One of the best things about having a powerlifting team I train with and program for is that I have multiple “test subjects” in which to try out different training protocols and exercise methods. Not only do I get back objective data, as I can see their numbers increasing, but I also can get subjective feedback from them as to what they feel works the best.

One common problem that I see with many clients, powerlifters, and others is that they have a tendency to fall forward on the squat when the weight gets heavy. I've found that the most common causes for this are that they're initiating the upward movement from their legs while losing upper body tightness, their back and/or core is too weak to maintain a rigid spine and transfer force, or their hips are weak and don't externally rotate hard enough to stabilize their hip, thus causing their hips to shoot backward and upward and the upper body to fall forward. Luckily, we (I) have several ways of fixing this issue.

Here are the three best exercises, with video, to keep you from falling forward in the squat:

1. No handed, no belt, yoke bar box squat

This exercise is designed to teach the lifter to stay tight throughout the entire movement and initiate the upward drive from the chest. By itself, the yoke bar puts a lot of strain on the upper back because it has a tendency to “roll” you forward. However, many people counter this by pushing up on the handles. To get the full effect of the bar, I have my lifters place their hands across their chests so that they can’t grab the handles. I also have my lifters do it without a belt so that their core is stressed as well. I prefer a box height of parallel or slightly below parallel (depending on hip mobility).

The lifter will initiate the movement backward and down from the hips, staying tight throughout the whole motion. He will pause on the box for a count and then drive back up, leading from the chest. As a coach, you should being using the cues “stay tight,” “sit soft,” and “chest up.” Typically, this exercise is performed after the main lift for five to eight reps. Anything heavier tends to leave too much potential for injury, and anything higher in reps tends to cause too much fatigue in the core before the upper back gets tired. I highly suggest using a spotter for this because if you start to fall forward, you're going to eat it. If you really want to make this exercise a bitch with a capital B, put a band around your knees to force hip activation as well.

2. Forward banded squats

Much like the previous exercise, this exercise is great at teaching you to initiate the movement upward with your chest while staying tight. The bands literally pull you forward, so you have to fight them extremely hard to stay upright.

Set up this exercise with some bands around the forward band pegs or the weight storage on a rack and around the barbell. I suggest using the micro-mini or the mini bands to start. As you get stronger, you can increase the band tension. This movement is just like your regular squat except you must focus on staying upright and not get pulled forward by the bands, especially during the transition from the downward movement to the upward movement. If you want to make this movement even harder, try it with the yoke bar. That will really wake up your posterior chain. Again, I recommend making this movement either the first or second one after your main movement and performing it for six to ten reps.

3. Weighted vest (or chain) wall squats to box with bands around knees

This movement seems like it wouldn’t be that difficult, but it sucks bad. However, it will do a very good job of building up your hips and your upper back musculature.

Set up a box somewhere in the vicinity of parallel. Those of you with extremely tight hips will probably want to start on a higher box and work your way down to parallel and below. Put on a weighted vest and/or chains. The amount of weight that you can handle will vary, but I’ve done it and had others do it with an 80-pound vest plus another 80 pounds in chains. Place a band around the bottom of your knee and corner the box facing the wall. You want your feet as close to the wall as possible, even touching it if you can keep decent form. Push your hips back and drive them open while keeping your back tight and your chest up. You will have a tendency to initiate at the knees, and the wall is there to prevent you from being able to do that motion.

As you sit back and push your knees apart, keep your chest up and your head facing the wall. Don't plop on to the box! Sit down softly without relaxing at the bottom. Once you touch the box, squat up by pushing outward with your feet and pushing your chest up. I recommend using a rep range of ten to twenty reps and performing this as a finisher movement. If you really hate yourself, remove the box. If you do this, have someone stand being you because your chances of falling on your ass are very great.

There a ton of other accessory movements that you can do to help improve your squat and fix this specific issue. If you’re missing multiple squats from falling forward, reverse hypers, 45-degree hypers, round back good mornings, wide stance arch back good mornings, seated good mornings, and many others should also be regular movements in your program. However, the three movements I've listed have been shown time and time again to do a great job of turning a lifter into a rock solid squatting machine. Give them a shot and see what kind of improvements you make. Let me know what you think in the comments sections and, as always, train hard.