For those of you that like watching instead of reading, you can view the video below…
Six months ago I performed a fifty rep back squat challenge with my body weight on the bar. Spoiler alert…I failed miserably.
The problem was, at around rep 17 my lower back was toast. When I got to number 20, I pretty much collapsed. Despite all this, I somehow managed to grind out a total of 24 reps.
It wasn’t my legs that couldn’t finish the set, but rather my lower back was the limiting factor. It tightened up to the point where I just couldn’t handle the bar on my back any longer.
Meanwhile, my girlfriend completed 50 reps with 95 pounds right before me as she laughed and said, “I did it, why couldn’t you?”
With my competitive nature, I didn’t state how she attempted this with less than her body weight on the bar (or did I), but instead became determined to find a solution to the “issue” I was having.
Note: I tried this again the next week, and the same exact thing happened. I tried it again two weeks later and confirmed this wasn’t a one time occurrence.
The Self Experiment.
I decided I was going to take a break from back squats and implement front squats at least two days a week.
Over this time, one day consisted of sets in the 1-5 rep range, and the other consisted of all sorts of tempos, pauses, and/or reps in the 6-15 rep range. There were also periods where I mixed these days together as well. I did this for six months.
Again to reiterate, I took 6 months off of back squatting, with most other parameters staying constant.
Six months passed, and I was ready to step back under the bar and back squat. I was nervous the weight was going to either one, cause me some difficulties, or two, feel extremely heavy.
As I took my first warm up set, the bar felt a bit unstable. But after rep number one, I was like whoa!
It was probably the best feeling back squat I have ever performed in my entire training career, which is over 10 years.
However, Before Re-attempting The Challenge…
I wanted to give myself some time to adjust to back squatting again. Here is what I did…
Sunday, the first day back of executing back squats, I got exited they felt so good and worked up to a one rep max. Like I mentioned earlier, the warm up sets felt great. But since I hadn’t put that much weight on my back in a while, the heavier back squats didn’t feel nearly as light as I had hoped.
Wednesday, three days later, I performed a couple ten rep sets, which felt fantastic.
The Sunday following, I completed a couple six rep sets. These also felt pretty good.
All of these are in the video I posted at the beginning of the article.
Did I now complete the challenge?
If you wish, check out the video above to find out!
Here’s A Quick Background Of Myself Before I Wrap Things Up.
- I have strong lockouts with deadlift and hip hinge variations, but struggle the most with initially getting weight off the floor.
- I used to have some slight lumbar flexion at the bottom of my back squat, with or without weightlifting shoes. This would occur even I when I would break at the knees first, not send my hips back as much, and remain more upright.
- Despite taking big breath of air in through my entire “core” (front, sides, and back), getting tight everywhere (lats included), and forcing my knees out, my lower back would still round a bit at the bottom of the back squat. I’m not saying whether this is good or bad.
- I have always been able to front squat more than 80% of what I can back squat.
- My hips would not rise up faster than my torso, even while using loads at 90% of my max or more during the back squat.
- I was wearing my weightlifting shoes (elevated heel) over the last six months, more than I ever have.
What I Think Could Have Been “Wrong” For Those Interested.
- My lower back previously went through through more flexion/extension during this lift, and was therefore more active.
- My glutes and hamstrings used to do more of the work, with my quadriceps being less involved than they are now.
- My spinal erectors may have been weak in this situation.
- I might have been weak in other muscles, causing my lower back to compensate and take more of the stress.
- I don’t believe my quadriceps were weak, however by wearing my weightlifting shoes more often (elevated heels), it may have generated less use of my spinal erectors, and more activation of my legs/quadriceps when squatting.
- Contrary to popular belief, I do not believe my lower back tightening up was a nutritional issue (hydration or electrolyte imbalance etc.) as a lot of new research suggests this is unlikely.
I never used to get sore in my quadriceps, but now I do almost every time I back squat. My quadriceps were absolutely demolished after that challenge. When I say that, I mean they were destroyed for five days, with the soreness finally going away on day seven or eight.
Wrapping Things Up.
I didn’t post this material as a solution to improve your back squat. Instead, this article was meant to serve you in a way that you may find entertaining, useful, or informative. Information like this is going to greatly depend on each person individually, your goals, technique, body structure, injury history and much more.
Furthermore, I recognize it may not have been the front squats alone that helped me, however I do believe they served as a huge contributor when looking at the big picture.
If you’re willing to give it a shot, please comment and let me know how it goes. I would be interested to see how you respond to doing so.
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