How well do I know squat? Well, I’ve squatted with some of the strongest squatters in the world at Westside Barbell. I’ve squatted with three-time World’s Strongest Man Bill Kazmaier and I was coached to a 700-pound raw squat by Josh Bryant when I was 22 years old. So, what can I tell you about squat? Let’s start with the top five keys you need to know when it comes to squatting BIG weights.

1. Check Some Boxes

I’m a big believer in box squatting. Obviously, with a Westside Barbell influence you had to see this coming, so let's get it out of the way. You don’t need to spend your entire training career box squatting but you should collect its lessons along the way. Box squatting (when done correctly) can teach you the correct bottom position for a squat, how to stay tight, and maybe most importantly how to blast out of the bottom. If you’re not sure how box squatting can teach you all of this then you haven’t done enough of it!

2. The Hips Don’t Lie

Big quads are great. They fill out your jeans, look pretty cool in shorts, and are an important area to develop for any lifter. Now, strong hips — these are absolutely mandatory. Not only is it important to learn to use your hips in a squat (box squats can help with this!) but also the stronger your hips are, the happier your squatting experience will be. When it comes to building strong hips, all manner of squats and deadlifts will help, as will good mornings, GHRs, glute bridges, and any amount or method of accommodating resistance you have available.

3. Eat Big to Squat Big

Not only does eating big give you a great bloat for your squat workout, which always helps (I recommend all-you-can-eat sushi), but squats (unlike deadlift, for example) respond extremely well to weight gain. Obviously, this tip won't suit everyone, but if squatting the biggest weights possible is your mission then at least consider packing on some pounds — it helps!

4. Hold It Right There

Pause squats (of both the front and back squat variety) are absolutely terrible. Unfortunately, they’ll also turn you into a squatting powerhouse! When it comes to building your trunk, confidence, and power out of the hole, pause squats are hard to beat. When I was building up to my first 700-pound raw squat, I would do three sets of five reps with 455 to 500 pounds as my second squat movement during my heavy squat workouts. These don’t have to be monstrously heavy; they just have to be strict and focused.

5. Believe!

Squats, maybe more than any other lift, activate the “I’m going to be crushed and die” feeling. To overcome this you need a lot of confidence, belief, and, for me anyway, aggression. As you can see from my 700 squat video (above), aggression was a key component in my overcoming any doubts I had setting up for that lift. When it comes to your squats you don’t have to mimic my strategy exactly, but you’ll want to find out what works for you. It’s better to experiment and figure out what gets you going during your weekly workouts than to wait until you’re setting up for a PR, so don’t neglect your mental game!

And there you have it. These five tips were major factors in my squatting success and are the staples I use when coaching others. Good luck!

Find the Perfect Squat in Five Minutes

Craig Bongelli owns Lil’s Gym in Ontario, Canada. He has been fortunate enough to have been mentored by some of the greats including Louie Simmons and Bill Kazmaier. Bongelli works with athletes internationally including Olympic athletes, professional UFC fighters, some of the best boxers in the world, and top-ranked amateurs in a variety of sports.

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