Not all exercises are created equally, with certain highly intense movements (also known as compound exercises) that recruit multiple muscle groups being considered the most important in terms of strength and muscle mass development.
One among these compound movements is known as the squat; one of the most important lower body compound exercises available. However, despite its effectiveness, exercisers often find that combining the squat with several other exercises similar to it in terms of training stimulus and technique can intensify the benefits they achieve.
As such, this is exactly where squat accessory exercises come in, wherein their performance alongside the squat aids in both the benefits it provides to the exerciser’s musculature as well as their performance of the squat exercise itself.
Accessory exercises are a set of exercises meant to remedy weak points and improve the general performance of the exerciser both towards certain compound movements and in a total athletic sense, with their most frequent purpose being to address errors in the technique of particularly intense compound lifts.
In the case of squat accessory exercises, the intended effect of such training is to either induce further direct training stimulus to the various muscles of the legs, or to fix an error in the performance of the squat, such as a sticking point, improper form cue or particularly difficult mechanic.
Both the terms auxiliary and accessory exercise refer to the same thing - an exercise performed separate from compound exercises that aid in the performance and development of the exerciser, though in an admittedly lesser capacity.
Though squat accessory exercises can certainly be effective at providing a variety of benefits to the exerciser, they are altogether unnecessary for the majority of ordinary gym goers - and are usually only performed by novice or intermediate lifters in order to reinforce a certain mechanic of the squat, or to remedy a muscular imbalance.
The rare case where squat accessory exercises may be necessary in a training routine is if a powerlifter or similar athlete is planning to compete in the near future and must perfect their squat performance, or if the same individual is otherwise attempting to rehabilitate an injury relating to the squat exercise.
A great many benefits may be derived from performing squat accessory exercises in an appropriate manner, the majority of which have to do with improving not only the exerciser’s ability to perform the squat safely and effectively - but also to improve the general strength output and control of their legs.
The largest and most significant benefit to performing squat accessory exercises is the marked improvement in the effectiveness of the squat as a primary compound exercise, allowing it to induce greater effects in the exerciser by being performed at higher intensities or in a safer manner.
Other benefits can also include improved recovery of the osseous and connective tissues affected by these squat accessory exercises, greater mind-muscle connection and significantly lower risk of developing muscular imbalances throughout the lower body and core.
Considered to be squat variation exercises that double also as squat accessory exercises if performed with lower intensity, the two following squat variations are usually performed either as a replacement of the back squat or as a secondary compound exercise so as to intensify the total training stimulus of the workout or remedy a specific issue.
The front squat, when performed as an accessory exercise to the back squat, is usually used for the purposes of increasing quadriceps femoris training stimulus in the exerciser, as well as remedying certain failures in form adherence - primarily that of improper spinal curvature retention or the exerciser being unable to maintain an upright torso during the back squat.
When used as a squat accessory exercise, the front squat will be performed with significantly lower amounts of weight than the exerciser would be capable of at maximum effort.
This is done so as to ensure no overtraining or fatigue-induced injury occurs, as well as to help the exerciser engrain the correct squat mechanics in their muscle memory if such a need is present.
Another variation of the squat that instead provides unilateral training stimulus, when the split squat is used as a squat accessory exercise, it is usually for the purposes of remedying a muscular imbalance in the posterior chain or quadriceps femoris, as other bilateral compound exercises would likely only worsen this particular issue.
Just as is the case with the front squat, split squats as squat accessory exercises are performed as secondary movements meant to utilize a lower level of intensity.
When used to correct certain form or mechanics issues, the split squat is found to be most effective for exercisers finding that one of their knees collapses inwards during the squat, as well as for exercisers with particularly weak hip flexors that may reduce the effective range of motion of the squat.
Isolation exercises used as accessory movements to the squat are usually done so in order to remedy a particular muscle weakness that may be limiting the exerciser’s performance capacity towards said squat.
This can present as a variety of different issues, such as poor form adherence as a stabilizer muscle is fatigued prematurely, or the muscle group possessing a reduced effective range of motion due to improper development.
Luckily, isolation squat accessory exercises are numerous and highly effective at remedying the issues they are used for, requiring only a few low intensity sets per training session in order to provide their many benefits.
Not quite an isolation exercise but nonetheless highly targeted in terms of muscle group activation; the hip thrust is one of the most effective squat accessory exercises for building power and flexibility throughout the movement.
This is because of the hip thrust’s capacity to induce significant training stimulus in the glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors - all muscle groups recruited to great effect by the back squat and similar exercises. It is these muscle groups that are responsible for much of the force during the concentric portion of the squat, providing explosive power and stabilization in a way that the quadriceps cannot.
The hip thrust is most useful for exercisers with inflexible hamstrings, tight hip flexor muscles, or those that find themselves struggling to rise out of the “hole” at the bottom of the squat movement due to posterior chain muscle group weakness.
The plank and similar static core holds are isolation movements that directly improve the core musculature’s capacity to remain braced and stable when placed under stress, making them the perfect accessory exercise for individuals finding that their core and lower back begin to fatigue prematurely during the squat.
This is one of the most dangerous issues in exercise mechanics that one may have, as a failure to correctly brace the core and maintain proper spinal curvature will often lead to serious injury, especially during particularly heavy compound exercises such as the back squat.
As such, even if the exerciser does not have these particular issues, we still advise practicing at least one static core training accessory exercise as a form of preparatory work and injury prevention.
A lower impact exercise that is technically not an isolation movement, reverse hyperextensions primarily target the erector spinae as well as the glute and hamstring muscle groups - thereby allowing the exerciser to target muscle group imbalances along the posterior chain, as well as to improve mobility in those particular areas.
As a squat accessory exercise, reverse hyperextensions aid in promoting stability during both eccentric and concentric phases of the repetition, as well as maintaining proper torso stability by reinforcing the erector spinae and other lower back muscles.
Mechanically, reverse hyperextensions may also be performed in order to remedy an exerciser finding difficulty at the bottom of a squat repetition, or in individuals experiencing the dreaded butt wink issue when reaching a full range of motion.
As reverse hyperextensions can be performed either entirely by bodyweight or with the aid of additional resistance, it is best for the exerciser to first begin with only their own bodyweight so as to assess the extent of their posterior chain-related issues prior to intensifying this squat accessory exercise.
Best used by intermediate or advanced lifters in order to target a highly specific issue in their squat performance, the following squat accessory exercises are often simply modified versions of the ordinary back squat meant to induce a particular training stimulus or allow the exerciser to prime their body for a certain movement pattern.
While these specialized squat accessory movements are perfectly effective exercises in their own right, they can often induce an incomplete muscle group activation pattern or result in insufficient stimulus, requiring that they be paired with the conventional back squat in order to provide an effective workout.
A modification of the standard back squat wherein the exerciser sets the pins of the rack at an elevation that significantly reduces the exerciser’s range of motion, pin squats are a specialized squat accessory that are used to either induce supramaximal loading or to help the exerciser overcome a particular sticking point at the start of the squat repetition.
In the case of supramaximal loading, the pin squat’s large reduction in total range of motion will allow the lifter to become more comfortable with unracking and moving (to an extent) such an amount of weight, adapting both psychologically and neurologically in a manner that will aid in their performance at maximal effort.
The elevated position of the pins also allow the exerciser to do so in a safer manner, not requiring a complex “bail out” technique in order to safely extricate themselves from beneath the heavy barbell.
For range of motion-related issues, pin squats allow the exerciser to repeatedly perform a specific range of motion without needing to complete the entire squat repetition, training any muscle groups that may be causing the issue or otherwise allowing said exerciser to focus on any form issues that may be occurring in that specific portion of the range of motion.
A variation of the squat that places resistance bands on both ends of the barbell so as to remedy specific issues surrounding the lockout and proper torso stability of the conventional back squat.
This is done by the resistance bands providing additional resistance as the exerciser moves further away from the ground, forcing them to correct for this difference and thereby reinforcing the movement pattern and any muscle groups associated with that particular part of the squat repetition.
Not only will this force the exerciser to apply greater force at the end and start of the repetition, but so too will it aid in maintaining stability during the concentric portion of the movement - reducing the risk of injury and teaching proper core and back bracing technique.
In terms of equipment used, resistance bands of lower resistance are the most advisable to use when first starting with band squats, as it is likely the exerciser will take some time to become used to the uneven distribution of resistance throughout the movement.
Most useful for exercisers with difficulty in producing enough explosiveness at the bottom of the repetition, box squats are another squat accessory exercise meant to aid in a specific portion of the squat movement’s range of motion, either to correct a form cueing issue or to develop the capacity of certain muscle groups involved therein.
Primarily, box squats are meant to aid in the exerciser achieving varying squat depth, meaning that they do not always lower themselves to the same elevation with each repetition. By providing a surface with which the exerciser can consistently lower themselves to, they are taught the correct depth to which they must squat.
In addition to this, sticking points present at the bottom of the squat range of motion (or higher, if needed) may also be remedied by the box squat, as it allows the exerciser to completely stop at a certain point of elevation and forces them to exert more force in order to complete the repetition.
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