavy weights and then the heavy
will go up like the light weights." That means focusing on the details
from the very first rep of the very first set. Coan stresses this
as being a key point. You should try to make every rep the same in
of set up foot position, bar placement, descent etc.
In reality, the set begins before I touch the bar. As I approach
the bar, I go through a set of mental checkpoints. These checkpoints
reminders to get all the things right as I approach the bar. I'll list
them now and then go into a bit of detail on each one. That list
is the beginning of my set up. The set up is the most critical part of
a squat. When I look back on missed attempts, I can almost always point
to a problem with my set up. Conversely, attempts that I've made
have a solid setup. Here is the list:
Hands - I
grab the bar,
always left hand first in the same spot. The key here is to make sure
you are grasping the bar evenly. That is just one step in making sure
you set up in the center of the bar.
Shoulders - I dip
under the bar
and slide up high, then lower down and wiggle in until the bar is n the
precise spot where I want it. I take the bar fairly low in the notch
the lateral and posterior delts. There is a spot that just feels
and each set that is where I make sure the bar lies.
(definitely a World
Class Squatter) wrote a very good 2- part article in PLUSA about a year
ago that went over bar placement in detail in terms of leverages and
lengths, etc. I'd suggest this to anyone that is not sure where
should place the bar for maximum effect.
The second part of
this is that I squeeze
my shoulders and upper back together and rotate my elbows down and
This is the base for the arch in my back.
- Feet - Next up
is foot placement
for taking the bar from the racks. This isn't the same as the
stance. I place my feet about the width of my hips right under me. I'm
not saying that you should use the exact same placement as I do but two
things are important. Too narrow a stance and you will be out of
and too wide a stance and you may end up leaning over when you walk
Find the spot that you feel comfortable and make sure you hit that same
spot each time.
Hips - I then get
my hips directly
under me. You don't want to lean over too far to take the bar from the
racks. It's surprising but I see quite a few guys almost do a good
just to take the bar out of the racks at meets. Just get your
under you find the spot where you feel tight and powerful.
Air - At this
point, I take a
medium sized breath and push my abs against my belt while tightening my
back to prepare for taking the bar from the racks.
Head - Here I
focus on a spot
on the wall or ceiling. This focus is a key. If you can train yourself
to find that spot and focus on it, you will keep your head up. If your
head stays up, your chest will stay up and the lift just became a lot
This means that you don't take your eyes off that spot, EVER. Do not
down while you walk out with the bar. That takes practice. Most people
watch their feet as they walk out with the bar. It is very possible to
do that with 70-80% of your max and still get your head and more
your chest back up, however when you attempt to do that with a PR
it is really hard to get your torso back in position. Practice setting
up without looking down. Have your training partners tell you when you
get it right and try to repeat that over and over.
Up - This is
simply when I take
the bar from the racks. An important part of this is that I stop for
a second. This is a tip that Captain Kirk taught me after watching my
set up at the 98 USAPL Nationals. Take the bar from the racks and just
stop for a second to let the bar and plates settle. This will become
important as you get to heavier weights and the bar tends to whip a bit
more. The key that he stressed to me was that you must control the bar
at all times. Don't be in such a hurry to back up that you go too
fast and let a whippy bar throw you off. We've all seen people
a bar from the racks and immediately step back fast and proceed to lose
their balance. The recovery from that takes up far too much energy and
ruins your confidence for the actual squat.
Note: I'm not saying
stand there for a long period of time; just enough to allow the bar and
plates to stop moving around.
1,2,3 - This is
the maximum number
of steps to take. I squat with a wide stance and 3 steps are about
If you use a narrow stance you can do it in 2 steps. I don't know how
times I've seen people wasting a ton of energy taking 5-10 steps,
all over the platform trying to set up the squat. You have a limited
of energy, don't waste too much of it on walking around with the bar on
The first step is a
SMALL step back.
Just step back enough to clear the racks. You don't have to walk back a
mile. Then I take one step to the left and one to the right. Boom I'm
Following the third
step I again stop
to let the bar settle. You don't have to squat as soon as the head ref
says, "squat." Make sure you are ready again.
Big Air - Prior
to the descent,
I take another breath. This is hard to explain…. I never fully let the
air out that I took just before I took the bar from the racks. Some air
does escape while I set up, though. I try to keep as much in as
to maintain tightness. Anyway, I take a big breath to get as tight as
and to get as much air in as I can. This is another key to keeping your
head and chest up and your back tight.
Butt back, knees out
- As I start
the descent, I want to sit back. I'm thinking about pushing back with
butt while keeping my knees out. Eddy Coan calls this opening up
your groin. At the bottom, my torso is inside or between my legs.
This could go with
number 8 also but
I'll put it here. If you use a wide stance like mine, you probably want
to remember to push off your heels and not wind up on your toes. I
lift my toes toward the ceiling just before I start the descent to
myself. This also helps as a physical reminder of how I want the weight
to be balanced.
A big key here is to
keep your focus
on your spot on the descent. DO NOT drop your head or look down. That
always leads to dropping your chest and rounding forward. I've done
several times. It sucks every time.
Scott Waits - (a
lifter from my
area in my weight class who out squats me consistently) pointed out in
a discussion we had that it is also important not to let the elbows
up and rearward on the ascent. This also can lead to rounding and
Drive back - I
think more of
driving back against the bar than I do of pushing up. This comes
from Louie Simmons. Louie's idea is that you have to drive your head
and drive your back against the bar. Where the head goes the body
It has worked for me.
Those are the basic
points that I
try to focus on. These alone can make big difference in your
The setup is probably the most critical part of the squat for most of
people I know. If you get these things down pat, you will feel more
every time you set up. There is a bit more however….
Gear - Shoes, wraps and
all have an effect on your squat. (No kidding)
· Shoes - For a
medium stance squatter, it seems that a show with a heel is preferred.
Some people prefer work boots or combat boots. Others prefer Olympic
shoes with the wedge heel. I've never worn those but when I did squat
a narrower stance, I tried the shoes made by Safe USA. They offered a
base which was very stiff and made for a solid platform. For that
I liked them a lot.
When I widened my stance
knees started to hurt when I used the shoes with the heel. I followed
Simmons advice and used the Converse All-Stars. They had a flexible
which allowed me to feel the floor while I pushed out to the sides. The
only complaint I had was that I ripped through the side of one pair.
started to separate between the sole and the upper. At $30 bucks a pair
though, replacing them wasn't painful. In fact, they were my shoes of
until I got a pair of the Inzer Power Shoes. The Power Shoes have a
sole to the Cons, in that I can still feel the floor when I push out.
have a leather upper that goes up much higher than the Cons though.
gives me more support in the ankle area, which is important with a wide
· The first thing
and wraps that I'd like to mention is the fit of the suit. As far
as I'm concerned, a good squat suit is tight in the hips and thighs.
straps should be slightly snug but not so tight that they pull you
You should also be able to breathe at the top. Most everyone I know
is into squatting has had some modifications done to their squat suit.
Just as bench pressers dial in their shirts, so must a squatter dial in
his suit for maximum performance. My first suits were all off the rack
and they worked fine. As I got more into the sport, I started to
My favorite suit used to be a stock size 34 Z-suit. Then John Inzer
one that was about an inch tighter in the hips and with a little more
in the legs. Tight? Yes. Locked in. Yes but more COMFORT. Little
can make a big difference. Ahhhh. Now, I'm dialing in a Hard Core suit.
I'll be blasting off in July on that one.
· The second thing
a suit and wraps is that you must spend some time in them. Obviously,
don't train in them year round but you must spend enough time in them
get used to them. Just putting them on the day of the meet isn't going
to work. Your groove will be off. I personally use a suit and wraps for
my last six workouts. Generally three with the straps down and three
the straps up. Knee wraps are worn each time. I start out with them
and tighten up a bit each week. The last two workouts I wear them just
like I do at a meet. I want everything to feel just like it will on
· Knee wraps were
me to get used to at first. A tight wrap just didn't feel right. To get
over that, I actually started wrapping my knees at home. If I were
TV, I'd grab my knee wraps and wrap up. Then I'd sit there and just
them as long as I could.
· At first, I
more than a minute. Within a short time, however, I became more
to them. After a few weeks of doing this several times a week, I was
After I did that, I wound up at a meet and the guy in front of me had a
misload or dumped the bar or something. Normally, when you are standing
there in the wraps, you get all antsy and someone says, "hey, we gotta
guy wrapped here, etc" This time I was fine.
Another important aspect
a squat is to find a mentor. It's much easier to follow the path of
that has already been where you want to go. That person has
made most of the mistakes you are making and can help you reduce the
it takes to achieve your goals.
Read every book and
on squatting you can find. Buy videos of meets as well as
tapes. I like to listen to the tapes a few times and then turn the
off and just watch. You'd be amazed at what you can learn just by
Sometimes there are small keys that the lifter on the tape may not
because it's second nature to him BUT if you watch and pay attention
can pick up pointers.
Well, I suppose it's almost
that I write up a sample of my current routine. Every training article
has a routine with it. Before I do that, let me say that if you are
a system and/or working with a mentor, don't just copy my plan and junk
what you're using. The tips about will fit into any training plan and I
really think that form, technique and above all consistency are more
than a specific plan.
Think about it. Ed Coan uses
training plan than Kirk Karwoski , who uses a different plan than
Crain who uses a different plan than did Matt Dimel and so on, They
all taken different paths to become squatting legends. The key is to
a plan that works for you and then tweak it to make minor variations
maintaining the general outline. When Louie Simmons has a bad meet, he
doesn't junk the Westside system, he makes some changes but keeps the
framework. I think we, as lifters, spend too much time looking for the
Having said that, here is
plan I follow right now. When I don't have a meet for a while (months)
I train with no gear at all. - No belt, no wraps, no suit. I work up to
a heavy set of 8 like that over a period of time. Each time I will try
to set a new 8-rep max. As the meet approaches I'll add in my gear and
of course, drop the reps. Here is the exact routine I used last June to
hit 705. Oddly enough, I'd been trying to hit 700 for over a year. I
coming close but missing for one reason or another. I trained a bit
during my pre-contest peak than I normally did and wound up feeling
and more solid on meet day. I'm not going to guarantee that you will
30 lbs on your squat with this as I often see people write. Heck, most
of us would be happy to just hit a PR at the next meet. SO far, I've
it three times and hit three PRs. I recently gave a copy to another guy
I train with from time to time and he used it to hit a PR. It may work
for you. Keep in mind that this is the final part of the Pre-meet cycle
and all the off-season work is higher reps and without my gear. Good
Squats - Monday workout
Week 1 - 530*5 for 2
belt and wraps
Week 2 - 545* 5
reps for 2
belt and wraps
Week 3 - 565*3 reps for 2
Straps down, belt and wraps.
Week 4 -
580*3 reps for
Straps down, belt and wraps.
Week 5 - 595*3 reps
Straps down, belt and wraps tight.
Week 6 - 625*2 reps
Straps up, belt and wraps tight.
Week 7 - 630*2 reps PLUS
and hold (3 count) with 725
Straps up, belt and wraps tight.
Week 8 - 415*3 reps
for 2 sets
- belt only - only calves and abs for assistance
Note: This is the Monday
the meet. I just go in and get a little blood flowing. This is also the
last workout of any kind, before the meet. So, I will have a full 4-5
rest before the meet.
For assistance for squat
Hi bar squats 2 sets of 5 -8
a medium close stance adding weight each week - no gear
Leg extensions - 2 sets of
Leg Curls - 3 sets of 8-10
Seated Calf 3 sets of 10-12
Abs - heavy
Good mornings are
optional also as
are pause squats in place of the high bar squats.
In the off-season, I don't
leg extensions and I'm currently doing more glute ham raises and front
Psych up vs Psych out -
a bunch of people (too many, actually) yelling and screaming, slapping
each other, sniffing ammonia, banging their heads on the bar and
making a lot of noise before a lift. One guy even circled the bar ,
at it like he was hunting it. I've never actually counted but for
every 10 people I see go through these antics it seems like about 2
make the lift. Some people can use the fight or flight response and get
that adrenaline rush and channel that energy into the lift. It seems
most people I've seen try it though, just get too tired to make the
The histrionics that go on forever just wear them out. Look at it this
way, if a bad walkout can throw you off and cause you to miss a lift,
would you have your partner beat the tar out of you before a lift? I'm
firmly convinced that most people would be better off just focusing on
the task at hand and getting ready to execute a perfect lift. On the
hand, if you just want to be remembered, that guy that stalked the bar
is burned in my memory forever. Of course, I also remember him missing
the lift and almost bombing out of the meet. I'll leave it at
Your mileage may vary on this one.
Hope this helps.
Want to discuss this with other
Reproduction of this article, in whole or
part, for any
purpose other than personal use is prohibited
without written consent. Copyright 2003 Jason