How to Increase Squat: Exercises, Form Cues, Equipment

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
September 21, 2022

The conventional squat is considered to be the “king of exercises” and an essential tool in practically any serious weightlifting program.

As such, nearly every exerciser has desired to increase the total weight of their squat - something that is actually quite simple, once you understand the concepts behind the development of strength and lifting mechanics.

To put it briefly, the maximum weight of a lifter’s squat repetition comes down to both the techniques they are utilizing as well as the raw strength of their musculature, each of which may be developed through conscious practice and training. 

The Basics of Increasing Squat Weight

A major portion of lifting heavy squat repetitions will come directly from the strength of the lifter’s lower body musculature. In particular, the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps muscle groups play the most significant role in performing the squat.

In order for a muscle to develop in terms of strength, it must be sufficiently challenged by the appropriate amount of training stimulus - of which is, of course, followed by proper rest and recovery.

barbell full squat

Apart from lifters at an advanced level, this muscular strength development is achieved through the use of progressive overload; a term that refers to the constant linear increase of resistance and volume as a training program progresses.

When performed correctly (and paired with other training methodologies), this will result in the muscle groups of the body developing in terms of mass and maximum force output.

In terms of the squat, progressive overload will lead to a direct increase in maximum load over time, slowing down as the lifter develops closer and closer to their genetic limits.

How to Achieve Progressive Overload

Fortunately, progressive overload is already built into practically every modern training program - usually taking the form of the lifter increasing their working weight for all exercises within a set time period. 

For novices, this can be as rapid as an increase of 5-10 pounds per training session, whereas more advanced lifters may only be capable of adding 5 pounds to their compound lifts after a month of training.

In the event that your training program does not feature progressive overload, simply increasing the working weight of your compound exercises in accordance with your training level should suffice. 

For more advanced methods of achieving progressive overload, it is best to seek out the advice of an athletic coach.

How Fast Can the Squat be Increased?

Developing muscular strength is primarily caused by a process known as muscular hypertrophy, of which is limited by a multitude of different factors related to the lifter and their training methodologies.

To put it in more concise terms, the rate at which one can increase their total squat lift will be limited by their training age, how effective their recovery is, and their utilization of proper exercise mechanics or squat form in order to gain small mechanical advantages.

Squat Increase by Training Level

Generally, novice lifters will see the most benefit from simply training the musculature of their lower body due to the “newbie gains” effect, whereas more advanced lifters will have to rely on advanced exercise techniques and form tweaks so as to push their maximum lift even further.

Novice lifters can increase their squat by as much as 15 pounds within a given week, solely from the benefits of muscular development. 

This is not so much the case with advanced to elite level lifters, where their natural muscular development has slowed down due to adaptation and genetic limitation. 

Many advanced training programs will feature a squat increase of 5-10 pounds per month, with periodization programs even featuring a “peak” block that involves only achieving a maximal squat increase during certain portions of the program instead.

Form Tweaks to Increase Squat

Though the majority of your squat strength comes from simple muscular development, improving your form in accordance with your own unique biomechanics can boost how much is lifted during the squat -  as well as reduce the risk of injury significantly.

Hip Hinge Cue

Many novice lifters perform this portion of the squat incorrectly, wherein they will bend forward and drop their hips vertically downward instead of hinging the pelvis backwards, resulting in significantly more torsion placed on the knee joint and otherwise creating a mechanically disadvantageous position.

squat hip hinge cue

One of the quickest ways to increase the maximum load of a lifter’s squat is to ensure they are hinging at the hips correctly - of which will appear as if they are sitting on a chair as they descend into the eccentric portion of the repetition.

squat hips too high

This will also involve the torso bending forward as little as possible, as the majority of the movement will come from their lower body instead. Proper hip hinge mechanics will directly lead to achieving correct squat depth, of which is vital for developing the musculature of the buttocks and hamstrings.

Alter Foot Width

Though the majority of fitness literature suggests that the lifter should place their feet hip-width apart during the squat, this is not necessarily the best approach. 

It is common knowledge that individuals vary quite a bit in terms of proportions, and the skeletal structures of the legs are no exception - especially in regards to gender, wherein the wider hips of women equate to a wider foot width position so as to remain mechanically advantageous.

Furthermore, individuals with particularly long femurs or excellent posterior chain mobility will find that a wider stance is not only more comfortable, but also allows them to lift significantly more weight as a consequence of the reduced range of motion.

barbell wide squat

Likewise, a more narrow stance will decrease the maximum amount of weight one can lift as the range of motion is increased, thereby expending the energy of the muscles to a greater extent.

Apart from seeking out the advice of an athletic coach, a good method to investigating the best foot width for you is to simply attempt different widths with an unloaded barbell, finding the most comfortable distance for your unique bodily proportions.

Ensure Proper Depth

Another squat mechanic that is often overlooked by novice lifters is proper squat depth; a term that refers to the bottom of a squat repetition, generally measured by the position of the hips in relation to the knee joint. 

The most often mentioned depth to which a lifter should go is that of “parallel” depth, wherein the hips are in line with the knee joint prior to the lifter initiating the concentric portion of the squat repetition.

example squat depth

While this is indeed considered to be the safest depth to which a lifter should squat to, dropping the hips even lower will not only allow for greater development of the posterior chain, but also more explosive force when rising out of this depth.

Deeper squat depth can allow for greater amounts of weight to be lifted during the squat, so long as the lifter is sufficiently skilled and flexible enough to take advantage of it.

General Form Mastery

Apart from the aforementioned squat mechanics that should be investigated, many lifters can also benefit quite significantly from general mastery of correct squat form. 

Even small inefficiencies in your performance of the squat can lead to a reduction in just how much weight may be lifted, and it is absolutely important to ensure that you are performing the exercise with the best form possible.

Not only will this help in lifting more weight, but correct squat form will also ensure that no injuries occur during training - of which will only slow down the rate at which you can increase your squat.

Warming Up and Priming the Squat Set

Not only is performing the squat itself important to increase maximum weight, but so too are the methods used to prepare for such a performance. Correct warm up technique and priming your body for the squat can both result in significantly heavier squats.

How to Warm Up for Heavy Squat Sets

Warming up is a vitally important component of being able to maximize a squat lift’s weight. 

To do so, first begin by performing low volume sets of succeedingly increasing amounts of weight - usually in increments of 10-15% of your working weight. This will ensure that adequate blood flow is being shuttled towards the musculature of the lower body, as well as mentally priming you for heavier loads.

Priming the Squat

In order to prime the body for a heavy squat set, the lifter should ensure that their core remains braced and tight as they unrack the barbell, as well as that their head and torso are both facing forward at an upright angle.

Furthermore, it is advised that the lifter take no more than two to three steps as they unrack the barbell and “walk out” into more open space. This is simply because of the fact that energy and effort are expended by walking with a heavy load on the back, potentially reducing maximum squat volume or strength as a consequence.

Finally, ensuring that the central nervous system is sufficiently aroused through the use of a proper warm up and light aerobic exercise will ensure maximum neuromuscular recruitment, thereby increasing the maximum weight of the squat as well.

Exercises to Increase Squat Strength

For Weak Depth - Box Squats

Among one of the most frequently encountered weak points in the squat is that of “the hole”, of which refers to the bottom of the squat depth where the exerciser switches to the concentric portion of the repetition and rises back to a standing position.

box squat muscles used

Sticking points or weakness encountered during this point of the squat are best remedied with box squats or pause squats, two squat variations that require the exerciser to explosively rise from an absolute standstill, thereby conditioning their body to overcome such weaknesses.

For Poor Lockout - Pin Squats

On the opposite end of the spectrum, lifters who find that they have a sticking point near the end of the repetition where they are rising from depth can benefit from pin squats instead.

barbell pin squat

Pin squats limit the depth to which the lifter will be able to lower themselves, allowing them to practice only a certain portion of the squat so as to maximize the total strength they can output. This, in turn, can greatly aid in increasing squat lockout strength and remedy such a limitation in certain lifters.

General Accessory Movements for the Squat

Though one of the best methods of increasing total squat strength is by performing the squat itself, the addition of accessory movements can be used to remedy certain weak spots, imbalances or technique issues that otherwise cannot be fixed through simple squat practice alone.

Isolation movements like the leg extension or machine hamstring curl are excellent for placing additional training stimulus on lagging muscle groups, while squat variations that affect range of motion or focus on certain mechanics can greatly aid in conventional squat technique execution.

One should be careful not to overdo it, however, as excessive lower body volume will undoubtedly affect your recovery and therefore affect your total squat strength increase.

Fitness Equipment that Increases Squat Strength

Though considered “cheating” by some, the usage of certain kinds of equipment is one possible way to increase how much you can lift during the squat.

This increase can be surprisingly large - so much so that powerlifters will often separate their maximum lift totals by “equipped” and “unequipped” respectively.

Lifting Belts

One of the most common kinds of equipment seen during the squat, lifting belts wrap around the waist of the exerciser and act as a hard surface with which the core can be braced against - thereby ensuring spine neutrality and reducing the risk of a number of injuries.

As an added benefit, lifting belts also allow lifters to move somewhat more weight during the squat as they take away much of the effort and energy spent on proper core bracing.

Knee Wraps

Knee wraps are a form of protective equipment that enclose around the knee and act as an elastic support at the depth of the squat, thereby increasing the weight that may be lifted by providing additional force throughout the squat movement.

Squat Shoes or Similar Footwear

Squat shoes are specially made athletic footwear with a particularly high and hard heel so as to reduce the total range of motion involved in the squat - thereby increasing how much weight may be lifted while simultaneously reducing the risk of injury.

In Conclusion

As you can see, there are quite a number of ways to increase your squat in short order. 

Combining proper form, progressive overload and several other methods of developing your squat strength will undoubtedly allow you to reach your maximum genetic strength potential over time.

As always though, remember that the squat is not the only lift that you should be focusing on - and that the methods covered in this article apply to practically any heavy compound exercise.

References

1. Lorenzetti S, Ostermann M, Zeidler F, Zimmer P, Jentsch L, List R, Taylor WR, Schellenberg F. How to squat? Effects of various stance widths, foot placement angles and level of experience on knee, hip and trunk motion and loading. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2018 Jul 17;10:14. doi: 10.1186/s13102-018-0103-7. Erratum in: BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2020 Jan 29;12:7. PMID: 30026952; PMCID: PMC6050697.

2. Krzysztofik M, Wilk M, Wojdała G, Gołaś A. Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Dec 4;16(24):4897. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16244897. PMID: 31817252; PMCID: PMC6950543.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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