Squats are one of the best ways to develop and assess lower body strength. They are the first event in powerlifting and are also an essential part in the clean and snatch in Olympic weightlifting -- although Olympic lifters favor the front squat over the back squat. Squatting frequently will make you a better squatter but there are also several assistance exercises you can perform that can help improve your squat performance.
Old-time weightlifter Paul Anderson is arguably one of the strongest men who ever lived and he used this exercise to increase his already mighty squat. Unlike a regular squat where you start the exercise in the standing position, the Anderson squat starts with the barbell resting on blocks or the pins of a power rack so you start from the bottom position or "out of the hole" as it's known. This increases explosiveness out of the bottom of your squat -- the place where heavy squats are won or lost.
Lower back weakness can hold back your squat. The good morning, so-called because it looks like a friendly bow, is an effective lower back strengthening exercise. With a barbell held firmly across your upper back, bend your knees slightly, hinge forward from your hips and lean over; do not let your lower back round. Stand back up and repeat. This exercise can also be performed seated.
Pause squats are performed the same way as regular squats except you purposely stop and wait for a couple of seconds in the bottom position before explosively standing up. This pause eliminates any momentum or rebound out of the hole and helps develop strength for your ascent.
Glute Ham Raises
This exercise targets your glutes, hamstrings and lower back -- muscles that are essential for good squatting. Strengthening these muscles will help you stay more upright and prevent you from being pulled forward by the weight. Lie on the glute ham raise machine and lean forward from your hips. Come back up, strongly bend your legs and lift your body so it is vertical. Lower yourself back down and repeat. Make this exercise more demanding by holding a weight plate across your chest.
Barbell Hip Thrust
Although the thighs are very important in squats, the glutes are arguably doing more work as they are the largest and potentially strongest muscle in your body. Stronger glutes will translate to a bigger squat and the barbell hip thrust is a good way to work this muscle. Lie on your back with a barbell across your hips and your legs bent. Push your hips up to the ceiling and then lower your butt back to the floor. Elevate your shoulders or feet on an exercise bench for a more demanding workout.
The leg press uses a similar muscle and joint action to squats but the seated or lying position means your lower back is supported so you are free to focus 100 percent on pushing with your legs. This allows you to expose your muscles to weights that exceed your normal squat maximum. Stronger legs will make you a better squatter.
Ab Wheel Roll Out
The ab wheel or power wheel roll out is like a moving plank exercise and helps increase core strength. Core strength is essential in squatting as these muscles must work hard to support your lumbar spine. To perform this exercise, kneel down with the ab wheel in your hands. Roll the wheel away from you and try to lower your chest to the floor. Stop as you feel your lower back over-extending. Pull the roller back to your knees and repeat. For a more demanding workout, perform roll outs from a standing position.