The squat is a strength and mass builder. Squat assistance exercises are done for shaping, and also strength. Let me explain. Bodybuilders are not interested in getting their squat to an all time max as a powerlifter is. Not all of them anyway. The competitive bodybuilder uses squat assistance exercises for shaping. But, the powerlifter is more interested in serious strength gains. Assistant squat exercises give an extra boost on all strength levels. Absolute strength, limit strength, starting strength and explosive strength. For those of you who are not referenced to these terms and those of you who need "strength" defined let me explain. Strength is the ability of the muscle to exert maximal force at a specific velocity.
Absolute strength constitutes a maximum amount of weight lifted like a "max" squat! Explosive strength is the max force exerted in a certain extension period of time. Limit strength is similar to absolute strength, which is the recruitment of musculoskeletal force generated for one all-out effort. Starting strength is the athlete's ability to "switch on" as many muscle fibers as possible in one instant. The ability to place an overload on the muscle that is being exerted with a heavier weight for maximum reps enables those muscles to get use to higher workloads.
There are many assistant exercises that can imitate the squat itself. Like placing your legs on the leg press or a hack machine with the same feet spacing you would for squatting. Assistant exercises can be box squats or reverse-hyper extensions, famed exercises performed by Louis Simmons students, step-ups, single leg presses, and many others. This is all good, but you ask why step-ups? Well, think about it. Step-ups are in all conventional terms a one legged squat. This specific assistant exercise will benefit you in gaining leg strength, the same as the single legged press would but with the added benefit of balance. Any individual who desires a good assistant exercise for squats should give single leg presses a try. I hope you realize that one leg can't press what both can, so, start off light increasing your weight each set until you get to a good working weight performing 6-10 reps on each leg. When doing leg presses or hack squats place your feet together and try 20-reps for each set. I recommend only 2-3 sets of those. They're pretty grueling! I am sure your legs will be ready to explode after all that. If those of you whom have access to a "Reverse Hyper" - I highly recommend whole-heartedly to do them. Do reverses about 3 times a week, 2 sets of 15-20 reps each. Remember, start out slow and light and then add on 5 to 10 lbs. a week.
I can't choose your assistant exercises for you or to what order you should place them in - the programs are endless. But, I talked with a few individuals who lift iron for a living to give you some ideas. So, with the above in mind, let's take a look at what a powerlifter and bodybuilder might use for their squat assistants.
First, I spoke with Mark Philippi one of the top strength & conditioning coaches in America and a Strong Man competitor. Mark is a 319lb. class WDFPF and ADFPA National Champion with over an 800lb. squat. He has been a competitive powerlifter for several years, compete sin strong man competitions, and he is also the head strength & conditioning coach for the University of Nevada Las Vegas Rebel Athletics. Mark only had a few minutes when we spoke because was getting ready to put the UNLV Football squad through their pre-practice warm-ups.
I asked coach Philippi to explain when he implements assistant movements and what he does for squat assistant exercises and this is what he had to say. "I do all my assistance squat exercises in the work cycle, prior to a competitive phase." What type of supplementary work do you do Mark? "I started doing "Pause Squats," which are performed in a similar manner to regular squats, as one assistant. I do sets of 3 and sets of 5 with around 515 lb. on the bar, but I place the bar higher on my back almost like a high bar squat." Mark is the depth the same since your bar placing is different? "No. I go deeper than normal for a full second count then exploding fast out of the hole." What he means by the term: "out of the hole" describes at the bottom of the squat position. Now remember, a powerlifter has to break parallel. Breaking parallel mean's the top surface of the legs, at the hip joint are lower than the top of the knees." So, you can see, Coach Philippi is going pretty deep!
Coach Philippi told me he also includes step-ups and single leg presses. This really peaked my interest as to why he would use those particular exercises. "Step ups are another assistant exercise I like to perform. I use around 185 lbs. and I place the bar on my back as if I'm going to do a squat for sets of 8 reps using one leg at a time not alternating them." Mark went on to explain and than stipulated that his leg goes to a 90% angle, with the appropriate box height, while he is performing step-ups. Mark why on earth would you do leg press's in a single legged manner rather than with your legs together? "To make sure my legs are balanced and not one stronger than the other and this is very important for squat strength." Think about it, using single - leg presses would be a very good squat assistant exercise for any individual. You'll receive balanced strength in each leg and the benefit of shaping each individual leg also.
Bodybuilders also do a variety, if not, a multitude of supplementary exercises after squats. Anita Ramsey, an NPC competitive bodybuilder who is the 1998 NPC Southern States Heavyweight & Overall Bodybuilding champion uses several assistant exercises in her leg routine. "Anita, what type of Squat assistants do you perform?" I asked. "I love doing leg presses and reverse-hack squats!" Anita replied. "Do you do leg presses to aid your squats?" I inquired. "No! Squats take care of themselves. I do squats to put overall size on my legs." She continued. I then asked if she didn't do leg presses to aid her squats then why do you do presses? "I do presses and reverse-hacks for shaping my quads!" She replied. "How's that?" I asked. Anita then went on to give explanation that different exercises and feet placement could emphasize the muscle area you need to concentrate on.
She also told me that leg presses isolate more direct weight on the quad muscles, as squats work more the quads, hamstrings, and glute muscles. Reverse-hack squats were an item she picked up from Charles Glass. Then why wouldn't you just perform one or the other and stick with that exercise if you get the same results from either I asked. "The main reason is to change your exercises around every once in a while so you don't get bored!" Anita explains.
To all the squatters out there, I am sure most of you would agree with me in saying that "The main man" is Ed Coan? Anyone who can squat 1038 in the 242's has got my vote for #1 in that category. Does Ed emphasize size in his workouts? Or strength? "After squats I do more squats but different styles," Ed Coan explains. That's sounds redundant doesn't it? Ed uses variation of supplements for his leg training. What he explained to me was that he does a variation of squats after power squats like high bar with close stance squats or pause squats never exceeding 6 sets and in no way below 3 reps in this regiment. But, during the beginning of a training cycle, he does use leg extensions, adductions, and leg curls for extra assistance work.
The definition of the word "assistant" means: "assisting; helping; serves as a helper," - that's all an assistant squat exercise is - a helper. There are many different supplementary assistant exercises to implement in your squat training regiment. The best way to find out what is best for you is to first ask yourself what your goal is. Is your goal Strength? Size? Or both? Really, it doesn't matter because whatever assistant exercise you choose, done properly, over a period of time, will only spell out increases in strength, size, and shape. So, don't forget to take your supplements and give me one more rep!