By Roger Lockridge
The basic barbell squat is what is considered by many in the powerlifting community to be the number that matters the most. Bench and deadlift are both great but the squat is what makes or breaks the overall total.
If you’re new to lifting then you need to be aware of this. Training legs matter – a lot. No one wants to be that guy who gets made fun of because he has the jacked upper body and toothpicks wearing shoes. Leg day is hard but it’s a must. So you might as well make the most of it. That means you should incorporate these three movements when your leg day approaches. There is also one that you should skip if strength is the priority.
The front squat calls for you to have the bar or weight in front of you, either resting on your crossed arms and shoulders or with the bar on your shoulders and hands with them bent back and elbows forward. The front squat places more emphasis on the quads and challenges your core to maintain stability. If your strength on this increases, you can be assured that the traditional version will go up as well.
The hack squat is a machine and that means you don’t have to worry as much about holding the weight. The up side for that is you get to go all-out and heavy on this. That extra load on the legs will challenge them in a different way but it is also safer so the chances of injury decrease so long as you maintain form and don’t try to set a world record or exercise your ego. That means still lowering yourself as far as you can and pushing through your feet in a controlled manner.
Single Leg Press
The leg press on its own isn’t much of a standard of strength but if you use it as an assistance exercise it can be very effective. This is especially true if you opt to do them with one leg at a time. Focusing on one side at a time helps improve balance in the physique and also can help you identify if one side is weaker than the other.
The leg press is a versatile option because you can place your feet on different parts of the footplate to challenge different muscles. Going with a lower placement helps target the quads. Higher focuses more on hamstrings and glutes which play in a role in the squat.
Pass on the Leg Extension
The leg extension can be an exercise that is used for bodybuilding purposes like pre-exhausting the quads or as a finisher but if you’re someone who has knee issues then this isn’t a good choice. Even if you don’t have a history of knee problems, if squatting heavy is a priority then taking care of the knees matter. So I would suggest passing on the leg extension since there is limited benefits. The strength on this doesn’t necessarily transfer to the squat and toll it can take on your ligaments can hinder your strength progress.
Sample Squat Building Plan
Squat – 5 sets of 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 reps. (Add weight each set but don’t max out.)
Front Squat – 3 sets of 5 reps.
Hack Squat – 3 sets of 8 reps.
Single Leg Press – 3 sets of 10-12 reps.